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Respekt: Controversial Czech news server sells info in new way

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Prague, Jan 24 (CTK) – The controversial Czech online daily Parlamentni listy has come with a totally new way of selling and consuming information, with all the risks that accompany it in the dramatically changing media world, weekly Respekt has written in its latest issue.
Some people regard Parlamentni listy as a news server that gives a lot of space to conspiration and misinformation, while others consider it an anchor which they can trust, Respekt writes.
From the very beginning, the business strategy was to release as many pieces of news as possible and as soon as possible, ideally when the event is still going on.
Students or inexperienced journalists were hired and they worked on shifts, from early morning until late at night. They simplified the news presented by other media and focused on issues that were seen as an explosive conflict, such as sharp clashes between politicians, attacks against “gypsies” and labelling refugees dangerous terrorists. Unlike other media, Parlamentni listy used very emotional headlines, including vulgar language, in such reports, Respekt writes.
What other media considered unacceptable, Parlamentni listy made part of its image, it adds.
And the strategy has definitely been a success. After one year, the news server had 250,000 visitors a month, which is remarkable in the Czech Republic. At present, it is the eight most popular news server in the country, with 790,000 regular readers. Moreover, it expanded to Slovakia and plans to enter other foreign markets, Respekt writes.
Ageing media businessman Michal Voracek, who started publishing the Blesk tabloid and other press in the early 1990s, wanted to try something new. Seven years ago, he took a risk when he financed the launch of the Parlamentni listy online daily.
“I pressed for the highest number of readers possible. The only way to succeed in the competition were tabloid headlines. We wanted to be full of conflict and show extreme opinions from both sides,” Voracek told Respekt.
Voracek is clearly satisfied with the investment now. He recently sold most of his stake to senator Ivo Valenta (small Party of Entrepreneurs).
Valenta, a lottery firm billionaire, has confirmed that he owns a majority stake in Parlamentni listy now. After Finance Minister Andrej Babis (ANO), who owns the Mafra publishers issuing two national dailies, he is the second Czech politician with control over a media outlet, Respekt writes.
Valenta says he neither influences the contents of Parlamentni listy nor misuses it in his political campaign. “Media is just an investment for me,” he said.
The contents of the news server seems to be mostly influenced by the editorial team director Jaroslav Polansky, deputy editor-in-chief Radim Panenka and senior editor Lukas Petrik. All the three men are extreme right-wingers. In the past, Panenka ran for the far-right National Party that became infamous for its promise to bring “the final solution to the gypsy question,” Respekt writes.
Hateful texts are posted especially on five websites that are closely related to Parlamentni listy: Euserver, Eurabia, EUportal, Eportal and Freeglobe. These texts regularly attack gays, Jews, Muslims, immigrants and the European Union.
Parlamentni listy has been mentioned in connection with the Russian disinformation campaign since some of the associated websites are markedly pro-Russian. The server supports the policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin. People from the Czech security community consider it the most influential conspiratorial website, Respekt writes.
According to the available list of receivables of Parlamentni listy’s publishers, however, the server is not strongly supported from Russia, the weekly writes.
In a recent analysis worked out at Brno’s Masaryk University, the editors of Parlamentni listy often used manipulative techniques, they exaggerated and spread rumours in 30 percent of texts and generalised in 18 percent of texts, saying for example that Kosovo is a boiling cauldron of drug dealers and that immigrants can never learn the standards of sexual behaviour, Respekt writes.
“Parlamentni listy are something between serious media and the grey zone of pro-Kremlin manipulation,” said Milos Gregor, one of the authors of the analysis. By deleting the difference between facts and fiction, the server creates information chaos, he added.
It turned out that the server released promotion texts for the publishing of which certain politicians or institutions paid, but presented them as its own reports, not as advertising. The interest in Parlamentni listy did not weaken after this evidence of obvious violation of law, Respekt writes.

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