Babisconi? Hardly, say observers
The Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babiš made a major acquisition on the Czech media market this week – buying the Mafra publishing house that prints two of the country’s biggest dailies, Mladá Fronta Dnes and Lidové Noviny. The move still needs to be approved by the country’s anti-trust office, but if given the green light, marks a significant step forward for Mr Babiš – who has political ambitions too.
He was already a minor media magnate before this acquisition, with a stake in a handful of national, regional and Slovak publications. The acquisition of Mafra from its German owners was preceded by much speculation that he’d snapped up Ringier, which publishes the hugely successful tabloid Blesk.
Those rumours proved unfounded, but the purchase of Mladá Fronta Dnes and Lidové Noviny gives him a major slice of the Czech media market. Mladá Fronta is the country’s second most widely read newspaper after Blesk, and the biggest broadsheet; Lidové Noviny meanwhile is still the paper of record for bearded former dissidents and intellectuals.
His political ambitions have prompted comparisons with Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, but observers such as Václav Sochor, editor-in-chief of the Czech publication Marketing & Media, say such comparisons are overblown.
In 2012 Andrej Babiš registered his ANO 2011 civic movement as a political party, although it has yet to make any impact on nationwide or even local politics. As for Mafra, he told reporters he would act solely as an investor, and would not speak to journalists from either paper or even give interviews to them.