Czech Republic: Gambling magnate and media businessman behind "pay-to-play" journalism
The current scandal around South Moravian Regional Governor Michal Hašek (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), who used public money to buy PR articles in a regional newspaper and in the tabloid Parlamentní listy, has given us a peek behind the curtain at how the media group whose motto is "Nobody dictates what we write" actually works. That group, Our Media, also owns shares in the pro-Russian website Protiproud, which is run by the former spokesperson for former Czech President Klaus, and in the Praha TV station.
Hašek gave the media the name of a non-existent spokesperson for some time before being found out, and his case has brought to light other practices of the region he is leading. From 2013-2015 the region spent almost CZK 1 million (EUR 37 000) in public money on made-to-order PR articles in these media outlets.
News server HlídacíPes.org decided to map the business relationships of the people behind these periodicals and their ownership structure. In addition to commissioned articles, these media outlets frequently also publish radical opinions and reprint pro-Kremlin commentaries.
Hašek is most popular?
Analysis of the available information shows that the company called Our Media, which runs these online servers, also owns half of the company that publishes the pro-Russian conspiracy website Protiproud.cz. Our Media also owns half of the business Easy Communications together with the owner of the SANEP polling agency, Jan Fulín.
It is, therefore, interesting that the articles about the favorable position of the Regional Governor published this June in Parlamentní listy with the headline "Michal Hašek is still the most popular Governor in the country” and another text published on that same website that same day called: “SANEP: South Moravian Regional Governor Michal Hašek continues to dominate,” were based on polls conducted by Fulín's SANEP agency. Parlamentní listy is read on average by more than 600 000 individual users monthly, but its proclamations of independence have some serious cracks in them.
Who's the owner here?
According to a notarial record from 2014, Our Media's owners are the media magnate Michal Voráček, who owns the majority share, Jan Holoubek, and Jiří Čermák, whose idea it was to run an online news server. Last year, however, Czech Senator Ivo Valenta, who owns the gambling empire Synot, announced a 50 % ownership in Our Media through the Cyprus-based company WCV (World Capital Ventures Cyprus Limited).
Whether Valenta actually owns such a share in Our Media, however, is not possible to verify. He is not listed in the commercial registry as affiliated with the company.
Despite its legal obligation to do so, Our Media has not supplied annual reports or financial statements to the authorities from which such a change might be ascertained. Be that as it may, the transfer of the ownership share was reported on by Our Media through its own website in April, as well as by Parlamentní listy.
Website in Russian
After the Cyprus-based company entered the picture, significant changes happened to Our Media's structure. Last summer two companies were added to its portfolio, Parlamentné Listy SK, which runs the Slovak version of Parlamentní listy, and Protiproud s.r.o.
Our Media owns one half of Protiproud. and the other half is owned by the former close aide to former Czech President Klaus, Petr Hájek, who is part of the pro-Russia lobby in the Czech Republic. He and Our Media are responsible for the propaganda website Protiproud.cz, which publishes radical opinions with anti-American connotations and sympathizes with Russian politician Vladimir Putin.
What is unique about Protiproud is that it publishes articles in both Czech and Russian. Jan Tvrdoň, co-founder of Protiproud.cz, is the secretary of Protiproud s.r.o., and it was through another firm owned by him, JT Media, that the South Moravian Regional Authority commissioned the publication of the PR articles in Parlamentní listy.
This spring Our Media expanded its portfolio to include two more companies. The first is the Olympia publishing house, where it owns a 10 % share, Valenta owns a 20 % share through the Cyprus-based WVC, and Michal Voráček owns a 20 % share through the E-Centrum firm.
The second company is Praha TV, previously known as TV Metropol, which used to belong to the now-deceased coal baron Luboš Měkota, and which broadcasts to Central Bohemia and Prague. While Our Media only recently got involved in that media work, its business dealings with the head of the SANEP polling firm date from 2014.
This piece was written for the Institute of Independent Journalism (Ústav Nezávislé Žurnalistiky), an independent nonprofit organization and registered institute in the Czech Republic that provides information, journalism and news reporting. The analyses, articles and data produced by the Institute are offered to all for use without precondition.
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