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Czech Republic: a media tycoon bolsters his empire


2013 and 2014 were explosive years in the Czech media: in the wake of the newspaper crisis several previously dominant German publishers (Rheinische Post, Axel Springer) left the Czech market. While neither of these publishers had ever exerted any political influence over newspaper content, when they sold the papers they made mistakes that were to have indirect repercussions for press freedom.

Deputy prime minister and media entrepreneur Andrej Babiš.
(© picture-alliance/dpa)


The Rheinische Post, for example, simply sold Mafra, the publisher of the two opinion-shaping newspapers Mladá fronta Dnes and Lidové noviny and of the frequently visited Internet service www.idnes.cz, to the highest bidder: the boss of the mixed concern Agrofert a.s., Andrej Babiš. The billionaire Babiš is also politically active and his protest movement Ano was the second-strongest contender in the 2013 parliamentary elections, subsequently leading all the polls. Babiš himself is deputy prime minister and finance minister and may well become prime minister after the next elections. So acquiring his own media comes just at the right time. Babiš already owns Radio Impuls, the most popular radio station, three Czech music TV stations and the Slovak Hospodárske noviny. Rumour has it that he is seeking to acquire a national television channel with high audience figures.

His acquisition of Mafra did not go well. When Lidové noviny ignored a press conference staged by Babiš, he called up the editors indignantly and said: "The gentlemen obviously don't know who I am.” For many distinguished journalists that was sufficient reason to resign. Several of the "deserters” founded their own Internet portal Echo24.cz, a major opinion-shaper. Babiš-opponents, who call him the "Czech Berlusconi”, say he aims to ensure that as little as possible is reported about him. In particular there should be no reports about how he acquired his wealth or about allegations that he worked for the Stasi before 1989.

Following the exit of the German publishers, the remaining publishers of dailies are all Czech, with the exception of the publisher of the Passauer Neue Presse, which publishes dozens of local newspapers under the common name of Deník; these scarcely have any political influence, however.

There were also complaints of political pressure being exerted on the public television station Česká televize in 2013/2014. Subsequently, a number of high-ranking journalists who staged a public rebellion were fired. The two top moderators Daniela Drtinová and Martin Veselovský then decided to found their own Internet television station DVtv, which has high audience figures and broadcasts under the umbrella of the newspaper publisher Economia a.s.

In the Czech republic there are several political bloggers who congregate in newspapers' online portals or in the online portal Aktuálne.cz.

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