I don't know to what extent you are still aware of ¨the media¨, but I regularly come across the following at the bottom of an article from these media
¨No one but us sets the agenda¨
Independent, mmm let's see.
The ¨volks¨krant is part of DPG ¨De Pers Groep¨, which is owned by the Van Thillo Family, a Belgian entrepreneurial family.
In 1987 the Van Thillo family acquired a 66% stake in Publisher Hoste, the other shares followed in 1990. A year earlier there was also a publishing house The New Morning added to. The company continued under the name De Persgroep.
Sparta, which was already in the hands of the Van Thillo family, previously gave Hey everyone en yay from. The publishing house continued to exist as subsidiary, but merged internally with Edibel and henceforth continued under the name 'Magnet Magazines'. Publisher Hoste, for their part, gave The Latest News, The New Gazet, Blik, Kwik, Sunday news, The mail en The Realm of Women from. They also continued to exist as a subsidiary under the name aurex. De Nieuwe Morgen – the publishing house behind The morning, forward en The Antwerp Morning – finally, was renamed 'De Morgen publishing house'.
In addition, the company owned 50% of the shares in Medialaan. De Persgroep has been active in the VMM since the start of VTM on February 1, 1989. Until October 2017, the remaining shares were held by the Roularta Media Group. In October 2017, De Persgroep and Groupe Rossel an exchange of activities. De Persgroep is expanding its participation in Medialaan, the parent company of, among others, VTM, from 50% to 100%. In turn, De Persgroep sells its 50% interest in mediafin, the publisher of De Tijd and L'Echo to Groupe Rossel and the latter will also receive an amount of 217,5 million euros. The transaction will be completed in early 2018, subject to approval from the Competition Authority.
In 2009, the Dutch press group PCM Publishers taken over.
On May 15, 2012, it was announced that De Persgroep VNU Media took over for an undisclosed amount. VNU Media has not published financial results for years, but according to insiders, the annual turnover was around 40 million euros and the company was marginally profitable. More than 250 people worked there.
In 2015, the regional newspaper publisher Wegener Media acquired for 245 million euros. The combination of De Persgroep and Wegener is responsible for the delivery of daily newspapers, including those from other publishers, in two-thirds of the Netherlands. About 1600 jobs were lost as a result of the merger of the two companies. At the time of the takeover, De Persgroep employed 2200 people and Wegener employed XNUMX.
In October 2017 it was announced that Roularta was going to sell its interest in Medialaan to De Persgroep, making it the sole owner. The transaction was completed in early 2018. Since January 1, 2019, the new group has been active under the name DPG Media. (source wp)
Radio & Television Belgium
- Medialaan (100%)
- VTM Kids
- VTM Kids Jr.
- Q music
- Qmusic (Netherlands)
- AT5 (33,3%) since 2012, AT5 has been taken over by Het Parool, RTV Noord-Holland and the AVRO
- The Latest News
- The morning
- Vacancy, job advertisement, partly owned by Groupe Rossel
The Netherlands National titles
- Ageneral newspaper
- de Volkskrant
Trouw, Algemeen Dagblad en de Volkskrant were bought in 2009 from the former PCM Publishers.
- NRC Handelsblad en nrc.next were resold to investment group Egeria and the television channel The conversation.
Bought in 2015 from Wegener Media:
- Brabants Dagblad
- BN DeStem'
- the Gelderlander
- the Stentor
- The Twentsche Courant Tubantia
- Eindhoven Daily
- Provincial Zeeuwse Courant
- VNU Media
- National job bank
- Automotive and Technology
And now please stay with it
As you can see above Epifin has 99,2% of the shares, but what/who is Epifin?
Epifin is a limited liability company it turns out, Maarrrrrrrr
Last week, the federal government decided to suspend distribution aid for paper newspapers for the next five years to maintain. Until 2020, approximately EUR 850 million in state aid will be provided to the major media groups through this route. Newspaper publishers De Persgroep and Mediahuis in particular benefit from this. Taking into account other indirect subsidy mechanisms – especially the VAT-0 regulation – annually around 400 million euros indirectly flows to the major media groups in this country.
Year after year, it is such a huge amount of tax money that we hardly dare to multiply the amount by the roughly thirty years that have passed since the Flemish media groups came completely into private hands. But what happens to the money with which the government supports commercial media companies? In exchange for the many billions of euros in state support, was the Flemish reader presented with an increasingly broader palette of excellent journalism in recent decades? Or did the media mainly function as a conduit and do some Flemish deep pockets turn out to be the real subsidy guzzlers in this country?
There is little doubt about the government's aim with the distribution support for newspapers and magazines and with the VAT-0 rate: to support a pluralistic, pluralistic and healthy media landscape. The key question is whether the unconditional way in which that support is given today contributes to that noble goal. Does the blank check guarantee good journalism or is the money simply collected indirectly by the underlying media companies? And in that case, who are the shareholders who have enriched themselves nicely in recent decades?
In exchange for the many billions of euros in state support, was the Flemish reader presented with an increasingly broader palette of excellent journalism in recent decades?
We do not dare to ask whether newspaper journalism in Flanders has risen higher and higher with the passing of the years and the billions of government support. We stick to objectively verifiable facts. One is that synergies have soared in recent years. With two more active newspaper groups, media concentration in Flanders is an important democratic concern, also according to the Flemish Regulator for the Media (VRM). The takeover of Humo and several other magazines by De Persgroep fits perfectly into the picture of further media concentration.
Recent years have also been characterized by (collective) redundancies. Some more visible than others. Freelancers – both journalists and photographers – klagen (with good reason) stone and bone about the declining working conditions and the increased workload: with fewer people more and more has to be done.
Earlier this month it was research of the Flemish Support Center for Media, which maps the evolution of our newspaper landscape. The main conclusion of this is that the number of articles and the number of news stories in newspapers has almost halved in a short period of time. The number of so-called “visuals” (photos, …) has almost doubled.
At the same time, we see how the two remaining Flemish newspaper groups, Mediahuis and De Persgroep, put (a lot of) money on the table in the Netherlands to make takeovers, whether or not to push synergies across borders. It suffices to compare De Volkskrant and De Morgen, both newspapers of De Persgroep, to see exactly what we mean.
A strong media concentration, large redundancies, declining working conditions, strangulation contracts for freelancers and considerably less content. The end result of providing billions in indirect business aid for decades
A strong media concentration, large redundancies, declining working conditions, strangulation contracts for freelancers and considerably less content. The question is whether this can be the desired end result of providing billions of euros in indirect business support for decades.
But back to the original question: what will happen to the 400 million euros indirect subsidy that annually flows to commercial media companies? In order to answer this question, a few preliminary observations are important. To begin with, there is the fact that it is not a direct but an indirect way of subsidizing. In other words, the money is not earmarked. It doesn't go straight into an account. In essence, it is money that simply should not be spent: the distribution – a (very) important cost item for print media – is largely borne by the government and no VAT has to be paid.
A second important finding is that the two remaining newspaper groups in this country are more than just newspaper publishers. As far as Mediahuis is concerned, this statement applies to the participating companies Corelio and Concentra. There is also De Persgroep. The newspaper publishers are also active elsewhere in “the media”: by publishing weekly newspapers, making commercial radio or by participating in (regional) television channels.
The various newspaper titles are therefore not (any longer) placed separately in separate companies. In other words, if we look at the annual accounts of De Persgroep, they include De Morgen and Het Laatste Nieuws, but also Dag All, Medialaan (television channels VTM, 2BE, ...) radio channels and a number of other companies such as the printing company (Ecoprint) and recently also the Dutch companies.
In the balance sheets of the media groups, the indirect subsidy cannot therefore only not be traced as such, it does not necessarily benefit (only) the newspapers (editors), but the entire umbrella media group.
And yet a thorough study of the balance sheets of De Persgroep and Mediahuis (Corelio, Concentra) proves to be very instructive. Just like looking at the overarching and underlying structures.
The indirect subsidy cannot be traced as such in the balance sheets of the media groups. It does not necessarily benefit (only) the newspapers (editors), but it does benefit the entire umbrella media group
Take Epifin for example. The chance that this Belgian company will ring a bell is small. Better known is the media group of which Epifin owns 99,29 percent: De Persgroep. Over the past ten years, Epifin has managed to build up equity of 263 million euros. In addition, substantial dividends were paid over the same period, and through five successive “capital reductions”, a total of EUR 133 million of capital was also taken out of the company and “returned” to shareholders.
In other words, Epifin's shareholders have fared quite well over the past decade. But who are the shareholders of Epifin, a company that is only a PO box? That's what we're guessing. What we know is that Epifin has been established for some time at Schaliënstraat 5, bus 2/3 in Antwerp. There is an office of VGD Bedrijfsrevisoren and a few other companies, but also Exmar, the maritime gas transporter of the very wealthy Saverys family, whose board includes Guy Verhofstadt (Open VLD), among others, Ludwig Criel. Criel is (among other things) also chairman of the board of directors of Epifin, which also has the brothers Christian and Emmanuel Van Thillo and (their brother-in-law) Christophe Convent as directors. Very recently (sister) Caroline Van Thillo was also appointed director.
A little research shows that Epifin is the Belgian continuation of a Luxembourg company of the same name, founded ten years earlier, in 1993. The latest (electronically) available data from the Luxembourg Registre de commerce et des sociétés (RCSL) indicate an equity capital for 2001. of LUF 7.576.278.119, or almost 8 billion Luxembourg francs, or about 188 million euros. At the end of 2000, the Belgian company De Persgroep was dissolved. For example, 2,14 billion Belgian (Luxembourg) francs disappeared to Epifin in Luxembourg.
A STAK is a Dutch vehicle that is explicitly intended to enable tax-efficient and anonymous share ownership
There was no one on the board of Epifin in Luxembourg who refers directly to “De Persgroep” or the Van Thillo family. The directors were: Christophe Blondeau, Nico Gaffine (later succeeded by Nour-Eddin Nijar) and Jacques Mersch, Luxembourg fiduciaries specializing in high-tech tax technology, some of whom also appear in the (until very recently) Luxembourg company shop by Bart 'Uplace' Verhaeghe.
And there is another Epifin. A few months before the Luxembourg company Epifin came to Belgium, a Stichting Administratiekantoor, a so-called STAK, was established in the Netherlands with the same name. Such a STAK is a Dutch vehicle that is explicitly intended to enable anonymous share ownership. Or as the site “Belastingparadijs24.nl” specialized in “tax-friendly business” describes the STAK:
If you want to be the anonymous owner of a BV (Dutch company, ToC), or if you have other legitimate reasons for not wanting to appear as a shareholder in public registers, you can choose to set up a Stichting Administratiekantoor (STAK).
The fact that the Netherlands is seen as a tax haven is partly due to the possibility of setting up such STAKs there. In addition to “tax optimisation”, making the real shareholders invisible is the main reason for existence. Listed companies sometimes do it to protect themselves against hostile takeovers, but that consideration does not apply to ordinary companies.
The only thing that the outside world of such a STAK gets to see (via the Dutch Chamber of Commerce) is a list of the directors. For STAK Epifin, in addition to Christian and Emmanuel Van Thillo, these are also Ludwig Criel and TMF Management BV, an international financial services provider with registered office in Amsterdam that emerged in “offshore leaks” via its subsidiary Equity Trust.
The construction ensures that the shareholders who control Epifin (and therefore also De Persgroep) are completely hidden from the outside world. So who – in addition to the obvious Van Thillo family itself – has cashed out tens of millions of euros in recent years thanks to the gigantic government support, remains neatly hidden.
Flemish and Catholic
Mediahuis only partially shields the shareholder structure. The company is 62 percent owned by Corelio. The other 38 percent belongs to Concentra (actually split in two parts between Concentra NV and Concentra Media Groep, but Concentra owns Concentra Media Groep)
The report of the Flemish regulator for the Media (VRM) lists the shareholders of Corelio neatly: Mediacore (40.65%), Cecan (19.94%), the newspaper fund (13.89%), De Eik (12.48), Vedesta (6.52%) , Corelio Publishing (6.07) and Corelio management (0.45%)
The Leysen family controls Corelio via Mediacore. But the Vlerick-Sap family (Cecan), in 1976 “savior” of the ailing De Standaard, is still strongly represented with almost a fifth of the shares. The newspaper fund is a nv that was set up in the same period by former journalists from De Standaard to allow the vote of the editors to weigh in, but the main shareholders of that “vote of the editors” are today Unizo and KBC.
In the list of families with a distinctly Flemish and Catholic signature behind Corelio, Piet Van Waeyenberge, founder of the Flemish business club De Warande and honorary chairman of VOKA, also fits.
Piet Van Waeyenberge also fits in the list of families with a distinctly Flemish and Catholic signature. The oak is the financial holding of the family. Piet Van Waeyenberge is best known as the founder of the Flemish business club De Warande and is also honorary chairman of VOKA. A smaller player is Vedesta (of the Van de Steen family). And the other smaller player Corelio Publishing happened to be swallowed by Corelio just this week.
The VRM also provides the shareholder structure for Concentra. But just like with De Persgroep, most of the shareholders are hidden behind a Dutch foundation: De Zeven Eycken, which owns 91.30% of Concentra. The rest (8.70%) is in the hands of the Catholic Press and Media Fund, a kind of remnant of the (Catholic) non-profit organizations that used to own Gazet van Antwerpen.
Just as is the case with De Persgroep, it is unknown who the shareholders of the De Zeven Eycken Foundation are. What is clear is that the foundation (and therefore Concentra) is managed by the Baert family – a Limburg family with a (very) pronounced Catholic profile – who have been running Concentra for decades. (Apache previously wrote a review about the history of Concentra extended story).
In contrast to De Persgroep, Corelio and Concentra have not had a lot of fun in recent years. Not because the indirect subsidy stream would have dried up, but because both media companies each made investments in their own way that made them tear their pants up or that at least did not yield (for a long time) what was hoped: Corelio with investments in Woestijnvis and Vier, Concentra with free local papers in Dutch Limburg.
The period before that, however, very good money was earned. Shareholder “newspaper fund” listed for the past few years on its returns and dividends and thus provides a good overview.
Over the past decades, large media companies in our country have been indirectly supported for billions of euros. The tax money that the federal government had set aside for this meant that the companies were often able to record spectacular profits and pay high dividends. In this way, the state aid indirectly benefits the shareholders of De Persgroep and Mediahuis. Who these shareholders are is shielded from the outside world through specialized foreign tax constructions by the Van Thillo (De Persgroep) and Baert (Concentra) families. The shareholders who are known (Corelio) are entrepreneurs with a distinctly Flemish and Catholic signature.
I hope you managed to get through this GREAT article and when you talk about fact checkers you realize who is being fact checked by whom.
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