“All biggest players now have own media,” says press freedom advocate as Kellner buys Nova

Petr Kellner, photo: Archiv PPF

The richest Czech, Petr Kellner, is taking over the country’s most popular TV station, Nova. The purchase of Nova operator CME by Kellner’s PPF Group will also give it control of a number of other channels in the region. However, critics say the move is politically motivated and have warned of a new danger to press freedom. Among those voices is Josef Šlerka, director of the Foundation for Independent Journalism.

Petr Kellner,  photo: Archiv PPF
“The problem is that Mr. Kellner and the PPF Group have business in a specific area.

“The business of this company is strongly connected to the banking sector and the finance sector – and these areas are strongly regulated by the state.

“Now when Mr. Kellner starts to own a private media house they will be able to influence state politics and state policies. And this is bad.

“It’s not necessarily done by direct pressure. You can do this stuff by going, OK, let’s discuss future regulation – and you know, I own media.

“I think this is bad for freedom of speech and freedom of media.”

Mr. Kellner says he’s not planning to make major changes in how these stations, including Nova, operate. Shouldn’t we wait to see if he keeps his word?

“We have to wait.

“But the fact alone that somebody who is one of the biggest businessmen in Central Europe owns media is bad news.

“And it’s not necessary for him to directly influence the editors in the media.”

Many commentators are saying that Kellner has bought CME for political reasons. But isn’t it possible that it’s only a business move?

“I don’t think it’s only a business move.

“I think that from the business point of view it makes perfect sense.

“If you look at this, it’s a win-win situation for Mr. Kellner.

“He owns [through O2 Czech Republic] huge infrastructure for internet, for cable TV.

“And in this moment he will be able to run, for example, his own cable TV.

“That means there are not only political reasons – there are also business reasons.”

In terms of the possible impact on journalism in the Czech Republic, how does this compare to six years ago when Andrej Babiš purchased MAFRA, which owns the newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes and Lidové noviny?

“Unfortunately now it’s completely standard that the biggest entrepreneurs in the country own media.

“This is not a good situation for the press but now it’s standard.

“It’s a completely new situation – all the biggest players in the country have their own media.”

TV Nova,  photo: ŠJů,  CC BY-SA 4.0
But wouldn’t TV Nova have greater reach than the newspapers bought six years ago by Mr. Babiš?

“Definitely TV Nova has a bigger impact than MAFRA.

“You need to understand that there is a specific type of people who read newspapers in the Czech Republic [laughs].

“But TV Nova is something like the mainstream for many people.

“It’s much more of an influencer than MAFRA.”

For people who don’t know TV Nova very well, how has it been perceived politically until now?

“TV Nova was without any specific political orientation.

“It was generally news mostly, though frequently there was some infotainment.

“They played some role in the presidential elections [last year], when there was an interview with the candidates, but I think up to now their news was unpolitical.”