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Full stop - part 1 (VIDEO)

Svetlost should be a genuine people’s newspaper

In that sense, we would like to bring together all honest people because our personal motives for doing this job are pure.

Svetlost is without resources.

Its editors are poor people.

However, they are not motivated by profit.

If anybody would like to help, they are welcome.

This does not mean we are for sale.

This was written in the editorial of the Svetlost newspaper 85 years ago.

FULL STOP - PART 1

These are difficult, evil times. People would like the situation to get better and are fighting for it.

While it still applies today, only a small number of editors and media can stand behind these words. In the past, they invented, lied, deceived the public, destroyed other people's lives.

Not because they had evidence, but because someone asked them to do it.

They lied to their readers, viewers, citizens.

The media is the main channel for the dissemination of information.

They shape public opinion.

Controlled media and uninformed citizens make it easier to govern.

Economically blackmailed, and politically potentially powerful, they often make interest groups. For the same reasons, they often switch sides and easily take up the role of mouthpieces destroying anyone who becomes the thorn in the side of the owners or the government.

Based on a number of examples, it is clear that some media have often abused their power and started blackmailing individuals from the world of politics and business.

Every government wants to have controlled media and Serbia is no different from the rest of the world. However, it is a small market, journalists are often deprived of responsibility and large amounts of money is shared among a small privileged circle of individuals who will stop at nothing to retain it.

While they profit, citizens remain deprived of the fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution – the right to be informed about everything.

Most media outlets will not tell you if your money from the state budget is misused. You will not learn who is breaking the Law. You will not know about the wrongdoings of those whose duty is to work in the public interest, since the state is not their private property.

Therefore, media freedom must be important to the citizens and not only to journalists.

It’s time to put a full stop.

FULL STOP

Fighting for the media or fighting for power, what’s the difference?

When the media is under control, it is easier to rule.

The power is in the hands of individuals and hence embezzlement is concealed by controlling the top-rated TV stations and newspapers.

This is done by predominantly publishing news about government successes or attacking the whistleblowers.

While successes exist, but controlled media omit to show the many lapses of the authorities.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: We are talking about lack of freedom of the media, right? You see, I believe that part of the anti-government media ride on the wave of that assertion because their circulation and ratings are incomparably lower than those that do not promote the government, but still write about it in a positive context.

INSIDER: We have stations with national coverage where you cannot see any news about a number of topics that are very much in the interest of the public. The cases of Hercegovacka Street, Mount Pancic, Air Serbia, for example. How do you explain that? Has anyone forbidden them to do their job? With a certain editorial policy? But why is it editorial policy to conceal information from the public?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Look, we operate in a limbo, legally speaking.

Who’s to say what is the public interest, what is objective and non discriminatory news reporting?

INSIDER: Every topic that concerns all citizens is in the public interest, how taxpayer’s money is spent, for example.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM:Depending on whether it is in the interest of the owner of a private television station or even the public service broadcaster.

According to the Law, the RTS is the PSB financed by a fee paid by all citizens.

Their program should make space for criticism and point to government mistakes, since this is the only way for the citizens, who are the employers of every government, to control those that are running state affairs.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Our public television RTS carried a heavy burden in the 90s. It has seen public protests in front of its building, dubbed the Bastille by political opponents, was one of the warmongering mouthpieces of the then regime. In 2006, without any public debate about such a role in recent history, it was transformed into a public service broadcaster. RTS made it known it became a PSB and that the citizens had to respect it and pay the subscription fee.

In addition to the RTS, four other stations in Serbia have a national frequency: While Pink, B92, Prva and Happy are private stations, they are using a public good that belongs to all citizens.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIZ, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: That is why the number of national frequencies is limited. The number of national media is limited. That status gives them access to a key natural resource, which is, at the same time, a public good and a major financial asset. All these commercial media outlets make big profits by exploiting that public resource.

The frequencies were first allocated in 2006 and automatically renewed in 2014. The right to use them expires in 2022.

According to the law, REM is in charge of controlling and sanctioning the broadcasters.

It has the statutory right to revoke their frequencies.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: What do you actually expect from REM? Do you think we are supposed to be a commissariat? How would you feel if someone from REM called you and told you: Put this program on air or don’t put this program on air. It's the same as with revoking the frequencies.

INSIDER: It is not even remotely the same thing.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM:  It’s very similar, believe me.

INSIDER: But the Law does not provide for the right to ban certain programs if they are not to the liking of some people, but it does say that…

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM:  I’m saying that we… I told you what is in our purview and what we do, and I also told you that any prohibitions of certain formats or revoking frequencies would amount to pure censorship.

According to the Law, REM may revoke a license before term if the media provider continues to violate the terms of the frequency arrangement in spite of our warnings.

The main prerequisite is to respect the Law on Public Information and Media, under which media pluralism is provided for, i.e. hearing different opinions.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: Pink presents the opposition and nothing else, but in a very negative light. RTS lays low and abstains from mentioning the opposition altogether. When you look at the research and the ratings of Pink and RTS, especially Pink… The public and the media space have actually been Pinked. Pink’s influence is terrible, it’s the scarecrow. It is overwhelming and it has put Serbia in a state of political narcosis.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: But this is straw man argument, because if somebody doesn’t like someone’s editorial policy or your program, for example, it’s a matter of personal taste and not of frequency.

All stations with national coverage overtly support the government, but it’s not a matter of editorial policy but of breaking the Law and the conditions under which they were awarded the national frequency.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is unquestionable that there is media pluralism in Serbia.

INSIDER: How is it unquestionable?

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: The fact that there is a wide range of media providing information about current affairs, so that you can hear...

INSIDER: Which one? Can you name one particular news outlet?

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: What do you mean one particular news outlet?

INSIDER: Name one. One news outlet that provides the widest possible range of information.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: You're putting me in a difficult position to make such assertion…  Whatever I, as the representative of the government...

INSIDER: You are not trying to justify something that simply cannot be justified. That is the problem, because the media with national coverage do not provide that “big picture”.

MLADEN BASIC, MEDIA ADVISOR TO SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, we can agree to disagree. But I think that national media report on the events in Serbia to the extent that they are doing and I cannot say that there is something significant that is missing in such news coverage. Especially when it comes to the RTS. I think they have a well-balanced program. Their way of reporting was not established today, it has been the same for years, if not decades. I think that the whole debate about the media is a political one and not so much on the topic of news media.

Under the Law on Public Information, the media must make different viewpoints heard, in order for the citizens to make their own opinions.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: There is a very important clause in Article 6 prohibiting media monopolies. And nobody mentions it. What does this ban on media monopolies mean? It means that if several media outlets have the same editorial policy and political or ideological affiliation, they must be stopped, regardless if all these outlets are owned by the same owner or group of owners.

Despite the legal obligation, in the last few years, on stations with national frequency and most local media, no different opinions can be heard other than those of government representatives.

The only thing one hears is that the situation in Serbia getting better and that the government is doing a great job.

Not a word about the failures or abuses of those in power.

Recent history has shown that the more political parties there are in power, the greater is the freedom of media. In the last eight years, the SNS has been in power, as the most dominant party in Serbia.

During this time, the media stage changed completely and became divided.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: It’s all black or white in the news media. There is nothing in between. Either they completely for or completely against. This is what bothers me. I have worked for the BBC for years, also a public service. I know how we used to work back then and how we got information. We had films and series advocating for both sides so that the viewer could decide what is good and what is not good. This is what we don’t have today unfortunately. Either everything Vucic does is a disaster and he should be shot, or...

INSIDER: Or is the best in the world.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: Everything that Vucic does is best in the world and he should be president for life. Neither of these approaches are good.

In the last 2 decades, everyone who came to power promised greater media freedoms. But they actually shrank over time.

According to the latest polls, 80% of Serbian citizens continue to be informed about all political issues via television.

While in terms of format it can be said there are media that can do their job without censorship, the fact is that their influence is dwarfed by that of RTS and the four stations with national coverage.

Their program is accessible in every home, in every town.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: In the 90s, we used to have what we called a competitive environment. We had the state media and the private media. We have local stations, B92 and that’s what created such environment. We don’t have that today. Since 2012, you have, on one hand, “one media and one man” model. That is to say that we have Pink and Aleksandar Vucic. Pink has become his propaganda tool. It’s shown by media monitoring.

Twenty years since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic's regime, the main players on the media stage are the same ones who started building their empires during Milosevic.

Some through the media, such as the owner of TV Pink and others by smuggling oil and cigarette, such as the owner of TV Happy.

A number of governments have changed from 2000 to this day, but the mechanism of establishing control over the media has never stopped.

On the contrary, it was perfected.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: The sane belief that every government wants to control the media is very much based on reality. Of course, every government wants to control the media, but such control to the extent it is allowed by the circumstances in society.

VUKASIN OBRADOVIC, FORMER HEAD OF THE INDEPENDENT UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUNS): It seems to me that they key mistake was the fact that after October 5th, we tried to build a partnership with the government, instead of building a media system where we would be independent from them.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: The media reforms were started with the illusion that once we get rid of political control, everything would be much better, namely that free market equals free media and that once private commercial media will have emerged, things would become different. That illusion is dead now. It turned out that the political elites in these countries and in Serbia this is the most visible, have learned this lesson very quickly as to how you can adopt democratic laws without applying them, how you can build institutions and undermine them. How can you paralyze the media outreach by creating media abundance and not censorship and all that has created a very complicated ambience?

The first Law on Public Information following the democratic changes was adopted just hours before the lifting of the state of emergency on April 22, 2003, which had been introduced after the assassination of the then PM.

While it took a long time to draft that Law, a different version was tabled to the deputies from the one that the working group agreed.

That Law was estimated to be opening the path self-censorship and media control.

Political Sciences Professor, Snjezana Milivojevic, was named in 2003 to the Council of the then National Broadcasting Agency (RBA), but soon resigned due to what she called irregularities in election of other members.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: The media did not ask aloud to take part in that battle from the beginning, and I remained in the minority and because it seemed to me that if we allow these irregularities from the very beginning, if we allow the Law to be broken, we will always carry that burden. We will never be able to do our job correctly. So, I resigned at the first session.

The Law on Public Information was amended in 2009 at the insistence of G17+ of Mladjan Dinkic due to his “war” with the tabloid Kurir, through they were running stories about political opponents. Just like the Law on Public Information from 1998 at the time when Vucic was Information Minister when many media were closed, the Law from 2009 was declared unconstitutional.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Other countries have also had media wars and conflicts around media control or around media and waves of tabloidization, albeit short ones - Croatia, Bulgaria and even Hungary, but they had the strength to denounced it as unacceptable in the public domain.

As soon as in 2001, tabloids were created en masse that did not exist at the time of Slobodan Milosevic. It was through these tabloids, and through the voice of the then Radical Party leader Seselj, that PM Zoran Djindjic was accused of being a criminal without any evidence.

Back then, the tabloids attacked mostly the government. They were empowered by various interest groups and political parties and were used for their different confrontations.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: If you recall, as one tabloid disappeared, the editor and the whole team would resurface in a different one, as a sort of tabloid team for hire. On the market of media services, they were clearly recognizable. Our tabloid history is quite rich, but sadly, with terrible lessons, such a tabloid war preceded the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. These were political wars with grave consequences.

At the time of Vojislav Kostunica, the media were the freest, but his DSS would ignore and suspend cooperation with certain media, such as, for instance, B92.

The era of Mirko Cvetkovic and Boris Tadic saw the beginning of media control by undermining them financially. The ones that published proof of embezzlement saw their advertisers pull back. At the time, tabloids attacked those journalists that were doing their job in synchronized campaigns, so that the citizens would think that nobody from the world of politics was actually behind such attacks.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: I remember it was far more overt than today and much more terrifying. There wasn’t a single media outlet where one could utter anything against the government.

INSIDER: How is that? You had B92.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: But B92 wasn’t saying anything against the government.

INSIDER: Insider exist back then too.Under the then government.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: So how did you fare back then?

INSIDER: It was good, but B92 saw its advertising revenues plummet.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: There you have it. The pressure mechanism of the government has always been the same. The only government that arrested a man who did something against a journalist was the SNS, this government, which arrested the Mayor of Grocka for his attack against Milan Jovanovic. So, we're not...

INSIDER: Well, that's the only politician that did that.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: But I mean, we didn't hide that fact because he was a member of the ruling coalition.

INSIDER: Well, you couldn’t have ignored it, since he had his house burned down.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: Yes, but we had situations with grave problems and some other people played dumb.

Unlike in Milosevic's times when the state was murdering journalists and political opponents and had the media closed with excessive fines, today all those who point to problems or abuse are declared traitors and foreign mercenaries by the tabloids. Since 2012, when the SNS came to power, the alliance between the ruling party, the media with national coverage and the tabloids hasn’t been a secret anymore.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Until 2012, they big, key mainstream media were at the center of the media landscape and the tabloids orbited at the margins. They may have grown in influence and circulation, but no was bragging about tabloids. No politician has ever said proudly: They're the best journalists, they're my friends, they're the role models for journalism professionals. The quality media were marginalized and that asymmetrical polarization is the Copernican Shift that illustrates the difference between the first democratic government and this autocratic government.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: The responsibility of the government may be RTS, but on RTS you don't have that kind of thing. At RTS you don’t have orchestrated campaigns against political opponents or tabloid-like stories. That’s the only station for which you can call the government to account. The rest are private stations.

INSIDER: But the air is not private property. That is defined by the Law.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: The state awards the national frequency, REM to be precise. REM is an independent body. I cannot, as a state authority, to make pressure on REM. It would be illegal. I’m telling you that. It is unacceptable to run a campaign on any television against anyone, pro-government or anti-government.

INSIDER: What is the problem of revoking the frequency to someone who in abuses it in every possible way?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: For example?

INSIDER: How would you feel that your picture was constantly on the screen of one television that is the most viewed, to have various analysts throwing non-stop lies or allegations against that person... it is frequency abuse.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM:I will say it again - the fact that you like someone's editorial policy or not…

INSIDER: But this is not about editorial policy.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Yes, it is editorial policy.

INSIDER: This is a call for lynching a specific individual.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: It is editorial policy...

INSIDER: And that's allowed? It's forbidden by Law.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Nobody said we are not prosecuting that. But believe me that revoking a station’s frequency would be medieval.

INSIDER: Wait, is that provided for by Law?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: Yes, but I told you, in cases like the state of war.

INSIDER: This was a lynching call.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: And we prosecute such cases.

INSIDER: How?

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: By issuing fines, I already told you.

A member of the REM Council argues that the problem is in the Law, which she says prescribes very low fines.

OLIVERA ZEKIC, REM: When the Croatian regulator first applied the mechanism and fined RTL 50,000 euros, everyone calmed down. In Hungary, you an be fined up to 300,000 euros and this is the only way. If the media professionals would stop arguing and agree on certain criteria, let’s have the fines be realistic or give the courts the possibility to charge must higher fines. Because when we rule in a case and issue a public warning, we also send that same offender to the misdemeanor court. Whether it is Pink, RTS or B92, that is irrelevant. In 90% of the cases, the statute of limitations kicks in for these fines.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: It is not normal for someone to be subject to a witch hunt for what they said, while the Prosecutor and Commissioner for Equality remains silent.

2400 media outlets are registered in Serbia. The main argument of the Government is that precisely this is evidence of press freedom.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR (INSIDER DEBATE): That's not the basic argument. I have a basic argument... Here, I tried to put on the list...

INSIDER: We have an organigram here...

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR (INSIDER DEBATE): It’s not an organigram, it’s a list of independent media in Serbia, those that claim to be independent at least. We have 18 independent media in our count.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: I presented this list and cited the part of the media that claimed they were independent. I wanted to prove that after all, in a country you say is ruled by terror and the government controls the media, there are still some people who say they are independent. That was just part of it. It was mostly just the media here in Belgrade and that our public has heard of... I did not mention the local media, such as the Juzne vesti or Podrinje, as well a bunch of others that continue to operate and report freely to this day. So, nobody locked them up, nobody arrested them. Media freedom exists. Is it sufficiently developed? Are we Finland, Norway or Sweden? Of course, we're not. Are we going to be one day? Maybe we will, maybe we won't, but it doesn't depend on the state anymore. It depends on the journalists and the journalist associations.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: We have too many media on our media stage and they cannot survive on that modest market. I think that that the total value of the advertising market is around 140, 160 million euros. Two thousand media outlets are supposed to feed of that, that is impossible. So, these media should have some kind of access to public money. Therefore, the state and its budget are the main driver for the functioning of the media. This is why these media compete for the good graces of the government and tradeoff they must make is the editorial policy.

Since the democratic changes, the mechanisms of media control have been perfected and marketing agencies have a key role in that. One of the founders of B92 in the 1990s, later the CEO of RTV B92, and Assistant and then State Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Media in 2013-2016 Sasa Mirkovic says that no government has ever given up putting pressure on the media.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: Financial and media power. That conglomerate, created by the synergy of the three powers, generates the satisfaction of some in society and the dissatisfaction of others, depending on who is in power, who controls the money flows and changes the discourse accordingly, namely whether if something is good or bad, and whether something needs to change or not.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: The Anti-Corruption Council has shown in two reports that the media are actually a propaganda tool of both the government and the owners of capital and the sellers of goods. That they are not what their original role should be. Because the media have been created as a watchdog of the citizens. This has been lost here. Truth be told, it barely existed. On of the ways to evaluate the media is access to the advertising market. So, if you praise the government and, to be honest, this was before 2012, when we had the people that were in power back then. When the government changed, the mechanism remained, new people came, also controlled by the government.

The following episodes of our series will deal in more detail about the mechanism of financial control of the media. However, the facts about that are contained in as many is 3 reports of the ACC, one in 2011 and two in 2015.

MIROSLAV MILICEVIC, THE ANTI-CORRUPTION COUNCIL: One of the key issues is how to prevent this link between politics, business and marketing agencies and the media. This is a quite complex process requiring functional institutions. It requires regulations to be adopted and the relevant ordinances. It requires transparency and the existence of controls.

Still, these reports have remained a dead letter. An investigation was never launched and the it seems that not even the Ministry of Culture and Media wanted to know about the report about the media.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: I didn't read it thoroughly. That's true. However, if there is reasonable doubt of corruption, those involved should be prosecuted, because, as I said, everybody should be hold to account if they don’t respect the Law.

INSIDER: The ACC, three reports, the first in 2011 and then two in 2015.  Have you ever made a statement about that?

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: You should ask that those that were state secretaries at the time, not me.

 

INSIDER: But the reports are still there, Mr. Gajevic.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: No...

INSIDER: You came in 2015.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: You think that I am supposed to have a report from 2011 or 2015 on my desk and act on it?

INSIDER: Yes.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: Personally, I haven’t had the opportunity to read that report in more detail. I think that it’s the job of the ACC.

INSIDER: All these reports were posted on the ACC website.

ALEKSANDAR GAJOVIC, STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA: Sincerely, I think that it will have to be dealt with one day. Such a major issue cannot be pushed under the rug.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: We have that provided for in our laws to a certain extent, but not in practice unfortunately and very often it may be revealed that it is the state that violates its own media laws the most.

Despite the facts that TV stations are not the only windows to the world owing to new ICTs, in undemocratic countries, take control of television was a prerequisite for coming to power. the current authorities say, as an argument, that while they were the opposition, the media was controlled by the then government.

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, PRESIDENT OF SERBIA: Did N1 exist in 2012, as the top-rated channel on 50-55% of TV sets in Serbia?

JOURNALIST: No.

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, PRESIDENT OF SERBIA: Did Nova S exist, as the second top rated channel on 50-55% TV sets?

JOURNALIST: No.

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, PRESIDENT OF SERBIA: There wasn’t a single TV stations where someone from the opposition could speak. Back then, were NiN, Vreme, Danas, Nedeljnik, Magazin Novi supporting the opposition or the government?

JOURNALIST: Not a single positive thing could be heard...

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, PRESIDENT OF SERBIA: Did you have a single newspaper that could be viewed as close to some opposition parties? Not a single one. It was total darkness. Total darkness. Today, you have an array of media outlets. The influence of social networks is tenfold. I just want us to be realistic.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: The President doesn’t remember that back then he was the owner of a newspaper, Pravda, the reporting of which, according to Birodi research from that period, was pro-SNS.  There was also Sky plus television, a cable channel, of equal coverage as N1 today, which was a propaganda tool of the then opposition party, which has also mentioned our reports.

As evidence of media freedom, government representatives also point to the fact that N1’s editorial policy that includes criticism of the government.

The United Group is among the leading providers of telecommunications and media services in Southeast Europe and is owned by the international investment company BC Partners. The United Group in Serbia includes operators such as SBB, United Cloud, United Media, with television channels N1, Nova S, Sport Club, Grand, Picaboo, Vavoom, Cinemania, Lov i ribolov, IDJ, Brains, the portal nova.rs and marketing agencies CAS Media and Direct Media.

The government claims that the fact that SBB has its own channels is tantamount to a misuse, since N1 and Nova S are set as channels number 1 and 2 on that cable operator. What they are forgetting to say is that such an arrangement was made possible during the real of this very government, under a Law that was adopted in 2014.

Sasa Mirkovic, who was a member of the Working Group at the time, first as a representative of the Media Coalition and then as the State Secretary of the MCM, said that, while under the first version of the Law, no cable operator was allowed to produce content, this was changed in Brussels.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: Interestingly enough, the drafting and adoption of what later became the media law coincided with the opening of negotiating chapters. The fact is that the version of the same article that went to Brussels in late 2013 was saying that cable operators were not allowed to produce content. It was the opinion of the Working Group and there was absolutely no dilemma about that. Then it went to Brussels and simmered there for several months. In Belgrade, we told the members of the Working Group about such a concept, they weren’t happy about it but it was clear it was the only solution that will make Brussels happy.

Such a decision in Brussels was clearly made based on European experience. In an analysis of KKR, the co-owner of United Group, which includes SBB, N1 and Nova S, it was said that 27 providers in several European countries are both cable operators and channel owners.

The Law in 2014 was clearly adopted under pressure from Brussels. That Law provided, inter alia, for the transparency of media ownership. In 2010, when Antenna Group from Greece became the owner of Prva and B92, it was prohibited by Law for one owner to have two stations with national coverage, which was made possible by the Law from 2014, after which they ceased to hid majority ownership behind off-shore companies.

SASA MIRKOVIC,  STATE SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND MEDIA IN 2013-2016: Under previous regulations, a limit was defined for foreign ownership in media. It means that a foreign owner could not own more than 49%. It was the only thing that was in complete disagreement with the European integration and tendencies of this country. I don’t see why would the media be treated differently than any other industry, regardless of their importance, but 49% is a restrictive factor for any serious player that would want to invest here.

Under the same Law from 2014, cable operators were allowed to have their own channels, which served the interests of both Telekom and SBB. The government didn’t see any problem back then, but it ultimately became one and then accusations emerged against N1 and its staff.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: But N1 is waging a campaign against Vucic, but it doesn’t mean he is kicking them out from press conferences.

INSIDER: But what is a campaign? Let's get this straight. A campaign in what sense?

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: Well, a campaign has only one sense. When you work 24/7 against somebody, that’s a campaign. When you do not air a single piece of positive news about someone, regardless of what they do. If he inaugurates a factory, instead of reporting about it, you report about members of the SNS that came to applaud Vucic. You have a campaign against foreign investments.  But you people are the product of a foreign investment. Hadn’t it been for a foreign investment, you would not exist.

INSIDER: But that’s not a campaign, it’s stating how much money from the budget is allocated to foreign investors, in order to attract them. This can’t be characterized as a campaign.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: No, it’s not only that. In most of their news, there aren’t any reports about the factories that were opened and other accomplishments. There are not.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: N1 and now TV Nova too, which are cable channels, the ratings of which cannot compare with national coverage. According to our monitoring, TV has a balanced attitude to Vucic. They are not attacking him. I’m referring to their news bulletins. I mean that N1 is presenting Vucic in a positive light 50% of the time. Around 50%. The rest of the coverage is neutral or negative.

As opposed to Pink, where Vucic enjoys a 95% positive coverage. It’s almost “Tito-like”, not a single negative second. Now the elections are coming, the campaign took place on March 4-15th and in these 11 days, not a single negative second on Pink, 9 seconds on RTS and 1 second on Prva. B92 is leading the way with one minute of “negative air-time”.

Television as a media has the greatest impact, but it’s not only about the pictures people see on the screen. It hides a web of intertwined political, business and media relations.

VUKASIN OBRADOVIC, FORMER HEAD OF THE INDEPENDENT UNION OF JOURNALISTS (NUNS): It’s an extensive system of media propaganda, where the media are merely one segment.  They aren’t even independent in that system, but merely part of a well-oiled mechanism.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Those media that are under the influence of power holders and the government in particular have a much broader reach and circulation. They do not have such results because the citizens love them, but because of their physical presence and the inertia of part of the citizens that watch everything that’s thrown at them.

No government since 2000 has accepted the role of the media to be a watchdog of government for the public interest. Anyone who comes to power has tried to make the journalists and media their servants.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Pink’s status as government stooge was created in the evening of October 5, when the new authorities sent their emissaries to ask Zeljko Mitrovic: “Do you want to keep your media empire?” Of course, he said: “I do.” And that’s how it happened. Since then, every government had the same relationship with Pink. What shocked me, in late 2002, after I spend time as lecturer on the school of journalism in Sarajevo, I was summoned by a French guy who was working in the French embassy there, for a meeting. I was very surprised by the fact that he, as a Frenchman working for the embassy in BiH, was interested in the Serbian media. He openly asked me: “What do you think about Pink’s expansion in the region?” I was really surprised. I told him “What do you mean, in the region?” “I mean in BiH, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia...” he said. I said: “I think that all well-intentioned, pro-democratic citizens, who were against the war, would be very surprised if that would happen.” He made a psychological pause and said: “But that has already been decided.” I said: “Where?” - In Brussels. “But someone here had to agree to that, I guess?” He said: “We did receive the approval from Belgrade, the new government.”

Zeljko Mitrovic is the owner of TV Pink, which has a national frequency.

In the 1990s, he was running the election campaign of Mirjana Milosevic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic, with a then famous video “JUL is cool”.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES:I used to a member of JUL (Yugoslav Left) I was a kid and I’m not ashamed of it.

I was 20 something. Everyone’s entitled to make mistakes when they’re young.

As early as on October 5, 2000 Zeljko Mitrovic switched allegiances.

After the program was interrupted for 2 hours, Mladjan Dinkic from DOS addressed the public on TV Pink.

MLADJAN DINKIC (5.10.1999): We want to start a new life, look to the future. We want to build a country where the laws will be respected, we want to start the economic reforms. It may seem strange to you that I am speaking on TV Pink. Many things are strange today and so is my speech here.

Since then, Mitrovic switched allegiances multiple times, but his stations remain the weapon of choice of every government.

SUZANA VASILJEVIC, SERBIAN PRESIDENT’S MEDIA ADVISOR: Zeljko Mitrovic was a friend of both Boris Tadic and Zoran Djindjic. So, he was the friend of everyone who’s been in power.

In an interview for Kurir in 2015, he painted a vivid picture of different governments.

ZELJKO MITROVIC: I was OK with everyone, an acquaintance or friend to some and quite intimate with some people.

Even though he was an MP candidate of SPS-JUL in 2000, Mitrovic later claimed his political engagement in JUL was a mistake.

An angry Mira Markovic claimed in her book that Mitrovic profited thanks to JUL. After being a musician, he started his business in the late 80s and made his first profit in his studio, dealing with folk-music performers.

He launched TV Pink in 1994, promoting so-called “Turbo-folk” singers and so-called “warriors”, such as Arkan, as national heroes.

While the station didn’t make any news program since it allegedly wasn’t profitable, it started doing it after 2000.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: After 2000, many believed that the media would change if only different people start working in them, without any systemic transformation. This too was not true.

In the first allocation of frequencies in 2006, TV Pink was among the 5 that was granted one. He was said to control TV Kosava and TV Avala, which also got the frequency, but he was cleared of any suspicions in the case of Kosava and Avala wasn’t subject to investigation.

In 2014, Pink found itself on the list of the largest tax debtors.

According to the CINS, Pink received loans from the Serbian Export Credit and Insurance Agency, even though one of the conditions was that the company had no tax debts.

Zeljko Mitrovic claimed to have paid the tax debt, repaid all loans, and that Pink was one of the most important Serbian exporters.

ZELJKO MITROVIC: We paid 15 million euros to the state budget in the previous 12 months.

JOURNALIST: Wait, how much taxes did you pay?

ZELJKO MITROVIC: We don't have a single euro of debt...

No, no, I'm very sensitive about that because from time to time on Twitter: Yes, yes, it's easy for Mitrovic when… Who’s not paying taxes? Wait, what can the state do after we have paid 15M euros and we don’t owe them a cent? It can build 15km of motorways, 3 hospitals, 15 kindergartens, pay one-month’s salaries to the police, the army, people working in culture... I’m just saying that Pink pays 15M euros every year in the budget.

With TV Pink, Mitrovic now has over 60 cable channels, from Pink Kids and Pink Music to Pink Erotica.

It’s aired in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. He also has his airline company, Air Pink. Zeljko Mitrovic refused to be interviewed for Insider.

The owner of TV Happy with the national frequency is Predrag Rankovic Peconi. While it is a known fact, he’s not in the official records and he never appears in public.

There is only one known photograph of him.

Rankovic was one of the players on the criminal scene in the 90s.

TV Happy was awarded the national frequency as a children's station in 2006, along with TV Kosava. The owners of both televisions have changed over the years. TV Kosava was established in 1998 by Marija Milosevic, the daughter of the then President Slobodan Milosevic. After 2000, the owner became Aleksandar Lupsic and Peconi bought the station only 10 months after the frequencies were allocated in 2007.

Meanwhile, Happy TV, established by the media savvy families of the producer Bojan Maljevic and copyright expert Jovan Milenkovic, was sold to companies who owned TV Kosava. Rankovic kept the name of station and due to the automatic extension of the frequency permit, became the owner of Happy, which hasn’t been specialized in children's content for years.

ZORAN GAVRILOVIC, BIRODI: Can you tell me what is this all about if you are airing reality shows 24/7, while officially being a children’s television?

Invej and all the companies in that Group are seated at the same address as TV Happy. They are all owned by Predrag Rankovic.

He started with pinball machines, continued with change offices and ended up in the Zemun criminal gang.

In the white paper on organized crime in Serbia from 2001, Peconi was said to have made his wealth in oil and cigarette smuggling and was the main money laundering guy for the gang.

He was arrested in Operation Sabre after the assassination of PM Zoran Djindjic, but was released shortly.

He was never charged of any of the wrongdoings alleged in the police reports. He then started legit businesses, which peaked during the DSS government, which was backed by the SPS. His Invej Group was able to acquire companies such as Rubin, Vital and Sunce, Milan Blagojevic, the Dunav Port in Pancevo or the famous Belgrade restaurants Dva bela goluba i Tri sesira. In 2007-2008, Rankovic was among the top-ranked Serbian businessmen.

He was often dubbed the main financier of the SPS, although Ivica Dacic has denied it.

In the spring of 2017, Peconi was wounded in the leg in a shootout in the Prague Hotel in Belgrade. At the trial he said he didn’t remember anything and that his memory was blocked. In 2019, another character from the 90s, connected to the Zvezdara Gang, Zeljko Rutovic and his bodyguard, were sentence to prison for shooting at Rankovic. Predrag Rankovic Peconi refused an interview for Insider.

Hotel Prague was privatized shortly before the incident and the new owner, Srdjan Milovanovic, had invited friends, including Rankovic, to celebrate the transaction.

It was precisely Milovanovic, the former owner of the Kopernikus cable system, who in late 2018 acquired from the Antenna Group two national coverage stations - B92 and Prva. Because of the transaction, which occurred between Telekom, Kopernikus and the two stations in the same month, the impression was that the state, through Telekom, became the owner of B92 and Prva.

The government and Telekom claim that these are separate deals and that Telekom just wanted to match the market presence of SBB by acquiring small cable operators. Everything that happened after that is unrelated to Telekom or the state, they say.

ANA BRNABIC, PRIME MINISTER OF SERBIA: The business dealings of Telekom Srbija are not in the Government’s purview. I expect Telekom Srbija to be successful and pay their taxes.

On November 1, 2018, Telekom bought cable operator Kopernikus for nearly 195M euros.

Just a month later, the co-owner of Kopernikus, Srdjan Milovanovic, was said to have agreed to buy for 180 m euros the “package” of Antenna Group, including Prva and O2.

At the time of the sale, the owners of Kopernikus, i.e. Kopernikus Technology, were Srdjan Milovanovic with 49%, and the Polish Fund Abris with 51%. Almost half of the money from this transaction went to Milovanovic. The company Kopernikus, who was first selling satellite dishes, ACs and audio and video equipment, was founded 1998 in by Srdjan and his brother Zvezdan Milovanovic. Since then, they have been expanding their business and Srdjan became the co-owner of Kopernikus and Zvezdan, SNS commissioner for Nis, owns Kopernikus cable TV and has recently been investing in hotels.

In his written response to Insider, Srdjan said the allegations that Telekom bought his company in order to acquire the two stations were unfounded and malicious.

SRDJAN MILOVANOVIC’S RESPONSE TO INSIDER: The allegations that it was all a government plot to change the editorial policies and lay-off the employees of Prva TV and the then O2, were simply untrue. This was purely a business deal. The owner of Antenna Group decided at the time to sell his assets in Serbia and it was logical for us to react quickly. Business opportunities cannot wait. In this case, it has proven to be a good decision.

The President added to the confusion, however, by saying that Milovanovic bought Prva and B92 to prevent SBB from acquiring them.

ALEKSANDAR VUCIC, PRESIDENT OF SERBIA: They wanted to buy B92 and Prva and sent their offer through the same company that owns N1 and SBB, with the aim to control both the media and financial market.

While on the one hand, the most influential media in Serbia are RTS and 4 national stations, cable televisions have been growing lately, albeit with much less influence.

According to Insider’s research, there is a war raging on the cable market between 2 of the biggest operators - state-owned Telekom and the private operator SBB.

The government and pro-government media have long claimed that SBB emerged 20 years ago from a deal that was harmful for Telekom. If they have evidence of that, they should go to the Prosecutor.

Until 2018, Telekom was losing its market position. The number of cable users was declining, contributing to the decline in revenues from landline telephony and Internet.

They claim that the only way to prevent further decline was to acquire small cable operators.

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: It was clear we were in a bad position and it was an excellent move for us to make. Like in chess, when someone has an advantage over you, they typically leave room for you to checkmate them with a simple move.

While the management of Telekom is typically appointed by the strongest ruling party, Vladimir Lucic, a non-partisan figure, has long been in high positions. Today he is the Internet and Multimedia Coordinator, after being CEO of Mobile Telephony and Commercial Affairs Director at the time of the DS.

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: Since we have been the only market with landline and mobile telephony and we have an opportunity to increase the number of mobile users and I have to say that I am surprised by two facts. First, the commentators that attacked us failed to mention these particular benefits, when one acquires his direct competitors. You now have international companies buying a company to enter a market, only to close it down shortly and it’s called a great move. We have bought our active competitors and benefited greatly and had we not acquired them; it would have become part of a larger system that would have ended up undermining our market position.

Since “A Million + Users” business plan in 2018, Telekom acquired the 3rd strongest cable operator Kopernikus and smaller operators Masko, AVCOM, Radius Vector, Telemark.

After that, the state operator came 2nd with a 42% cable market share, behind SBB with 48%.

In his response to Insider, Srdjan Milovanovic said: Had it been his call, he wouldn’t have sold his company to Telekom, but it was decided by the Abris Fund, who were the majority owners.

SRDJAN MILOVANOVIC’S RESPONSE TO INSIDER: Abris decided the sale and used its drag-along right that I had to abide with, although I thought we could get more money for the company. In view of Abris’ extensive experience and knowledge of the market, we decided to support our partner's decision and act according to the sales plan. If we compare how much BS Partners paid for SBB (2.6 B EUR), including the debt that the SBB had, Telekom practically got our company for free.

While a private company can risk millions, a state-owned firm cannot gamble with taxpayers’ money.

The market worth of a company is what someone is willing to pay for it. However, how much money is spent by a private company or foreign investment fund cannot be compared to how a state-company like Telekom invests.

GORANKA JOVANOVIC, STATE AUDIT INSTITUTION: It takes at least 3 years to assess the cost-effectiveness of an acquisition, i.e. to be able to appreciate its effects.

The representatives of Abris, who Milovanovic said negotiated with Telekom, didn’t answer Insider’s questions.

Abris was established in 2007 and it operates in CEE markets, in post-transitional and transitional countries. In September 2016, they posted on their website the decision on investing in Kopernikus and that the investment period usually lasts from 3 to 5 years. Only 22 months later, they decided to sell the company to Telekom.

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: They were happy with the price we proposed.

INSIDER: Does it mean that Telekom overpaid?

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: No, it does not mean that Telekom overpaid. Had we not acquired those cable operators, we would probably be operating at a loss as soon as in 2020.

Telekom explained that Abris’ plan was to buy small cable operators, but when Telekom started doing the same, Abris’ opportunity to expand their customer base shrank and they decided to get rid of Kopernikus early.

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: Our task is to develop Telekom. It's a big challenge. When I returned from Germany in 2001 and started to run the mobile business, we had similar discussions. At the time we believed it was impossible to grow and beat our competitors. Sometimes it’s a challenge to be a CEO in a state-owned Telekom. We’re not talking about energy or railways here.

According to Lucic, buying small operators means less shops, less staff and less costs, while expanding the market, stabilizing and increasing the number of users in landline and mobile telephony and Internet.

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: All indicators show that it will repay itself in 5 years and we have gotten even stronger. We are now sure that for the next 10-15 years we will have an absolutely healthy and profitable company.

While a state-owned company should try to grow, Insider’s research has shown that it can be questionable if the cable operators have been purchased at an exorbitant price. According to the SAA with the EU and the Law on State Aid Control, state money must not be used to undermine market competition.

If a public or state enterprise pays to a private company more than the market price, such a transaction amounts to state aid, which must be pre-approved by the State Aid Commission.

INSIDER: Should have Telekom sought the approval from the Commission, given the EU rules that we accepted?

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: Well, no, I can't agree with you and I have something to say something about Telekom in order for your viewers to understand. In 1996, when Telekom became a joint-stock company, it has been financing itself, while making hundreds of millions of euros for the state.

In response to Insider, the State Aid Commission said that Telekom should have evaluated by itself the transaction and report it to the Commission if it deemed that certain criteria had been fulfilled.

STATE AID COMMISSION’S RESPONSE TO INSIDER: The Commission would then establish if state aid exists and only then proceed to determine any non-compliance. There are many examples of large multinationals with a state share in their ownership structure directly or indirectly, which may not be automatically deemed as them disposing with public funds. Therefore, the state’s participation in the ownership of a market participant is not a precondition for the existence of state aid.

The Law, however, says that any legal person that manages or disposes with public assets and grants state aid in any form is a state aid provider.

The purchase or use of property by the state, local government or legal person that manages or disposes with public assets at a price that is higher than the market price.

INSIDER: Based on what exactly was the price set finally?

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: The market determines the price of cable operators. Unfortunately, the price in Serbia and Bosnia was high precisely due to the competition, but it is still extremely profitable. One of the indicators in such large transactions is comparison through EBITDA – i.e. the amount of the company's operational earnings before tax, interest and depreciation.

In different sectors, the value of the company is calculated by multiplying that amount by a certain number, which differs depending on the sector.

INSIDER: According to information we acquired, the values of Telecoms, compared per EBITDA, differ significantly. As per the averages of major acquisitions in the last 10 years, that value is 9.7 times EBITDA.According to our research, what Telekom paid for Kopernikus was 17.5 EBITDA, with the daily Danas putting it at times 25 EBITDA. Yes. Now, can you tell us how much was Kopernikus paid as per that parameter?

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: Well, that parameter is 10.6, so it is neither 17 nor 25.

The first year under our control of Kopernikus, in 2019, EBITDA reached 18,3 M euros, as you will see in Telekom’s financial reports and hence it will have come to 10,6, which is a fair price for a cable operator.

INSIDER: Let’s go back to the situation when the whole of Telekom was last put on sale for 6 times EBITDA, for the whole group. This was the estimate of a serious company that made such an offer. How can you say that 10,6 is a fair price?

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: What was Telekom’s biggest weakness? If you’re acquiring a company whose main income comes from land line telephony, voice and mobile SMS, nobody can guarantee you that it will remain as such in the next 10 years and hence EBITDA is reduced.

Telekom claims that the acquisition of Kopernikus will have paid off in 5 years. However, its total debt has increased from 288,7 to 644 M euros. While they are not denying that they took a loan to acquire the cable operators, Telekom refuses to disclose the amount. In their 2018 financial report, the company is said to have non-withdrawn loans in the amount of 252M euros.

In 2018, Telekom didn’t pay up the dividend in the budget due to investments.

VLADIMIR LUCIC, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA COORDINATOR -  TELEKOM: Telekom has been doing that since 1996 and since they have to be transformed so as to embrace new technologies, I think that the state made the right decision. That doesn't mean that we don't have any assets, of course we do. But it's a good decision by the owner, in this year's biggest investment shift, to invest in the future of the company.

Suspicions that the actions of Telekom may be politically motivated have a basis in its previous decisions. TS actually started with a political decision in 2006, when it acquired Telekom RS for 12 times the annual EBITDA, i.e. 646M euros, 180 more than what the 2nd bidder Telekom Austria offered. It was clear that the transaction was in fact political assistance to the RS through Telekom.

Only the State Audit can determine if Telekom overpaid for the Kopernikus cable system. Such audit could also have been initiated by the Government of Serbia.

ANA BRNABIC, PRIME MINISTER OF SERBIA: As for Kopernikus, the Government can of course review Telekom’s decisions. I don’t see what they would review them. I don’t see a single reason why the Government would review Telekom’s decisions.

After all is said and done, Telekom and SBB are continuing their battle for the market and a greater number of users.

SNJEZANA MILIVOJEVIC, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: Long-term, it’s the citizens, i.e. us, that pay the price. We have to make a temporary alliance with those that are in position to do more in the interest of the public, due to their own interests. The mood here is that the media are good for the market and their owners, but bad for the citizens.

The United Group said that they have long been exposed to unfair market competition, that the government discriminates against them at every turn and that they are unable to operate freely.

THE UNITED GROUP’S PRESS RELEASE: We understand that they want to unlawfully support their protégé Telekom, but we didn’t expect that a crackdown against us on daily basis. SBB has been prevented for a long time now to lay optical cables and expand its network, thereby preventing Serbian citizens to freely chose their cable operator.

ANA BRNABIC, PRIME MINISTER OF SERBIA:The state, on the other hand, says that Telekom, as a state company, has the right to expand and do business successfully. Telekom operates on a highly competitive market and must be able to fight the best it can.

In Serbia, the fight between cable operators has turned into a story about media freedom.

Just like with pro and anti-government media, the story about the two cable operators has been reduced to the narrative that SBB is siding with the opposition and Telekom with the government.

While in advanced democracies where such battles between competitors are irrelevant for the citizens, in Serbia they result in overt attacks against the journalists doing their job in the interest of the public.

RADE VELJANOVSKI, FACULTY OF POLITICAL SCIENCES: I will tell it quite simply to the state: Hands off the media. A government that is able to relinquish control of media can be called democratic. And not have someone else strip it off such control. It’s a democratic test for every government. How much it is able to support independent media, including those willing to take a critical stance against the government.

All televisions that use the national frequency and most local media are overtly on the side of the government at all times. They are typically against all those that are pointing to any sort of problem. The owners get the profit and the government keeps the power, against the interest of the public. This is how things stand for now.

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