Gabriela Gandovska in Sofia -
The Czech competition watchdog UOHS has given the green light to Slovak financial group Penta's acqusition of Czech publisher Vltava-Labe-Press (VLP), the regulator said on September 9.
Penta agreed to buy VLP from German group Verlagsgruppe Passau in early August. The deal is the latest in a string of acquisitions that has seen international giants that moved in during privatisation in the 1990s selling out to powerful local business groups, and even politicians.
VLP owns the Denik chain of regional daily papers and also a portfolio of magazines. The company publishes 71 regional dailies in the country. The deal includes a 51% stake in Astrosat Media, which publishes magazines Kvety, Vlasta, Story, TV magazin and National Geographic Cesko, a 70% stake in Ceska Distribucni, 35% of PNS and 30% of AdActive. No financial details of the deal were disclosed.
Verlagsgruppe Passau decided to sell VLP for strategic reasons, with plans to focus on the larger German and Polish markets.
For Penta, the acquisition represents another opportunity for the closely-held investment group to extend its control over regional media. It made several large purchases in Slovakia last year, including that of leading publishing houses 7 Plus, Trend Holding and Petit Press, which produces the influential daily SME. The latter acquisition sparked a walkout by the editorial team which insisted Penta was not a financial investor but seeking political influence.
Penta’s acquisition of VLP is likely to resurrect concerns over the independence of the Czech media, which over the past couple of years has seen suspicions grow that domestic oligarchs are building media empires to support commercial and political interests.
Topping those concerns is the purchase in 2013 by Andrej Babis of Mafra, publisher of the best selling Czech broadsheet Mlada fronta DNES, the influential daily Lidove noviny and other titles. The Slovak-born owner of the country's largest private employer Agrofert became finance minister in January 2014, and is tipped as the next likely prime minister.
Weeks after Babis’ Mafra deal was announced, billionaires Daniel Kretinsky and Patrik Tkac – who earned their first millions with Penta's fellow Slovak investment group J&T – acquired the publishing activities of Ringier Axel Springer CZ with its popular tabloid dailies Blesk, Aha and Sport, and the popular weekly magazine Reflex.
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