SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Penta

THERE are a great number of Slovak proverbs that warn against premature joy. “Nechváľ rána pred večerom” (Do not praise the morning before the eve), “Nekrič hop, kým nepreskočíš” (Do not yell hop before you jump over), or “Po veľkom smiechu prichádza veľký plač” (After great laughter comes great grief). So even though rumours that the Petit Press publishing house, owner of both SME and this newspaper, will be taken over by the Penta investment group, seem to be unfounded, there is still reason for caution. Who knows what tomorrow may bring.

THERE are a great number of Slovak proverbs that warn against premature joy. “Nechváľ rána pred večerom” (Do not praise the morning before the eve), “Nekrič hop, kým nepreskočíš” (Do not yell hop before you jump over), or “Po veľkom smiechu prichádza veľký plač” (After great laughter comes great grief). So even though rumours that the Petit Press publishing house, owner of both SME and this newspaper, will be taken over by the Penta investment group, seem to be unfounded, there is still reason for caution. Who knows what tomorrow may bring.

But while we still can, let’s elaborate on why the financiers’ entry onto the media market may not be such great news. Let’s ignore the fact that the firm employs the former boss of the communist secret police and Polish authorities have in the past hinted that its owners themselves have ties to Russian spooks.

Some may also disregard the Gorilla file, because the accuracy of the leaked top secret file on high-level corruption implicating Penta in a number of top-level schemes has never been established. But you don’t need any conspiracies to be concerned. The company’s track-record in the field of free speech is enough to make you worry.

When Penta learned that former Spectator editor-in-chief Tom Nicholson was writing a book about Gorilla, they not only asked for a preliminary court ban on publishing it (without seeing a single line), but also for the confiscation of Petit Press computers, where they believed documents relevant to the case were stored. They even tried suing Tumblr and Facebook. Not exactly the moves of enlightened media freedom advocates.

But it’s not as though the rest of the market is in much better shape. No one knows exactly who the owner of the Pravda daily is, although a number of oligarchs close to the ruling Smer are suspected. The J&T financial group, cited in a comparable number of scandals as their rivals from Penta, have their own media house.

All this is a lesson in the reversibility of globalisation. Whereas a decade ago most major media were in the hands of profit-oriented multinationals, now it seems likely that most will be run by local interest groups. The trend is also obvious in the Czech Republic, where foreign investors made a full retreat from the print market.

One can only hope the market remains diverse enough for the power players to keep each other in check, and that by now they are cultivated enough to refrain from any abuse. But in this case, it really is too early to praise the morning.

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