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news 08 Apr 14

Pro-Govt Serbian Tabloid Blasts New TV Station

A Serbian newspaper seen as close to the ruling Progessive Party has launched a blistering attack on a new cross-border TV station, N1, accusing it of working for the Americans.

Bojana Barlovac
BIRN
Belgrade

The Serbian tabloid Informer on Monday accused the US of trying to subvert Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia's likely future Prime Minister, by setting up a new regional TV station, N1.

On a front-page "exclusive", citing anonyous sources, the mass-circulation daily said that an "important part of the [US] campaign [in Serbia] is to establish an anti-Vucic television, N1, which would do the biggest job in decreasing Vucic's ratings".

The blast from the tabloid came as N1 was preparing to start programmes in May. The new TV station, which is the CNN's affiliate in the Balkans, plans to broadcast in three countries - Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia - expanding to other other Balkan countries in future.

The main financial investor behind N1 is United Group, the leading pay TV platform in Southeast Europe.

This includes SBB, the largest cable operator in Serbia, the largest cable operators in Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina - Telemach Slovenia and Telemach BiH - along with Total TV, the largest satellite platform in the region.

In October 2013, the global investment firm KKR, based in New York, acquired SBB/Telemach Group as its first direct investment in Southeast Europe.

According to Informer, the main figure in the alleged US campaign aimed at undermining Vucic's popularity is retired US General and former CIA chief, David Petraeus.

As of May 2013, Petraeus has worked with the KKR and is involved in the KKR investment process as chairman of the KKR Global Institute.

KKR did not respond to BIRN's question by the time of publication. BIRN has learnt from N1 that the station and its founders have decided to remain silent on the issue for now.

It is not unusual for former US generals and CIA directors to take up such posts after leaving public service.

James Woolsey, CIA director under Bill Clinton, became an executive at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm partly owned by the Carlyle Group, while Frank Carlucci, US Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan, chaired a private-equity firm, the Carlyle Group, and co-founded another, Frontier Group.

Petraeus visited Belgrade last autumn when a deal on establishing TV N1 was made, and met the Serbian authorities.

However, the Serbian authorities clearly remain unimpressed with the idea of N1 .

Following public discussion on the draft Law on electronic media, the government changed the draft in order to hamper the station from operating.

However, the draft law is currently in Brussels awaiting approval before it can go to a vote in the Serbian parliament, BIRN has learned from the Culture Ministry.

The Serbian journalists' association NUNS meanwhile condemned the media campaign against N1 launched on Monday.

It singled out accusations made against Jugoslav Cosic and Igor Bozic, two Serbian journalists now working for N1, that they were trying to topple Vucic.

"This approach to journalism leads to the strengthening of an atmosphere in which, referring to supposedly well-informed sources, anyone can be declared a traitor or a thief," NUNS noted in a statement.

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