Holding company Czech Media Invest (CMI) has sold the Polish radio station group Eurozet it acquired last year to Prague-based SFS Ventures and its Polish partner Agora in a move that has reportedly angered Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
PiS has called the sale of Eurozet a threat to the pluralism of Polish media amid reports that SFS Ventures is linked to or funded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, who supports Polish opposition media.
Polish MP Beata Mazurek, spokeswoman for PiS, criticized the imminent purchase in a post on Twitter in January and favours changing Polish legislation to require a certain level of Polish capital in domestic media investments.
“PiS along with Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński at its head, believe that the State should do everything in its power so that stock speculators will not increase their influence over the media market.”
SFS Ventures is a Czech joint venture between Sourcefabric, founded in Prague in 2010 to support independent journalism worldwide through open-source digital newsroom solutions, and Media Development Investment Fund, Inc. (MDIF), a fund for independent media focused on issues that help “build free, thriving societies”.
MDIF was founded in 1995 as Media Development Loan Fund by journalists Saša Vučinić, a Serbian editor and media manager who had run B92, Belgrade’s leading independent radio station, during the early years of the Milosevic regime, and Stuart Auerbach, Washington Post journalist and foreign correspondent.
Vučinić and Auerbach wanted to launch a ‘media bank’ to help journalists in countries with a history of media oppression build sustainable news businesses, strong enough to stay independent of governments, political parties and oligarchs. MDLF received initial seed money from George Soros’ Open Society Institute. To date, New York-based MDIF has invested nearly 0 million in 115 media companies across 39 countries.
Marie Němcová, MDIF’s Chief Operating Officer, a former program director at the Open Society Fund Prague (OSFP), said in a press release that as the number two radio company on the Polish market, Eurozet is a profitable business an excellent investment.
“Eurozet also has the leading radio portal, and we believe that Sourcefabric and MDIF have the digital media expertise to bring extra value and strengthen it even further. We wholeheartedly support Eurozet’s non-partisan news programming, which is much needed in the current polarised atmosphere.”
Ms Němcová said MDIF’s purchase of a 60 percent controlling interest in Eurozet would not result in any changes whatsoever to its broadcasting and programming. Polish media group Agora, whose assets include the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, bought the remaining 40 percent share in Eurozet.
CMI, co-owned by Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský, bought Eurozet last year from French concern Lagardère. The holding company focuses on acquisitions and management of media assets in Central and Western Europe. Through its subsidiary company Czech News Center, a leading domestic media house, it publishes four daily newspapers, several dozen magazines and web titles.
Last year, CMI expanded its operations to France where now owns Lagardère group’s magazine titles in France, including the flagship title Elle, France Dimanche and Ici Paris.