Zelezny taken into police custody

Vladimir Zelezny

On Tuesday Vladimir Zelezny the General Director of the Czech Republic's most successful private TV station Nova was taken into custody, on charges of attempting to cheat a creditor. This latest step came as the culmination of a legal dispute ongoing since 1999. Nicole Klement and Olga Szantova.

Vladimir Zelezny
TV Nova, the Czech Republic's first independent television station, began broadcasting in 1994 and from the very beginning its business background has been very complicated. An American company called CME invested in the station, and on the Czech side the license for Nova is controlled by Vladimir Zelezny. Disputes between the two sides started in 1999, when CME accused Mr.Zelezny of stripping the company's assets. Mr.Zelezny, being the licence holder, responded by starting to broadcast on his own. The disputes continued until, somewhat unexpectedly, first Mr.Zelezny's lawyer, Ales Rozehnal, and now Mr.Zelezny himself were arrested. I asked independent journalist and commentator Tomas Pecina why these sudden arrests had been made at this point

"The most important moment was the result of the third arbitration proceedings which ruled against the Czech Republic. CME, or Mr.Lauder, the major shareholder in this company initiated three arbitration proceedings against Mr.Zelezny. In all three cases the decision was against Mr.Zelezny. But the third one decided that the Czech Republic was to pay damages to Mr.Lauder, and of course it was very embarrassing for the Czech Republic to face this situation."

So, in view of these international complications the Czech authorities finally decided to act, says Mr. Pecina.

"Of course Mr. Zelezny is an extremely capable businessman. Mr. Zelezny had done a lot of work to build his media empire. On the other hand there is one context, the domestic context, and there is the international context. And in the international arena Mr. Zelezny's practices were not tolerated. They were tolerated here because such was the atmosphere of the 1990s in this country. There was much more permissiveness towards this kind of behaviour."

Mr. Pecina is convinced that for years Mr. Zelezny has been protected by top politicians because of his huge influence on the general public.

"Mr.Zelezny is not liked very much, but Mr.Zelezny is influential because of his ability to communicate. Of course, he has set up a very unique instrument. No other politician, no other personality has a 30 minute program every week. It is absolutely unprecedented in this country. And he is a very capable speaker. So, there is his personal charisma, there is his personal common sense, I'd say, and there is his ability to influence people. Despite the fact that Mr. Zelezny is very popular, he isn't liked."

And of course, TV Nova is the most popular TV station in the country. So, what will become of it should it lose Mr.Zelezny?

"It is basically a cosmetic change, but the general arrangement of TV Nova will be the same. Whether TV Nova is ever going to regain its profesionality, or are they going to find someone to replace Mr. Zelezny - I think that's a good question, because Mr. Zelezny is unique as a media manager and it will not be very easy to find a replacement for him."

Authors: Olga Szantová , Nicole Klement
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