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news 11 Aug 15

Sparks Fly Over Media Sale in Serbia

The privatization of the state media in Serbia has prompted the opposition Democrats to accuse the ruling party of buying up outlets - hiding behind 'front' companies to do so.

Filip Avramovic, Igor Jovanovic
Vukasin Obradovic, president of Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia | Photo by Beta.

After privatization of the state-owned media in Serbia started last week, the opposition Democratic Party has accused the ruling Progressive Party of trying to buy up some media outlets, hiding behind "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 says the Progressive Party aims to buy up media outlets 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 the Progressives were behind the buyer and that the city will now have “a political party organ” instead of an informative center.

They also claimed that the Progressive-run Novi Sad authorities will “finance the television through various projects.

“This way, the citizens of Novi Sad will indirectly finance the demagogy of the Serbian Progressive Party,” the Democratic Party said in a statement.

“What makes this sale suspicious is that the firm Srbija Danas was founded in March last year with a registered capital of only 50,000 dinars (416 euros),” the statement added.

The Progressive Party answered that the sale was done in accordance with the law and was transparent.

The party stated that the opposition should “start doing something useful instead of deceiving the public with hypocritical and malicious statements in order to get a few political points”.

Meanwhile, another privatization has drawn 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 - but some media outlets drew attention to the fact that Milosevic had been best man to Bratislav Gasic, the Defence Minister and the Progressive’s vice-president.

Serbia recently postponed the deadline for the privatisation of around 70 publicly owned media outlets from July 1 to October 31.

The government says media privatisation is an important part of the pre-accession process with the European Union that will enable Belgrade to open Chapters 23 and 24 of the negotiations, on the judiciary, human rights and the media.

The decision to withdraw from media ownership was made under the explanation it would bring Serbia closer to the EU standards.

The privatisation process has drawn different reactions from Serbian journalists. Some believe it will allow the media to work more independently and without meddling by politicians. Others say the only likely change will be that political influence gives way to the influence of tycoons close to politics.

Vukasin Obradovic, president of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, said that any suspicious sales of media outlets needed investigating.

“We should work on unveiling these influences and stop these kinds of sales," he said. "It has become common practice for political parties to influence the media,” Obradovic told BIRN on Monday.

However, Nino Brajovic, secretary general of the Journalist’ Association of Serbia, said the sale of the television station in Novi Sad did not raise special concerns.

"There are not many interested investors [in these outlets]... the sale of Novosadska television does not look suspicious because there was only one bidder," Brajovic told BIRN on Monday.

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