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Media ownership raises concerns

Big business made some consequential shopping decisions over 2014. Press freedom advocates and political ethics watchdogs expressed serious concern over the growing trend of large domestic media ownership.

Big business made some consequential shopping decisions over 2014. Press freedom advocates and political ethics watchdogs expressed serious concern over the growing trend of large domestic media ownership.

On September 3, the financial group Penta announced it acquired the Trend Holding and Spoločnosť 7 Plus via cooperation with Dutch investment firm V-3 Media Holding, which officially bought both publishing houses. The financial group stated that it wants to offer the publishing houses financial stability, broad know-how and expertise over managing difficult restructuring processes.

Shortly after this Penta made steps to acquire 50 percent of the shares in the major publishing house, Petit Press, which partially owns The Slovak Spectator, and is the publisher of the flagship daily newspaper Sme. This resulted in the resignation of Sme Editor-in-Chief Matúš Kostolný and his deputy editors as well as large part of the editorial office of Sme. Kostolný and others announced the launch of a new website called Projekt N.

Ultimately Penta which is buying into Petit Press through the company Namav has agreed to withdraw to a 45-percent minority share and thus leave the controlling 55-percent package to the Prvá Slovenská Investičná Skupina (PSIS), the original founder of the publishing house. Petit Press CEO Alexej Fulmek insists that Penta will have no influence over editorial content in the publishing house.

Penta, which has became the second biggest media owner in Slovakia during this year, stated that it is also considering buying into the Polish and Czech media markets. For example, Penta is reportedly interested in buying Czech publishing house Vltava-Labe Press which publishes several regional dailies, according to the Czech daily Mladá Fronta Dnes. Both sides have refused to comment, the Hospodárske Noviny daily reported.

After Penta announced it was buying shares in Petit Press, media and market watchers pointed at the Týždeň weekly as one of the last islands of independent journalism. That image, however, suffered a blow after Penta’s spokesman Martin Danko said Penta and one of its partners, Jaroslav Haščák, have been funding Týždeň for about four years now, because they consider it a high-quality medium.

Týždeň Editor-in-Chief Štefan Hríb, in his reaction to Penta’s statements, admitted they received the money, but kept stressing that Penta has never owned any shares in W Press, the publishing house of the weekly, and never will.

Meanwhile, internet portal Stratégie of Hospodárske Noviny broke the news on October 20 that J&T or some of its partners were going to buy Ringier Axel Springer (RAS) Slovakia publishing house, Slovakia’s biggest publisher, and a division of the massive German and Swiss firm. Among their stable of properties is the country’s biggest tabloid daily, Nový Čas. Both sides, however, have denied what they called a rumour.

Unlike Penta, who only entered the media market recently, J&T has been present before, mainly as the owner of the TV JOJ channel. That could pose a problem if J&T purchased a publishing house, because Slovak laws prohibit such cross-ownership on the media market.

Ecopress, the publishing house of Hospodárske Noviny, which is itself owned by Agrofert, a group led by the Slovak-born billionaire and current Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, announced that it will change its name to Mafra Slovakia as of January 1, 2015. Its aim is to be closer to Czech media group Mafra – also owned by Babiš – according to Ecopress press release.

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