The PPF Group, owned by the richest Czech Petr Kellner, rejected claims that its Telenor has plans to work with Telekom Serbia to suppress freedom of the media in Serbia, saying that those claims are slanderous.
Serbia is not the first country in which accusations of media suppression have been made against Kellner and his companies. The same thing happened last year when Kellner took over SME which owns the Nova TV in his native Czechia as well as more than 30 TV stations with 45 million viewers in eastern Europe. Journalists’ organizations in Slovenia have accused him of plotting with Prime Minister Janez Jansa against his harshest critics, journalists at POP TV which has been bought by Kellner.
Czech media have reported in detail about the accusations in Serbia that the planned deal between oligarch Kellner’s Telenor and the state-owned Telekom is actually aimed at reducing the market share of the SBB cable services provider and throttling the media which are not under the control of the Serbian authorities. Those media reports said that this is not the first time that the PFF Group owner has faced similar accusations adding that this was the case when he took over the Czech Nova TV.
“That is why, last year, the European Federation of Journalists, International Media Institute, Reporters Without Borders, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom issued an open letter demanding a public promise that he would respect freedom of speech and the independence of news desks in the media. Their fear came over a statement by PPF manager Vladimir Mlinarz who said that whoever buys something, including the media, and pays big money for it has the right to dispose of it freely,” the Beta news agency’s Prague correspondent Dasa Pavlovic said.
N1 asked the Telenor Group in Norway if they think the use of that group’s name in anti-competition market collaboration was questionable. In 2018, Kellner took over several Telenor mobile networks in eastern Europe, including Telenor Serbia, but he kept the right to the name to mid-2021.
“International journalists’ organizations warned of one more important thing, that the independent media are under increased pressure in the region where PPF and Kellner operate including Serbia,” Pavlovic said.
Kellner has been signled out as someone who throttles freedom of the media not just in Czechia and Serbia but also in Slovenia after he took over POP TV, a station with national coverage which Prime Minister Jansa called the strongest opposition party.
“Kellner had a secret meeting with Jansa on December 3 last year. Both sides did their utmost to keep the meeting secret. Jansa’s cabinet confirmed the meeting only after we revealed it. We think, and this is our speculation, that Jansa offered Kellner something in telecommunications, infrastructure in return for POP TV. Jansa has done this before,” Slovenian journalist Primoz Cirman said.
Slovenian sources said that Jansa has a close relationship with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and they assume that the czech millionaire is part of efforts in both countries to take control of the media.
“As the populists in this part of Europe they connected and they share views. Towards Brussels. I think that everything that is going to happen in Slovenia should be viewed through the prism of what will happen in Serbia,” Cirman said.
The Czech businessman is no stranger to business dealings with populist and undemocratic regimes. Kellner set up the Home Credit company in China and was allegedly involved in a campaign to improve China’s image in Czechia. He also does business in Russia where he has excellent connections.
He is ranked 68th on the Forbes list of richest people with 15 billion Dollars in assets and is the most secretive of all Czech tycoons. He started acquiring his fortune in 1991, the time of the Wild East when Czechoslovakia handed out free shares which most people who grew up in Socialism did not realize would bring them huge wealth. Using Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus as his example, Kellner got hold of a large number of companies, including the Czech post office and insurance company.