Sell off could threaten newspaper integrity

  • 2009-07-15
  • TBT staff

RIGA - There are fears the veil of secrecy surrounding the sale of respected Latvian language newspapers Diena and Dienas Bizness will put a dent in public trust and undermine editorial independence.
The new owners of the newspapers, which were sold off on July 3 for an undisclosed sum, have declined to provide the names of investors in the purchase deal.

At a July 9 press conference new owner Aleksandrs Tralmaks side stepped media questions on the newspapers' ownership structure, saying only that investors have no connections to Russia.
Media experts said the decision not to disclose the new ownership structure will impact the believability of content, as well as jeopardize the newspapers' long-term credibility.
"I feel that no greater damage could have been done to Diena 's such a key player in the sector. It would be better if the owners came right out and said that the investors will not be revealed, not play around," said Riga Stradina University Communications and Journalism Dean Anda Rozukalne, adding the decision apparently flew in the face of the paper's own stated values of openness and transparency.

 Turiba Business University Communications Associate Professor Ainars Dimants said the delay in naming investors will be detrimental to both newspapers because "its main capital, in the long-term, is credibility."
 In a deal brokered by the newspapers' former management the Tralmaks-owned Nedela S.A. and leading partner company Catella Corporate Finance (CCF) acquired both Diena and Dienas Bizness from Swedish owned media group Bonnier Business Press (BBP).

 Tralmaks is the sole owner of Nedela S.A.; however the deal was financed 100 percent by Luxembourg Financial Services (LFS), believed to be headed by a group of Estonian entrepreneurs.
CCF acted as a consultant between the parties and assisted in attracting financing for the purchase. Former BBP board member John Hedberg also assisted in negotiations.
Following the sale CEO and president of BBP Casten Almqvist said the company saw the deal as an opportunity to strengthen its positions in its priority markets of Scandinavia, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovenia.

Nellija Locmele, editor-in-chief at publishing house Dienas mediji said Tralmaks had been made aware of the need for complete transparency on ownership's sources.
  However, she said it was still "business as usual" at Diena, with Tralmaks himself previously declaring he remained committed to editorial freedom.
First published in 1990, Diena (The Day) is one of the largest and most influential Latvian language daily newspapers in Latvia, currently leading the market in terms of readership and revenue from advertising.

Sister publication Dienas Bizness is also highly regarded.
Joint Latvian-Swedish Stock Company Diena is the largest media concern in Latvia, publishing national and regional newspapers and magazines, as well as providing press printing and distribution services.
The controlling shares were previously owned by Bonnier and other private individuals.