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News 09 Dec 15

Privatization Will Not Free Serbian Media, Journalists Say

As the media privatization process nears completion in Serbia, journalist associations predict that the changes will not benefit the industry.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
Photo: Media Centre Belgrade

The media privatization process in Serbia finished on Monday when the last media outlet that was announced for sale signed the contract with a buyer.

However, journalists associations claim the Serbian media will not be any freer as a result of the sales.

Vukasin Obradovic, president of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, told BIRN that he feared the new media owners will seek investment money in “muddy” waters.

“The process of privatization is just a reflection of how the government and society itself treats the media. There is still not much space in the media market and many media outlets will only be used to strengthen party [political] infrastructure,” Obradovic said.

He added that little investment was coming from the media industry itself in the process.

“Before, the money [for the media] came from the state, but now the owners will just try to get the money in muddy waters,” he added.

The deadline for the sale of media outlets that were owned by the state and local governments expired on October 31.

In August 2014, the government led by the Serbian Progressive Party adopted a Law on Information and the Media that provided for the withdrawal of the state from media ownership by a deadline of July 1, 2015.

Due to delays in the process the deadline was extended to the end of October.

Only 34 of the 73 media outlets have found new owners. Another 22 media outlets are awaiting transfer of their capital to the employees free of charge. Another 13 will be shut down and four will change their activities.

Nino Brajovic, secretary general of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia, told BIRN that around 30 per cent of the media are now in the hands of people who just want to sell their influence.

“The situation is surely harder than before. Around 30 per cent of the media are now in hands of people who just want to trade influence. At least half of the people who lost their jobs will also need to find work outside the media,” Brajovic said.

In August, the opposition Democratic Party accused the ruling Progressive Party of trying to buy up some media outlets, hiding behind so-called front companies to do so.

The ostensible aim of the privatization process is to remove the influence of the state from the media, but the Democratic Party claims the Progressive Party aims to buy up media outlets in order to retain control over the media ahead of local elections next year.

Accusations started flying after the company Srbija Danas, as the only bidder, bought the Novi Sad-based city information center, Apolo, which owns the local TV station, for 174,950 euros.

Democrats from Novi Sad last week claimed that the Progressives were behind the buyer and that the city will now have “a political party organ” instead of an informative centre.

Another privatization drew hostile public attention after a consortium led by Dragan Milosevic, a businessman from Nis, tried to buy up the local TV station, NTV.

The offer was rejected on Monday as incomplete. However, some media outlets drew attention to the fact that Milosevic had been best man to Bratislav Gasic, the recently sacked Defence Minister and the Progressive Party’s vice-president.

Since the media privatization process started in Serbia, around 1,000 employees have lost their jobs. The entire Serbian media industry, including the public services, now employs about 10,000 people, according to the Journalists’ Association of Serbia.

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