Worries about the foreign ownership of media in the Czech Republic

26-07-2003

Over three quarters of Czech newspapers are now owned by foreign media groups. And while the country's print media has benefited from the investment these companies bring, some Czechs are unhappy that so much of what they read is foreign owned. But do foreign owners exert too much influence?

Over 80 percent of Czech national newspapers are foreign-owned. In his book The End of the Czech Press, Borivoj Celovsky argues strongly against the dominance of the Czech print media by foreign - mostly German and Swiss - capital. He says that poses a real threat to Czech national identity, and points out that foreign media groups don't just own the newspapers themselves.

"They don't control only the newspapers; they control the printing shops...the most modern ones. The distribution system is in German hands."

What's the situation like as regards foreign ownership of regional or local papers?

"Virtually all regional press is in German hands. Regional papers vary only in title, in content they're virtually the same."

Borivoj Celovsky says if a newspaper is German-owned, it is bound to adopt a pro-German position on such questions as the post-war expulsion of the Sudeten Germans. That's something which is denied by many in the Czech media. But what do ordinary people have to say about the issue?

Woman on street: "I don't really mind, you know, because it's business like anything else. The problem is that for example Mlada Fronta and Lidove Noviny have the same owners, so once you buy Mlada Fronta the same information is in Lidove Noviny."

Young man: "It's really terrible, I hardly read Czech papers any more. I definitely don't think that journalists have the freedom to write in an unbiased way."

Middle-aged man: "Czech people can be the owner of a newspaper in Germany or Austria. It's normal."

Yes, but they aren't.

Middle-aged man: "Maybe in the future they will be."

Marius Dragomir reports on the media for the independently owned Prague Business Journal. He rejects the idea that foreign owners have influenced the political content of Czech papers, and suggests their only motive is profit.

"The key word in the print media market is market share. Everybody thought that these companies would bring to the Czech Republic more know-how and more ethics, but they ended up by asking their managers to bring them market share, whatever they write."

There are currently two wholly Czech owned national dailies left on the newsstands in the Czech Republic. One, the recently launched Impuls, is not expected to survive long. The other, Pravo, has been linked to a Swiss media group.

26-07-2003