Axel Springer merges eastern holdings with Swiss group

German media group Axel Springer announced on Wednesday it would merge its Eastern European operations with those of Switzerland's Ringier to create one of the region's biggest print and digital publishers.

Axel Springer merges eastern holdings with Swiss group
Photo: DPA

The joint venture, with combined revenues of €414 million ($391 million), will bring together the German giant’s subsidiaries in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary with Ringier’s operations in Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary, the companies said in a statement.

“For both companies, this partnership is an excellent opportunity to considerably increase our journalistic core business with five market-leading tabloid newspapers in attractive growth markets,” Axel Springer chief executive Mathias Döpfner said. “It establishes optimal conditions for future expansion in the era of digitalisation.”

More than 100 print and 70 online publications with a claimed total of 9.3 million readers will come under the merged group which will have around 4,800 employees.

Springer and Ringier will each hold a 50 percent share in the company based in the Swiss city of Zurich and they plan to float it the stock market in three to five years.

“Together we are so well positioned in the individual markets that we will jointly take this new company public,” Ringier chief executive Christian Unger said.

“It will be instrumental in shaping the future of the emerging media markets in Eastern Europe.”

Springer and Ringier said in a presentation that they were aiming to expand their joint digital business in eastern Europe over the next three years and had already identified potential acquisitions. The deal has to be approved by regulators in each country.

Döpfner did not rule out expansion into other countries, including Romania and Ukraine.

“It’s a defining step in Axel Springer’s internationalisation strategy and opens completely new horizons,” he said in Zurich.

Both media groups are still controlled by their respective founding families.

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German newspaper Bild prints cut-out kippa to fight anti-Semitism

German daily Bild published a cut-out-and-use kippa on Monday in a bid to fight rising anti-Semitism, after Jews were warned about the potential dangers of wearing the traditional skullcap in Germany.

German newspaper Bild prints cut-out kippa to fight anti-Semitism
A man wearing a kippa in Hesse. Photo: DPA

Over the weekend, Felix Klein, the German government's commissioner on anti-Semitism, said he “cannot advise Jews to wear the kippa everywhere all the time in Germany”, in an interview given to the Funke regional press group.

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin voiced shock at Klein's warning and said it was a “capitulation to anti-Semitism” and evidence that Jews are unsafe in Germany.

Bild, Germany's top-selling daily newspaper, waded into the debate, calling on readers to “stand in solidarity with (their) Jewish neighbours” by making “their own kippa”, bearing the star of David, to “raise the flag against anti-Semitism”.

Rejecting the warning to leave off the kippa “seven decades after the Holocaust”, Bild's chief editor Julian Reichelt wrote: “There is only one answer to that: No, it cannot be the case!

“If that is so, then we have failed in the face of our history,” he said.

Urging readers to cut out the skullcap and wear it, Reichelt stressed that “the kippa belongs to Germany.”

Germany, like other western countries, has watched with alarm as anti-Semitic and other racist hate speech and violence have increased in recent years while the political climate has coarsened and grown more

Anti-Semitic crimes rose by 20 percent in Germany last year, according to Interior Ministry data which blamed nine out of 10 cases on the extreme right.

The arrival in parliament of the far-right AfD, whose leaders openly question Germany's culture of atonement for World War II atrocities, has also contributed to the change in atmosphere.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has also deplored “another form of anti-Semitism” stemming from a major asylum-seeker influx, with many coming from Muslim countries like Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.

“That the number of anti-Semitic crimes is increasing should be a cause of great concern for all of us in Germany,” Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.

“It is the task of the state to ensure that everyone can move freely with a kippa anywhere in our country and we stand by that responsibility.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has already issued several warnings about wearing the kippa in public.

In one prominent case last year, a 19-year-old Syrian man was convicted for assault after lashing out with his belt at an Israeli man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap while shouting “yahudi”, Jew in Arabic.