November 20, 2017
Amid the continuing and often controversial evolution of media ownership structures in the Visegrád region, several high-profile Slovak properties are now up for sale. The changes look poised to alter the public sphere in Slovakia – for better or worse – for years to come.
Reflecting a prevailing trend throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe, leading Slovak media in the 1990s and 2000s predominantly operated under foreign – especially German – ownership. But in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and a continued fall in revenues for print media, local owners have bought up those same media properties. That trend looks set to continue as TV Markiza, owned by the American multinational Time Warner, and the tabloid Nový Čas, part of the Swiss-German publisher Ringier Axel Springer, hit the market.
“Foreign owners usually aim at financial profit and are either ideologically uninterested or take a conservative or liberal stand – which is not necessarily bad in a pluralist market,” Alena Kluknavská, a researcher at Marsaryk University in the neighbouring Czech Republic, told the International Press Institute (IPI) in an interview. “Oligarchs or powerful financial groups, on the other hand, may try to affect society and politics to their political or economic advantage.”
Indeed, any shift toward local ownership, especially in sectors seen less and less viable as a profitable business, leads to questions about motives. In Slovakia, major concerns surrounded the 2014 sale of Petit Press shares to the financial group Penta, which also has stakes in publishers Trend Holding and Spoločnosť 7 Plus. Though Penta maintains only a minority stake in Petit Press, publisher of the agenda-setting quality daily Sme, and the ownership change has thus far shown little sign of affecting editorial independence, the turnover prompted alarm in a regional environment in which other key media already had close ties to prominent business and political interests…