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News 27 Sep 14

Serbia TV Ditches Flagship Political Talk Show

Union calls for protests after B92 axes Olje Beckovic’s well-known politics programme ‘Utisak Nedelje’, which started in 1991.

Gordana Andric
BIRN
Belgrade
Olja Beckovic. | Photo by Media Centre Belgrade

Serbian journalists have called for protests after the national broadcaster B92 scrapped the flagship political debate show, Utisak Nedelje, likely ending its cooperation with its host, the well-known journalist, Olja Beckovic.

Independent Journalist Association of Serbia, NUNS, urged journalists to gather in front B92 TV station at 9pm Sunday – which is when the TV station has aired the political TV show for more than a decade.

“Without disputing the right of any media to independently establish its editorial policy, NUNS would wish to recall that one of the obligations of both journalists and media is to produce informative programmes that encourage freedom of expression.

The history of B92

B92 began life in May 1989, when Veran Matic founded Serbia’s first independent radio station, Radio B92. The target audience was intellectuals and urban youngsters opposed to the authoritarian nationalist regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

The station was banned several times, but continued broadcasting via the internet. After the regime fell in 2000, B92 extended its independent professional journalism to television. TV B92 started daily broadcasts on October 5, 2001.

The political changes in Serbia in 2000 did not mean better days for B92, however, as it now competed with a growing number of other independent media.  Milosevic-era media players like TV Pink inherited nationwide frequencies and profited under the new system, while it took five years for B92 to obtain a national frequency and thus reach the rest of the country.

The high cost of producing investigative programmes and tough competition meanwhile pushed the company in a more commercial direction, prompting the decision to start broadcasting Serbian versions of Western reality and quiz shows.

In November 2010, Astonko Ltd, a Greek-Swedish joint venture, purchased 84.99 per cent of the station from former shareholders MDLF and NCA.

The B92 Trust Ltd, led by the founder managers of the company, retained 11.35 per cent of the shares and small shareholders another 3.66 per cent.

Since, the station has shifted to more entertainment, reality shows and commercial programmes.

“We are convinced that Utisak Nedelje is one of the few shows that makes that possible,” NUNS wrote in a statement.

“We want to highlight that this is not an issue that concerns only journalists, but also all citizens,” the union added.

B92 announced on Friday that the show will be postponed due failed negotiations with the show’s author and host. Beckovic herself claimed that the show in fact had been banned.

B92 said management had offered Beckovic the chance to broadcast the show on its national frequency channel until November, and then transfer it to its low viewer rating cable channel, B92 Info.

The station said its aim was to use Beckovic’s “iconic show and experience of the renowned journalist” help the growth of B92 Info.

But Beckovic said she “did not refuse an offer, but an ultimatum. This cannot be considered a business decision but a political order,” Beckovic told Blic newspaper on Friday evening.

In an interview to Vesti online on Saturday she said that in more than two decades the show has been on the air she has never experienced this kind of pressures.

"People say this is the return to the 90s, but this is worse. [Late Serbian strongman Slobodan] Milosevic did not use these kind of methods to curb media freedom. He did that openly, he would go into the public broadcaster RTS and sack couple of thousand people but he knew he had to leave Studio B and some opposition newspapers."

Veran Matic, one of the B92 founders and now a minority shareholder, urged B92’s board of directors to find a solution that would allow Utisak Nedelje to go out next week.

He stated that he, B92, Beckovic acknowledged that the media outlet now aimed to start producing entertainment programmes on its national frequency, while informative programmes would help the development of its cable channel, B92 info.

Ten days ago media speculated that Utisak nedelje will not return on air as the management would like to shift it to B92 info channel. However, the B92 management denied such claims on September 15 and said that the show would start airing on September 28.

The news about the latest decision from B92 came on Friday just hours after Beckovic announced her guests for Sunday.

Beckovic is one of the best known TV hosts in the country. Utisak Nedelje, Impression of the Week, has existed since 1991 and was first aired on Studio B, at the time when the country was run by the Milosevic regime.

Beckovic’s production company Mreza, which produces Utisak Nedelje, had a valid contract with B92 until March next year.

More than 90 per cent of Serbian journalists who took part in the survey published by Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in early September said that censorship and self-censorship in Serbian media do exist.

The great majority of journalists, 73 per cent, said that Serbian media do not report objectively, while 95 per cent of journalists believe that media reporting is not critical. Ninety per cent also said that media are not analytical.

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