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news 04 Apr 14

Serbian Govt Takes Over Another Media Outlet

Despite pledges to withdraw from media ownership, Serbia's government is due to become majority owner of a new company, merging the daily newspaper Vecernje Novosti and the printing house Stamparija Borba and Borba Ltd.

Bojana Barlovac

The Serbian daily Vecernje Novosti and the printing house Stamparija Borba and Borba Ltd are to form a joint company in which the majority owner will be the Serbian state.

The merger is due to happen once a new government is formed. Serbia held a general election on March 16.

The decision follows a meeting of the representatives of all three companies and their unions last week. The information was revealed on Wednesday.

Momir Stojanovic, chair of the supervisory board of Stamparija Borba, said the initiative to create a unified company came from Aleksandar Vucic, the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister and the man most likely to be the next Prime Minister. Vucic also heads the Progressive Party, which triumphed in the recent elections.

Stojanovic said the only way Vecernje Novosti could pay off its debt to Stamparija Borba was to convert the debt into state shares in Vecernje Novosti.

"This is how we are going to have a healthy company that might be offered on the market and privatized," Stojanovic told the Serbian journalists' association, UNS, on Wednesday.

Borba Ltd is owned by the state, as is 80 per cent of Stamparija Borba, and 38 per cent of Vecernje Novosti.  

Ratko Dmitrovic, managing director and chief editor of Vecernje Novosti, said the move was good for the newspaper, which for the first time will get its own printing house.

However, the merger contradicts the government's own "media strategy", adopted in September 2011, which the current government has pledged to respect and which envisions the state withdrawing entirely from the media ownership.

This is not the first media outlet that the Serbian government has taken over in recent years.

In July 2012, Germany’s WAZ Media Group sold its 50-per-cent share in the daily paper Politika to a Moscow-based company, East Media Group.

After UNS linked the East Media Group to Miroslav Bogicevic, a donor to the Democratic Party, the Progressive Party condemned the change in ownership.

In October, the state then took a majority share in the publishing house via state-owned banks and companies.

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