PRAVDA, Slovakia's oldest daily newspaper is no longer in the hands of the long-established media group, Daily Mail & General Trust, which bought a 99.94 percent share of Perex, the publishing house of Pravda in 2006. Now, four years later Pravda has changed hands again, being bought by Florena, a company managed by clients of the J&T financial group. The announcement about the sale of Pravda was published in early March 2010 on Pravda’s website with very little information about whose hands will actually control the daily.
Ivan Jakabovič, one of J&T’s co-owners, described the Perex publishing house, which also publishes the Avízo classified ads, as an interesting investment opportunity.
“When we heard about the British owners’ interest in selling Pravda and Avízo, we recognised it as an interesting investment opportunity,” said Jakabovič in a press release quoted by the Sme daily. “We see huge potential in the media.”
J&T is also involved in the Mac TV company which operates the private television channel TV JOJ.
The previously unknown Florena is owned by a company called Insfin, according to Czech commercial registry records, and shares its address with J&T, Sme reported.
However, the spokesman for J&T, Maroš Sýkora, quickly dismissed that news report and stated that the records in the Czech commercial registry are outdated and that J&T clients are currently behind Florena.
J&T apparently has an option or interest in buying Pravda or its publishing house itself.
“We will monitor the daily for a time, after which we will decide whether to buy it,” said Sýkora, as quoted in Sme.
At the time Daily Mail & General Trust purchased the daily, Pravda was the second most-widely read daily after the Nový Čas tabloid.
In 2008, Pravda went through a major change when it switched from broadsheet format to an A4 tabloid format and completely redesigned its layout, switching to full-colour print.
According to Medialne.sk, after the change Pravda’s sales dropped to a historical low of 50,000 copies a day. Medialne.sk wrote one year after the changes that, according to the ABC SR audit of dailies, Pravda had not sold more than 60,000 daily copies since July 2008. In September 2009, Pravda sold an average of 50,672 copies daily, which was almost 11,000 less than its main competitor, Sme.
In January 2008, Pravda had been selling over 64,000 copies, posting the third highest circulation after Slovakia’s two biggest tabloids, Nový Čas and Plus Jeden Deň. In October of the same year, just before the redesign, over 59,000 copies were being sold but after January 2009 the number dropped to slightly over 50,000, placing Pravda fourth after the tabloids and Sme. The latest available numbers for copies sold are from December 2009, when Pravda was again ranked fourth with slightly over 51,000 copies sold, according to Medialne.sk.
Will Pravda change?
J&T spokesman Sýkora said that J&T would not interfere with the editorial policies of the paper. However, Hospodárske Noviny wrote that Sýkora had also said that representatives of the financial group might play some role in the reorganisation of Perex in order to improve the daily’s financial condition.
Miroslav Nemček, the head of Perex and Avízo, told Medialne.sk that he expects the new owner to bring the paper financial stability and further growth. He said this should replace the current situation of financial uncertainty.
When asked about possible threats to the paper’s image as an independent daily which might come from being linked to J&T, Nemček said he had no such fears and that his outlook was “quite to the contrary.”
Rastislav Kužel, executive director of media watchdog MEMO 98, said that he had the general feeling that when Slovak media were owned by foreign capital, as was the case when Pravda was under the Daily Mail group, that the occurrences of certain pressures were less frequent than when newspapers had Slovak owners. Kužel noted that this can be said about other types of Slovak media as well.
“It is difficult to tell whether any change in editorial policies might be expected; we will have to wait to see,” Kužel told The Slovak Spectator. “We can at least say that the interests of foreign owners of media are not comparable with those of Slovak owners who might have connections to politics, and for that reason there might be some threat that editorial policies might change and the paper will become more open towards certain political groups.”
Pravda has been a strong and frequent critic of Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose press department, in turn, has produced a number of acidic press releases regarding the paper, mostly invoking the history of Pravda’s former British owners.
In February, for example, cabinet spokesman Braňo Ondruš wrote that the ancestors of the British owners of Pravda did not have any problem sending a congratulatory telegram to Adolf Hitler on the occasion of the breakup of Czechoslovakia, adding that the publisher’s links to Hungarian extremist forces were also well-known. Ondruš included these statements in a press release in which he was communicating Fico’s intentions to sue the daily. It has re-appeared in several other press releases issued by the government office.
Kužel said that although Pravda might have some potential to fill the empty spot for a more leftist daily in the Slovak newspaper scene, he stressed that the priority for the daily is to assure that its editorial policies and its critical line towards the government, be it the current one or a future one, do not change.
“I see the greatest contribution of the press, as such, is that it looks at the operation of the government through a critical prism and thus for me it is of utmost importance that the daily does not deviate from that line and continues its critical policies towards any ruling groups,” Kužel said.
J&T is also involved in the Mac TV company which operates the private television station TV JOJ. If J&T decides to purchase Pravda then its new ownership stake would imply a case of cross-media ownership, which is banned by law. However, Sýkora denied that this would be a case of such cross-ownership.
“None of the companies involved in the transaction are linked to the Mac TV company,” Sýkora said, as quoted by Sme.
In its March 3 issue, Sme pointed out that it is difficult to prove that such cross-ownership violates the law. Media analyst Gabriel Šípoš, who also runs the Slovak Press Watch, told the daily that it is not difficult to bypass the legislation.
8. Mar 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová