CME prexy files suit against ex-Nova chief

Klinkhammer coming down on Zelezny in $23 mil claim

PRAGUE — CME president Fred Klinkhammer has brought out some big guns in the company’s battle with Vladimir Zelezny over Nova TV. True to his promise, Klinkhammer filed the first legal claim, for $23 million plus damages, against Zelezny, the just-ousted director of the popular Czech station.

CME, owner of Nova, is basing its suit on the same allegations that led to Zelezny’s dismissal: exceeding his authority in creating an independent company, AQS, to act as exclusive acquisition agent for Nova and guaranteeing its debts with CME money.

CME falls

Once the powerhouse broadcaster in Central Europe with stations stretching from Poland to the Ukraine, CME saw its stock drop from $30 to below $5 a share over the past year. Just a month ago, it was bought out by the hot-ticket station group SBS.

SBS president Harry Sloan hotfooted it into Prague last week for a Czech Broadcasting Council meeting about Nova TV while press reports were loaded with speculation that the company was about to dump CME over the standoff over Nova, the only consistently profitable station in the CME group. Sloan has said on air that SBS will go ahead with the acquisition of CME.

A statement by the chairman of the broadcasting council was generally supportive of CME’s position, which is to combine Nova’s broadcasting company CNTS (owned by CME) and license-holding company CET-21 (owned by Zelezny) into a single entity. The chair sent both sides home to work it out further details.

Meanwhile, the warring sides agreed to a seven-day moratorium on press statements, which had been coming fast and furious from both.

Fill-in execs

A triumvirate of CME-appointed replacements are keeping the station moving without disruption. They include financial director John Schwallie, program services director Petr Sladecek and Joschi Arpa, brought in from the company’s Hungarian station.

Re-enforcing the ties between SBS and CME already under way, SBS program director Brian Frons is filling in for Sladecek at CME’s London headquarters.

As for AQS, Klinkhammer said Nova is no longer buying programming from it and notified distributors that it would not pick up the tab for some $10 million in recently inked deals.