An article published on The New Federalist.
Retrouvez cet article en version française, sur l’Observatoire des Médias.
The second richest man in Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, will soon be the new Prime Minister. Often compared to Trump for his populist political views, Babis happens to own major Czech media outlets.
Babis’ political party, the ANO (Action for Dissatisfied Citizens) won 30% of the vote last weekend. It is now the main force in the Parliament of the Czech Republic. In 2013, the 63 years old billionaire bought MAFRA, a media group behind Mlada fronta DNES, one of the most popular newspaper in the country. With this acquisition, Babis also managed to control Lidové noviny and Metro – read by one million people everyday – amongst other press titles. This former CEO of Agrofert, a giant conglomerate, then got his hands on Radio Impuls, the station with the largest audience in Czech Republic.
Weirdly enough, Andrej Babis started negotiating and buying news outlets after creating his political movement in 2011 : ANO, meaning YES in English. In early 2015, Foreign Policy reported that influential media controlled by Babis were featuring a “sympathetic coverage” of the soon-to-be Prime Minister. His political adversaries, however, did not receive the same thoughtful treatment. And yet, in 2011, Babis said “I’d be crazy if I wanted to influence the media. It would certainly spread among the journalists, which would be the end of me”, reported Adam Pešek for the European Journalist Observatory.
In 2014, one of Babis’ newspapers published a series of investigative articles about the Prime Minister at the time, Bohuslav Sobotka, reporting on his role in a privatisation scandal. As a result, Sobotka’s opinion ratings dropped and he was forced to leave his political party, but stayed Prime Minister. Babis was then the Finance Minister, and it looked like he tried to overthrow his leader. The plan was failure but he still managed to weaken Sobotka’s public image.
This business strategy already has a name in the region : the oligarchization of the media. As the richest are already buying news outlets in Hungary and Slovakia, Czech Republic seems to have followed that trend religiously. And the recent elections, by bringing Andrej Babis to the higher spheres of power, proved that profit was not, for the media moguls, the main objective. Babis now enjoys commercial, political and media powers. But he isn’t the only one in his country. His opponents, the billionaires Daniel Kretinsky and Patrik Tkac, acquired popular magazines and tabloids right after Babis bought MAFRA.
The billionaire, now Prime Minister, will bring populism, euro scepticism and anti-immigration impulses as Czech Republic leading political priorities. Babis was recently charged with fraud over unlawfully taking EU grants to build private infrastructures. Last May, he was forced to leave his position as Finance Minister over those allegations.
Sources are linked in the article