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news 15 Oct 12

Serbia's Troubled TV Avala Gets New Owners

The turbo-folk production house, Grand Production, along with another Serbian company, Beohemija, have taken over the indebted broadcaster TV Avala.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

After two months of consultations, Grand Production and Beohemija became major owners of TV Avala after obtaining the shares of media mogul Zeljko Mitrovic, Serbian businessman Danko Djunic and the Economic Institute, Balkan Insight has learned.

The new owners did not pay anything but instead assumed responsibility for the station's debt, which in 2010 amounted to €25.7 million in short-term loans, services and credits.

Previously, the ownership structure consisted of Djunic, with 45.65 per cent, the Austrian company Greenberg Invest with 48.41 per cent, Mitrovic with 4.95 per cent and the Economic Institute with 0.99 per cent.

However, a Balkan Insight investigation, as well as a report of Serbia's Anti-corruption council, showed that Greenberg Invest served as a cover for Mitrovic, enabling him to avoid breaking competition law, which forbids owners of one national broadcaster from having more than 5 per cent of the shares in another.

The new owners are to seek approval for the change in ownership from the Broadcasting Agency, RRA.

Goran Karadzic, deputy chairman of the RRA, said he could not reveal anything regarding the change of ownership as yet.

"We need to get the names of new owners to verify the matter and see whether they have a stake in other media in order to check whether there is any illegal media concentration," he explained.

The owners of Grand Production are Serbian folk singer Lepa Brena, her husband, the former Yugoslav tennis player Slobodan Zivojinovic, and folk music producer Sasa Popovic.

Avala is to change its name to Narodna TV (People's TV) and launch its new programmes on January 7 next year.

Avala began broadcasting in 2006 after obtaining a national frequency but has faced financial problems for years.

Its employees have not received any salaries since last December and the live progamming was suspended on May 24, two months after an earlier strike had been brought to an end.

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