- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
Avala Television, one of Serbia's national broadcasters, owes over 25 million euro and has not paid staff salaries for five months, Balkan Insight can reveal.
The broadcaster's financial records for 2010 show that the station owed 25.7 million euro in short-term loans, services and credits while its income for that year was only 2.6 million euro.
Several employees who wished to remain anonymous told Balkan Insight that the station's 142 workers are exhausted and dissatisfied following months of promises by management to pay overdue salaries. Last Friday the staff were paid - but only for the first half of May, a five-month backlog.
Many staffers believe salaries are late because the company’s bank accounts are blocked.
But although Avala’s four bank accounts have been blocked for more than 70 days in this year, Serbia’s central bank registry shows that all four bank accounts, held with Intesa, AIK Bank, Erste, and Komercijalna Banka, are liquid today.
Halls in the building are half-empty and the broadcaster is operating at a minimum level as some staff clearly are not showing up.
“Every morning I ask myself why I am going to work but then I think of my family and I get dressed,” one editor told Balkan Insight.
“We can’t go on like this anymore,” another employee at TV Avala told Balkan Insight.
TV Avala started broadcasting in 2006 after obtaining a national frequency but has faced financial problems for years.
The current ownership structure consists of businessman Danko Djunic, who owns 45.65 per cent, Austrian company Greenberg Invest, which owns 48.41 per cent, media mogul Zeljko Mitrovic, who owns 4.95 per cent and the Economic Institute, which has 0.99 per cent.
The station was the subject of a critical report by Serbia’s anti-corruption council on September 29, which complained that Avala’s ownership was not transparent.
The council said it believed that Mitrovic “has the majority share in TV Avala” through Greenberg Invest. If true, this might be violation of the country's broadcasting law, which prohibits any one individual from multiple ownership of broadcasters.
None of the three biggest stakeholders in Avala was willing to comment on the TV station's troubled financial situation after being contacted several times by email and phone.
Employees pulled the plug on last Wednesday's 2pm news programme in protest over the management’s failure to pay staff salaries for five months.
The TV outlet’s management blamed the absence of the news programme on the result of a technical error.
Until last week, employees had not dared to protest publicly. A few months ago a few dozen employees signed a petition calling on the management to pay their wages, but the petition never reached the management.
“Many people were afraid to have their names on the list... and it did not work out,” one editor said. “We used to have hopes in a change of management but now even that hope is gone.”
Another Avala journalist who also wished to remain anonymous complained of the lack of a collegial spirit in the Serbian media.
No other media outlet in the country has reported on the station’s all too visible troubles.
“No one seems to know what is happening with Avala, or no one really bothers to report it,” the journalist said.
The Serbian paramilitary who became a key prosecution witness at his former comrades’ trial for war crimes in Kosovo says he had to speak out about the brutal massacres his unit committed.