Czech Republic Insight

The fall of Czech tycoon and presidential hopeful Jaromir Soukup

Things are starting to look increasingly bleak for Czech media tycoon, billionaire and presidential candidate Jaromir Soukup.

In the past, Soukup was notorious for his media appearances and a strong alliance with the Czech President Milos Zeman. On his company’s website, he describes himself as a “self-made successful entrepreneur” that “started from scratch” and “only through his own diligence, incredible commitment and business spirit” eventually became “the market leader on the Czech media and marketing scene.”

Humility seems not to be Soukup’s strongest suit. In fact, Soukup is well-known throughout the Czech Republic as a man with a colossal ego and even bigger political aspirations, putting these fully on display on his television station TV Barrandov, the third largest private television station in the country.

Besides being the owner of the station, Soukup is also the channel’s main star. His name appears in a variety of shows. He currently hosts: “Duel of Jaromir Soukup,” “Arena of Jaromir Soukup”, “My News”, “Affairs of Jaromir Soukup”, “Instincts of Jaromir Soukup”, “Good evening, Czechia!” and most importantly “The Week with the President”.

The last of these, a weekly conversation between the Czech president Milos Zeman and Soukup, became the flagship show of Soukup’s television. But when on January 15, in an open letter, Jiri Ovcacek, the speaker of President Zeman, announced that the president will no longer appear in Soukup’s “The Week with the President” program, it signaled an end to a long alliance between Soukup and the President.

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“The Week with the President”, a weekly conversation between the Czech president Milos Zeman and Soukup, became the flagship show of Soukup’s television. Credit: Tyden

The squabbles of Jaromir Soukup

Ovcacek wrote: “I came to the conclusion that ‘The Week with the President’ program has exhausted its potential and cannot bring any new impulses.” This came out of the blue for many political commentators, but some were quick to point out that there were previous signs that the alliance might be falling apart.

On Twitter, Soukup previously publicly criticized Zeman’s decision to name Helena Valkova, former member of the Czech Communist party that cooperated with the infamous Communist prosecutor Jiri Urvalek, to the position of the Czech public defender of rights (ombudsman).

In early January, Soukup’s newspaper “Tyden”, ran a story about the previous president Vaclav Havel, with Havel on the cover titled “visionary.” The author of the article wrote that “Havel will forever have his place in the history textbooks, […] whereas the era of Milos Zeman will probably be covered in just a couple of sentences”.

It seemed as if Soukup soon realized that he overstepped. Just hours after criticizing Valkova on Twitter, he wrote that he is ready to start shooting another episode of “The Week with the President” and is only waiting for a confirmation from the President’s office. But it might have been too little, too late.

But these events could have been also influenced by a separate development beyond Soukup’s reach. Zeman’s decision to stop appearing on Soukup’s TV station came against the backdrop of the recent acquisition of Central European Media Enterprises by Petr Kellner, the richest man in the Czech Republic and an ally of President Zeman.

This created new possibilities for Zeman, who, if he wishes, can appear on Kellner’s Nova station, the most watched TV station in the country, instead of Soukup’s TV Barrandov.

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The fact that President Zeman will no longer appear in Soukup’s program signaled an end to the long-lasting alliance between Soukup and the President. Credit: blesk.cz

The debts of Jaromir Soukup

Besides an expected drop in popularity connected with the loss of his flagship program, Soukup’s media empire might also struggle with finding new investors, which are, according to an investigative server Neovlivni.cz, desperately needed. The server writes that most of Soukup’s media projects, including TV Barrandov and Soukup’s media company, Empressa Media, are at a loss, and Soukup uses the profits from his marketing company Medea to subsidize them.

The server also reports that Soukup did not manage to attract any new investors in the last year. What’s more, it found that one of the key investors in Soukup’s media empire is a Chinese state-owned company, CITIC, whose investment was negotiated by President Zeman’s advisor Martin Nejedly

According to the information from two sources close to Nejedly, Soukup currently owes about 460 million crowns to its creditors. Most recently, Neovlivni.cz reports, Soukup received an offer that the Chinese company, CITIC, offered to pay back Soukup’s debt and has agreed to finance Soukup’s television in exchange for a complete take-over of Soukup’s money-making marketing company Medea.

Two weeks ago, it seemed as if both sides will finally reach an agreement. However, the negotiations collapsed once again last week week. Soukup recently had a first meeting with his creditors and the future of his business depends on finding consensus.

Worst case scenario, Soukup could lose his television and marketing company. Better scenario for Soukup would be that CITIC agrees to pay off his debt, but this would still mean that Soukup would become dependent on Chinese money and lose a major share of influence he currently has through Medea.

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Soukup is well-known throughout the Czech Republic as a man with a colossal ego and even bigger political aspirations. Credit: Facebook

The list of Jaromir Soukup

Besides losing independence, an expected loss of influence could undermine Soukup’s bid for his candidacy in the next presidential elections. To add to this, Soukup has already had his first major political loss last year.

In January 2019, Soukup grandiosely announced on his television the founding of his political party: “I was the first one to point out the difference between what politicians say and what they actually do. They always promise us something. Allow me to announce that today I am founding a new political movement The List of Jaromir Soukup, whose goal is to safeguard Czech national interest from corrupt politicians and oligarchs.”

But it wasn’t long until his newly founded movement ran into trouble. Paradoxically, Soukup chose not to be one of the party’s founding members, an unexpected decision for a movement that was named after him.

What’s more, it seems that the other founding members, Soukup’s boxing buddies, were not active enough and did not comply with state legislation. The last time the movement was mentioned on the news was when the Czech government approved the proposal for the administrative court to discuss suspending the activity of Soukup’s movement.

The television career of Jaromir Soukup

Soukup’s television plays a key role in his political aspirations. His most recent attempt to portray himself as a competent politician, playing the lead character in a TV sitcom called The Prime Minister (Premiér) attracted nationwide attention. Unfortunately for Soukup, it did so for all the wrong reasons.

The show is currently ranked as the worst series ever on the Czechoslovak Film Database, with only two percent rating out of the total one hundred. The reviewees criticize literally everything about the show, starting with the poor quality of production, all the way to bad acting and terrible screenplay.

What’s more, some pranksters created a joke website called The Czechoslovak Film Database of Jaromir Soukup. The database features only Soukup’s show and they all have a rating of 100% with the exception of the show The Prime Minister, which is ranked as number one with 101% rating. The reviewees feature Milos Zeman, his speaker Jiri Ovcacek. The first comment with five-star rating comes from a user called Jaromir Soukup, who writes “An incredible piece by a world-renowned director and actor.”

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Jaromir Soukup also hosted Viktor Orban on his show. Credit: Tyden

The future of Jaromir Soukup

Despite all the issues that have happened to Soukup in 2019, he still retains major influence on the Czech media scene. However, translating his media presence to popularity will probably prove difficult among the more educated voters as his programming is truly bottom of the barrel that is the Czech media landscape.

Sorting out his financial troubles and overcoming political divisions should be a priority. Yet the way it looks now for Soukup’s candidacy for the presidential office is that it might end up the same way his party did – with an emergency landing before it even had a chance to properly take off.

In order to get back in shape, Soukup should come back to the basics. More specifically, to the “about life” section on his profile, where he explains: “Most things in politics and life are not complicated. Just keep common sense, which will help you solve problems.”

Because let’s face it, the only person qualified enough to advise Jaromir Soukup is Jaromir Soukup himself.

By Matej Voda 

Born in Prague, Matej Voda studied at Charles University and University College London. He currently pursues his graduate studies at Central European University in Budapest and Vienna. Previously, he worked and interned at EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in Berlin, the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prague-Based Association for International Affairs, and the Prague office of Euractiv. He enjoys cheese, theatre and Russian literature. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!

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