Pole pips media giants on TV bid

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The Independent Online
GIANT Western media companies were stunned yesterday when a bid to create Poland's first national private television channel was won by a Polish-German businessman who made his fortune partly by trading used cars in Eastern Europe.

Zygmunt Solorz's Polsat company beat off rival bids from Time- Warner Inc, Bertelsmann AG of Germany and Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Telediffusion, which was linked to the Reuters international news service.

France's Canal Plus put in a separate bid to create a pay channel. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has a stake - believed to be the maximum 33 per cent allowed to a foreign company in each bid - in the Polsat venture.

The Western companies saw the contract as a chance to make millions from advertising revenue. With a population of 38 million, Poland is the largest post-Communist country in Eastern Europe, and its economy is expanding rapidly as a result of market-based reforms introduced since 1990. About pounds 80m was spent on television advertising last year.

Mr Solorz, who owns 97 per cent of Polsat, is a businessman from the south-western city of Wroclaw and holds dual Polish and German citizenship. His company already broadcasts about 10 hours a day by satellite into Poland from the Netherlands. Mr Solorz has become one of Poland's most prominent entrepreneurs since the demise of Communism as a result of ventures that include car dealing and investment in the popular Polish newspaper Kurier Polski.

The National Radio and Television Council, which awarded the contract to Polsat, said its decision was influenced by the fact that the company was funded by Polish capital alone. But Mr Solorz, who is known to have good contacts in the left-wing government that took power after last September's elections, has not ruled out bringing in foreign investors. One Polish media executive said some foreign involvement was almost certain because Polsat would need to invest at least pounds 60m to make a success of its project.

Poland has two state-run channels as well as about 20 private local channels. Polsat proposes to run a mixture of news, current affairs, entertainment and sport programmes, of which almost half must, by law, be of Polish origin. The creation of the new channel means that the state will no longer be able to exert complete control over the most important opinion- shaping broadcasting medium.