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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

TV Power Struggle a Ratings Winner

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Boardroom battles do not usually attract more television viewers than the World Cup, but as financial and political power brokers in the Czech Republic struggle for control of the leading TV station, nearly a million viewers are tuning in to watch the fray.

The station, the privately owned TV Nova, appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy after Nova stopped paying some bills and a major creditor, ABN Amro, said it was calling in a 480 million koruna ($16 million) loan.

Now, one of the country's most powerful and least transparent financial groups claims that it is in a position to control the station and refinance it, but Nova's embattled director, Vladimir Zelezny, went on air Saturday to say that he is still in charge.

"We are still broadcasting and in any case I am still the director," Zelezny said, as almost a million viewers tuned in to his Saturday morning program, "Call the Director," the station reported. Only about 630,000 watched the semifinals of the World Cup earlier last week.

Zelezny, whose control of the station is shrouded in legal disputes, is battling with former partners and with the PPF Holdings financial group for control of Nova's broadcast license. Regulators said last week that they would examine the station's ownership.

At stake is Nova's demonstrated ability to move voters and make or break political leaders, as well as the potential for millions of dollars in profits. But Nova is also at the center of a half-billion dollar lawsuit that accuses the Czech government of helping Zelezny gain control of the station from its original backer.

That backer, Ronald Lauder, an heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune, had built Nova into a chain of tabloid-style television stations across Central Europe, with mixed financial results.

Nova's political programming, death-and-doom news programs, American television serials and stripteasing weather women and men have won it an average 70 percent share of the audience.

Already, Lauder has won a $27 million judgment against Zelezny in a related case, and a Swedish arbitration panel awarded $527 million to Lauder and his companies on their claim that the Czech government and its regulators did not protect his investment in Nova when they allowed Zelezny to wrest control.

The Czech government is trying to appeal the ruling. The trouble at Nova began on June 14, when Zelezny's lawyer and partner Ales Rozehnal entered Nova's headquarters with security guards and announced he had ousted Zelezny and taken over.

A boardroom dispute ensued as shareholders and executives fought for control of Nova and the company that owns its license.

"It was an attempt at a palace coup and it failed," said Martin Chalupsky, Zelezny's spokesman.

The ouster attempt came two hours before polls opened in nationwide parliamentary elections. Those elections saw the sound defeat of Zelezny's political patron, former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus.