WAZ targets Greece and Albania

SKOPJE (Reuters) – German newspaper giant WAZ-Gruppe, already a key player in the Balkans, is seeking opportunities in Albania and Greece as it expands further in Southeastern Europe, a company executive said on Thursday. Srgan Kerim, WAZ’s manager for the region and head of operations in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), told Reuters it was holding talks in Greece and was establishing contacts in Albania. «There are already talks in Greece with a potential partner and an initiative from Albania that should soon result in a formal contact,» he said in an interview. He gave no further details. Privately held WAZ-Gruppe, Germany’s second largest newspaper group, had by the end of the summer bought FYROM’s three main newspapers – Dnevnik, Vest and Utrinski Vesnik – for a total of 6.5 million euros ($7.61 million). It was the largest foreign investment so far this year in FYROM, which is still struggling to recover from an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001. The acquisitions further strengthened the position of WAZ-Gruppe, owned by two families, as the dominant foreign investor in the region’s developing media market. It holds majority stakes in some 13 newspapers, including daily Politika in Serbia, 24 Chasa in Bulgaria, and papers in Romania and Croatia. «It is a difficult market… but here you can make profit, which is most important,» Kerim said. He rejected local concerns that such takeovers could lead to a monopoly situation by concentrating key newspapers in the hands of one powerful media company. «That’s a wrong interpretation. There shouldn’t be any fear of a monopoly. We are not here to destroy the markets, but to abide by their rules,» he said. «Our main goal is to raise standards and offer more independence for journalists.» WAZ-Gruppe, which takes its initials from the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, receives 43 percent of its 1.9 billion euros in annual sales from markets outside Germany – including Austria, Hungary and the Balkans.