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nedelja, 16 januarja, 2022

A Factory of Media Garbage and Doormat Journalists

By: Vida Kocjan, Peter Truden, Janja Strah

The largest concentration of media outlets in the Slovenian space is related to the garbage and media tycoon Martin Odlazek, the man who was accused of exploiting the disabled. Together with some of his family members, Odlazek controls more than 60 different media outlets in the country, which is actually not allowed by law. However, Odlazek is continuing with his takeover of the media and the fragmentation of operations, and in addition, he is also establishing new companies and most likely transferring activities among them. His network of companies is constantly changing, expanding, and becoming more and more diversified, making it more difficult to track it.

In October, the Committee on Culture of the National Assembly adopted a decision that the competent authorities, and particularly the Financial Administration of the Republic of Slovenia, should examine in detail all of Odlazek’s media purchases and sales made in the last five years. In September, the SDS and SMC parliamentary groups submitted a request to convene a meeting of the Committee on Culture in order to discuss media ownership in Slovenia and the concentration of media space. They assessed that the competent authorities are not acting in accordance with the law and are not problematising the matter, as there would otherwise be no concentration. Share purchases are also questionable, so they decided that the Financial Administration should check everything. As expected, the deputies of the so-called Constitutional Arch Coalition (SD, LMŠ, Levica, SaB parties and the non-partisan MPs) opposed this decision (and committee chairwoman, Violeta Tomić, from the Levica party (the Left) even left the session in protest).

Odlazek’s Pillars
Odlazek works through several pillars: the media pillar, the garbage pillar, and the pillar of printing magazines and newspapers. He manages all this through the umbrella company Eurofit, in which he is the 44-percent owner, and the remaining ownership is divided among his seven children, whom he has with his three ex-wives. The youngest partial owner of the empire is barely eight years old. Odlazek spends a lot of time in Škocjan in the Southeast region of Slovenia, where he bought and renovated a former manor. However, locals say that he is working hard to set up a waste collection point and incinerator nearby. Since he has not been able to get a permit to do so during the time of the current government, and the municipality is also against it, Odlazek is attacking the government with all of his might through his media outlets. He is hoping that the current government will soon fall and that he will be able to realise his plans under the new, left-wing government.

Garbage is key to Odlazek’s profits in this area, and this is how he finances the media outlets that attack the government. In recent months, however, his empire has lost several major waste sorting deals. The main company in his scheme is called Recikel. Due to the new environmental legislation, Odlazek is now in danger of also losing other businesses. This would mean that the cash flow of several million euros, which is now crucial for the financing of the entire network of his businesses, including the media, where Media24 predominates, would be interrupted.

The Bank Assets Management Company’s criminal charges
The largest company in the Media24 group is Salomon, which the Odlazek family controls through its company Eurofit. A significant part of Salomon‘s ownership, namely 45.39 percent, was transferred to the Bank Assets Management Company (BAMC) years ago due to the collapse of the Krater printing house, which means that it is now indirectly owned by all citizens. Under the new management, BAMC then filed several criminal charges against Martin Odlazek’s colleagues and family members in the spring of this year.

However, what is less known to the public, is that the left-wing governments used public money to save Odlazek’s empire through BAMC, which also bought the ownership shares of some other Odlazek’s indebted companies, in the amount of 17 million euros.

One of the most well-known violations of the Salomon company is that its employees are mostly registered as disabled. Among other things, the employees at the Reporter magazine are also employed as disabled persons in one of Odlazek’s companies. And due to the journalistic and editorial activities of the magazine, the number of subscribers and readership has been steadily declining for a while now.

Let us also remind you of the affair of the former Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Anja Kopač Mrak, from the Social Democrats party (SD). Under her leadership, officials granted millions in subsidies for the employment of disabled people in Odlazek’s companies. However, in the end, Odlazek collected the subsidies but fired the disabled. According to publicly available data on the Erar web application, he received around 30 million euros of taxpayers’ money for this.

The media pillar
For many years now, Odlazek has been building his media empire by combining the activities of the printed press, radio, and television. He is the owner of the Dolenjski list web portal, part of which is also the Lokalno.si web portal. He bought the newspapers Primorske novice and Večer, the Reporter magazine, and he also owns many other magazines and radio stations. Odlazek’s group Media24 grew from Salomonov oglasnik (a classifieds magazine), which became the key platform for the exchange of goods soon after Slovenia gained its independence. The Media24 group also has the company Veseljak TV in its portfolio, which controls the television station Veseljak.

Salomon is also the largest individual (third) owner of the RGL company, which is the radio pillar of the Media24 group. RGL is listed in the media register as a broadcaster of many radio stations, including the key brands of Aktual, Veseljak, RGL and Salomon. The Media24 group is also associated with Infonet, which was once a competitive broadcaster of commercial radio stations, marketed under the Radio 1 brand.
Not all radio stations are part of Media24‘s joint offer, but publicly available sources show that Salomon has a stake in Infonet.

The key company of Media24
In the Media24 group, the key company is Svet24, which is controlled by Alena Nardini, Martin Odlazek’s ex-wife. Svet24 is the published or the daily general newspaper Svet24 and also the owner of Media Partner, which also publishes several magazines in addition to Salomon. The most famous magazines that the company publishes are Zvezde/Lady and Obrazi/Avenija. Through the company Tretje revije, Media24 also publishes several other magazines, including Nova and Liza/Maja. The weekly magazine Reporter is also owned by Media24 and the Odlazek family.

Media24 also owns two-thirds of the digital advertising agency Kokos Agency (and Media24 director Igor Klun owns a further 10 percent). This agency also takes care of the marketing of the Necenzurirano.si (Uncensored) web portal, which was created in February 2020, and is considered to be the main media “Rottweiler” in the fights against the current government of Janez Janša. Articles, which are written by the journalists Primož Cirman, Vesna Vuković and Tomaž Modic for the web portal, also appear in the Svet24 newspaper and have now also started to take precedence in the Reporter magazine. According to our sources, one of Odlazek’s companies transfers 10 thousand euros to the straw owner from Domžale every month.

When asked how they evaluate the journalistic contributions, and the way the Necenzurirano web portal and the media network owned by the media and garbage tycoon Martin Odlazek work, Jože Biščak – editor-in-chief of the Demokracija magazine, Matevž Tomšič – publicist and professor, and Vinko Vasle – journalist and publicist, told us the following:

Jože Biščak, President of the Slovenian Association of Patriotic Journalists: “This is a private media outlet that is allowed to be clearly ideologically and politically defined. I am not bothered by that in the slightest. The problem arises when the state-owned media outlets, such as RTV, or the Slovenian Press Agency, present the Necenzurirano.si web portal as an impartial investigative and credible media outlet, despite the fact that it is more than obvious that this is a progressive activist blog, the intention of which is to engage in the political fight with the right. Their articles are based on rumours, they do not understand the financial and business terminology at all, and sometimes they even adapt it to their own needs. When asked how they prove that their claims are actually true, Primož Cirman said when he commented on Janez Janša meeting with Božo Dimnik: ‘Janša has to prove that there was no influence, and not the other way around, that we have to wonder about the evidence.’ That was the modus operandi of the State Security Administration of the former Yugoslavia and the communist agitprop.”

 Matevž Tomšič, President of the Association of Journalists and Publicists: “We can definitely say that this web portal is extremely one-sided and politically defined in its reporting. Moreover, it feels like the sole purpose of its existence is to deal with specific politicians and a specific political option – the one that is currently in power and has been a thorn in the side of the fifth centre of power from the transitional left for a long time now. This is, of course, related to the ownership of the media, which is in the hands of the infamous transitional tycoon, associated with the left-wing political option, which primarily considers the media as a means of asserting its own business interests.”

Vinko Vasle, long-time journalist and editor, journalistic legend: “The web portal Necenzurirano.si is not just a problem – it is a scandal. A scandal in the media sphere, as it is a media outlet for which it is not even known how it is financed, and a scandal because it does not respect even the most basic laws of the yellow press when publishing its stories. That is why it is very difficult to define it, because it is not a media outlet, really – at most, it is an ultra-left agitprop, which of course uses all those tricks of black propaganda that were already in use during the times of the State Security Administration of the former Yugoslavia, the specialist of which was the head of the administration and the party, Milan Kučan. It is a media outlet that liquidates truth, kills personalities, and also knows how to fake something when necessary. The necenzurirano.si web portal is also how it is because it falls within the scope of the media empire of the king of garbage, Odlazek. Therefore, what this outlet produces is media garbage, which should go directly to a landfill, and not to the public.”

So, what is the essence of the Odlazek family?
There are four main interests in buying the media outlets (printed media):
1. to then take over the printing process – they own the Salomon printing house,
2. to distribute editions to points of sale – they own the company Izberi,
3. concentration of the media, reduction of costs… The journalist writes the same article on the topic of domestic politics for 10 different media outlets, etc.,
4. political power.

The flagship media in Odlazek’s media group is currently definitely the newspaper Večer, which also has the largest numbers of copies sold, while Primorske novice is another story: they are rationalising, firing. Janez Pavčnik, director of the Recikel garbage company, has been assigned to the position of director of Primorske novice in order to help rehabilitate the company, despite the fact that he does not know much about the media. In fact, this is a typical business model for this network of companies, as Odlazek merely rotates the people he trusts between the three main pillars of his empire (media, garbage, press) so that everyone can learn about the key issues.

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