Oligarchs step up consolidation of Czech media

By bne IntelliNews April 19, 2016

The consolidation of the Czech media market by local oligarchs looks set to continue, with the controlling partners in the closely-held Czech/Slovak energy holding EPH close to snapping up business daily E15, plus some weeklies, from Mlada Fronta, local media reported on April 19.

Czech Media Invest (CMI), controlled by Daniel Kretinsky and Patrik Tkac, billionaire alumni of Slovak financial group J&T, applied for preliminary clearance from the Czech competition office (UOHS) to buy the publisher via subsidiary Gloomar CZ late last year. A UOHS spokesman said on April 19 that the watchdog will rule on the proposal in May, CTK reports. However, according to Czech media business website Mediaguru, some editorial staff have already begun moving to CMI's editorial unit, Czech News Center, last week.

If CMI is given permission by the Czech anti-monopoly office (UOHS) to buy the Mlada Fronta titles, the media holdings of the billionaires Kretinsky and Tkac will account for more than one-third of Czech newspaper readership. The pair bought the Czech assets of a German-Swiss publisher Ringier Axel Springer joint venture, whose stable included leading tabloids Blesk, Aha! and Sport in late 2013. At the time, their rebranded Czech News Center accounted for around 30% of newspaper readership.

The deal would boost the CMI readership above the level of Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babis, the current Czech finance minister who bought Mafra Media Group in 2013. He later expanded his media empire by purchasing leading commercial radio station Impuls.

A third local billionaire, coal baron Zdenek Bakala – who made a controversial exit from struggling Prague-listed New World Resources (NWR) – owns a majority stake in media house Economia, which publishes the leading business daily Hospodarske Noviny and the weeklies Respekt and Ekonom.

Frantisek Savov, the owner of Mlada Fronta – who has been charged with tax evasion totaling billions of koruna – will keep control of the business weekly Euro, among other titles, according to CTK.

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