Who owns Czech media and why is it so?
Monday´s Comment
Who owns Czech media and why is it so?
29. 8. 2016

The economic results of the Czech media are often quite deep in the red, but still, owning one can be a very lucrative proposition. One should give a very deep thought to this paradox, for it is the media which in many ways often significantly shape the preferences of political parties and indeed serve as a weapon in various power struggles. One could presume the interplay of four basic motivations that urge one to own media, namely: prestige, an instrument of political warfare, economic gains, or unselfish support for independent media outlets. My comment today comes complete with an update on the graphic representation of who owns what on the media scene, designed to provide an insight on the realm of media influences. Present-day audiences are often inundated by the flow of information and it has become almost customary to see the public influenced by a plethora of false or manipulative theories, especially concerning sensitive issues. Very often, one doesn’t have to be too bright to separate corn from chaff in the information world. All it takes is to go by three fundamental rules of assessing the relevance of the story offered, namely 1. Ask who planted the information; 2. Identify the media outlet that brought it; and 3. Check the source of information. I am therefore all the more surprised if somebody supports his or her assertions by quoting articles posted on an anonymous portal with anonymous funding sources and written by an anonymous for a good measure.

The economic results of the Czech media are often quite deep in the red, but still, owning one can be a very lucrative proposition. One should give a very deep thought to this paradox, for it is the media which in many ways often significantly shape the preferences of political parties and indeed serve as a weapon in various power struggles. One could presume the interplay of four basic motivations that urge one to own media, namely: prestige, an instrument of political warfare, economic gains, or unselfish support for independent media outlets. My comment today comes complete with an update on the graphic representation of who owns what on the media scene, designed to provide an insight on the realm of media influences.

Present-day audiences are often inundated by the flow of information and it has become almost customary to see the public influenced by a plethora of false or manipulative theories, especially concerning sensitive issues. Very often, one doesn’t have to be too bright to separate corn from chaff in the information world. All it takes is to go by three fundamental rules of assessing the relevance of the story offered, namely 1. Ask who planted the information; 2. Identify the media outlet that brought it; and 3. Check the source of information. I am therefore all the more surprised if somebody supports his or her assertions by quoting articles posted on an anonymous portal with anonymous funding sources and written by an anonymous for a good measure.

It is therefore necessary to probe the trustworthiness and operational ways of a medium outlet which disseminates stories of a certain hue. A media owner usually denies any outside influence as far as the contents are concerned, and in truth, such influences are very difficult to prove. But in many cases one harbours at least a snippet of suspicion. Praha TV channel, co-owned by the gambling mogul Ivo Valenta, sometimes produces footage pretty partial to the opponents of hazard regulation. Just recently we saw several Czech Television employees walk out in protest against attempts to influence the public broadcaster. One could doubtless dismiss as uncalled-for the article in the MF DNES daily that described the practices revealed by the Stork Nest case as being “formally in perfect order” with a footnote indicating a legal trick. Nor could my scrutiny ignore the Svobodné fórum (Free Forum) website, the contents of which are often significantly biased in favour of Andrej Babiš. I asked its editor Pavel Šafr, who finances this portal, but he became quite dismayed and instantly tried to block me on the Facebook. I believe anonymous financing is the least trustworthy way. We could find a veritable parade of such and similar examples happening.

I am very far from ruling out the possibility that media ownership is motivated by the prospect of economic profit, usually generated by tabloids but sometimes also big commercial TV stations. However, as we read the annual accounts of the periodical press, we routinely witness huge operational losses in this media group. Thus, the company Economia incurred a loss of CZK 150 million in 2014, but recovered to “only” 43 million crowns in the following year. And if we look at a much smaller media outlet, for instance Echo24, we will also look in vain for economic profit. In 2014, Echo24 reported a loss of 13 million crowns, but things got “better” in the following year, when the reported loss amounted to “only” 9.5 million crowns.    

It should be noted, in conclusion, that media need not be supported only for selfish purposes. The Anticorruption Endowment (NFPK) renders financial support to Watchdog (Hlídací Pes) reporter Eliška Bártová and the Nerovlivni.cz website. Surely there are people who believe that the NFPK also instructs the likes of Sabina Slonková what to write, but rest assured that the opposite is true, as shown by the contents of the stories released.

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