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NÁRODNÁ OBRODA STAFF MEMBERS LEAVING IN A HUFF

Daily gutted after clash with owner

A simmering dispute between a head-strong editor-in-chief trying to establish an independent newspaper and VSŽ, Slovakia's largest company which had acquired 100 percent ownership in the publishing venture, came to a boil one time too many on November 14. The board of directors of NOFRA, the publishers of the financial newspaper Národná Obroda, fired Tatiana Repková as the daily's chief editor and chairwoman of NOFRA's board.
The board also removed Peter Mačinga as Národná Obroda's marketing director. Ivo Nittman, formerly Národná Obroda's assistant editor, succeeded Repková as editor-in-chief, while the new head of NOFRA's board will be Nina Rašiová, until now director of Lúč, a regional daily paper whose majority owner is the east Slovak steel works VSŽ.


Fired editor Tatiana Repková
Vladimír Hák

A simmering dispute between a head-strong editor-in-chief trying to establish an independent newspaper and VSŽ, Slovakia's largest company which had acquired 100 percent ownership in the publishing venture, came to a boil one time too many on November 14. The board of directors of NOFRA, the publishers of the financial newspaper Národná Obroda, fired Tatiana Repková as the daily's chief editor and chairwoman of NOFRA's board.

The board also removed Peter Mačinga as Národná Obroda's marketing director. Ivo Nittman, formerly Národná Obroda's assistant editor, succeeded Repková as editor-in-chief, while the new head of NOFRA's board will be Nina Rašiová, until now director of Lúč, a regional daily paper whose majority owner is the east Slovak steel works VSŽ.

Along with the dismissal of Repková and Mačinga, a flood of staff members is likely to leave the newspaper. Eduard Žitňanský, Národná Obroda's deputy editor, said as The Slovak Spectator went to press that he was leaving the newspaper the week of November 18, and that eight other employees were moving elsewhere.

"I hoped this would not be the way Národná Obroda would end," Žitňanský told The Slovak Spectator. "But I do not trust the owners. They don't see their own responsibility for the business."

VSŽ vs. Repková

Repková's dismissal placed an exclamation point on a tense battle between a strong-willed editor-in-chief trying to install a financially-oriented independent daily and the country's biggest company expanding its ownership presence in the media.

On at least one occasion, relations between Repková and VSŽ, which acquired a 100 percent ownership of NOFRA when it bought the remaining 49 percent of shares from the German publishing firm Rheinische Verlag in June, broke down.

Repková submitted her resignation that same month when the newspaper's new management urged her to tone down Národná Obroda's weekly editorial column. Faced with the resignation letter, VSŽ's directors agreed to Repková's drafting a written charter for the paper staking out Národná Obroda's claim to editorial freedom from its owner.

But relations never got much better, and they boiled over again on October 26 when Národná Obroda ran a report on its front page carried from a story in the Russian newspaper Izvestia, that Slovak Premier Vladimír Mečiar had a brain tumor.

A source at Národná Obroda who preferred anonymity said an "angry" telephone conversation occurred between Nittman, then assistant editor of Národná Obroda, and a VSŽ board member the day the story appeared. The following day, Národná Obroda retracted the story and apologized on its front page.

Repková, who the source at the daily said was visiting the US at the time, reacted with dismay to VSŽ's interference in Národná Obroda's internal affairs, and was thought to have then tendered her resignation as chief editor. Repková was not available for comment to confirm whether she had resigned prior to her firing.

But Žitňanský conceded that VSŽ had done nothing the owner of any business was not entitled to. "They acted within their rights," he said.

Ailing financial review

Repková was fired halfway through a two-year mandate from her owners to turn around a financially-strapped newspaper that had been losing readers. In the time that she captained Národná Obroda, Repková changed the paper from a general news daily with satirical cartoons and high-humored opinion columns to a highly focused financial review that some have called boring.

"Even if she were able to make this sort of news livelier, which she hasn't, I'm not sure if there's enough of an audience for this sort of thing here," said a source close to the paper, who requested anonymity.

"This is a small country," said the source at Národná Obroda, "and I'm afraid that here we cannot have such a paper. It can never have the market. If Národná Obroda were the Financial Times for all of central Europe, maybe it would be successful, but not for 5 million Slovaks. You must think about the babies and old men, and the fact that no household in this country will buy more than one or two newspapers. And if you do the math, you will realize that such a special sort of paper can never support itself here."

The source close to Národná Obroda suggested that one reason for the double dismissal may be the daily's dragging sales-revenue and circulation. The source estimated the paper's current circulation at 12,000 to 15,000, far below Repková's public musings that a circulation of about 50,000 was a realistic goal, given the daily's specific scope and limited readership.

Looking elsewhere

According to informed sources, Repková is now likely to leave Slovakia "very soon" to work in the United States, an opinion seconded by the source close to Národná Obroda who said Repková has "at least one teaching offer" there. Alexander Fulmek, publisher of the anti-government daily Sme, said on the other hand that Sme is negotiating with Repková and Žitňanský to work for it as freelance journalists.

According to the source close to Národná Obroda, however, that may not be a healthy transition. "A lot of people went over there [to Sme] because they thought the paper would be a kind of model for the other media in Slovakia," the source said. "If there's a shift in support among these people from Národná Obroda to Sme, this will get them lumped with the opposition, which just clouds the whole issue and politicizes everything."

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