Warsaw, Poland – George Soros’ confrontation with the Hungarian government is well-known. Now, the show-down between the Hungarian-born American financier and Central European nationalist governments has moved to a new front-line.
According to reports, George Soros has teamed up with Polish publisher Agora SA in a bid to buy Eurozet, owner of several radio stations including Poland’s second largest Radio Zet, through the intermediary of Czech company SFS Ventures, itself part of Soros’ investment fund Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF). According to preliminary information, SFS Ventures would be interested in buying 60% of the shares of Eurozet, while the remaining 40% would go to Agora if their bid is successful.
In the spring of 2018, Czech Media Invest, owned by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, bought Eurozet from French conglomerate Lagardère as part of a transaction that also involved radio stations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania. Now, less than one year later, Kretinsky, whose core business is focused in the energy sector through conglomerate EPH, is reportedly seeking to sell back the Polish media assets he recently acquired.
But the Polish government has indicated it would try to prevent Soros’ takeover of Radio Zet. Spokeswoman for ruling Law and Justice party Beta Mazurek said that Poland’s de facto leader “Jaroslaw Kaczynski believes the state should do everything to prevent speculators increasing influence in the media market”. A few hours later however, Deputy Culture Minister Pawel Lewandowski reminded that anti-monopoly rules were the only legal mechanism on the grounds of which the state could scrutinize – and block – the deal. “The problem is how to measure concentration on the media market with multiple platforms and how to measure concentration on the market of ideas, we don’t have tools for that”, he said before adding: “I’d like to have legal ground to do it”.
In 2016, Soros-owned MDIF bought 16% of the Agora Group, whose portfolio comprises a set of liberal media outlets, including radio station Tok FM and outspoken government critic Gazeta Wyborcza. However, most analysts consider that the new take-over of Eurozet by MDIF wouldn’t qualify as an excessive concentration of media ownership and that anti-monopoly rules couldn’t be used to block the deal.
The final decision, however, lies in the hands of Kretinsky’s Czech Media Invest, and Soros is not the only interested party in acquiring the radio station. He will also be vying against Fratria, the publisher of the pro-government weekly Sieci and owner of several popular news websites, including wPolityce, PMPG Polskie Media SA – owner of the weekly Do Rzeczy and Wprost – and Polish businessman Zbigniew Jakubas, according to Bloomberg reports.
In power since 2015, the ruling conservative Law and Justice party has long attempted to implement a so-called “re-Polonization” of its foreign-owned media. A bill that could have forced some foreign outlets out of the country was eventually scrapped under international pressure.
For several years, George Soros has been the target of nationalist, anti-immigration governments around the world, and has most notably become Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nemesis and favorite scapegoat. His anti-Soros campaign culminated in the eviction of the Soros-backed Central European University from Budapest last year, forced to relocate most of its activities to Vienna, and in the so-called “Stop Soros” bill criminalizing aid to illegal immigrants in the country. As a recent study showed, the government spared no expense to vilify and demonize the Hungarian-born financier in what many observers criticize as an openly anti-Semitic campaign.