Rarely has an official document ever been so thoroughly ignored by the Serbian media. "The Report on Pressure and Control Over the Media in Serbia" issued by the Anti-Corruption Council is a very exciting document, with elements of a thriller, and it deals with three major issues in the Serbian media scene: the non-transparency of media ownership; the economic influence of state institutions on operations of the media via various forms of financial assistance from the state; and Radio-Television of Serbia (RTS), which "instead of functioning as a public service broadcaster acts in accordance with desires of political parties and the ruling elite".
The list of media outlets whose owner is unknown begins with newspaper Vecernje Novosti and the already legendary Milan Beko. It is followed by the Press newspaper, half of which belongs to a company registered in Limassol in Cyprus, Amber Press Limited. The Report suspects that Greek businessman Minos Kyriakou has an ownership share in TV B92 and TV Prva, while it is uncertain whether Zeljko Mitrovic is behind TV Avala. Off-shore companies have been mentioned in relation to Radio Index, Roadstar Radio, Novi Standard, Ekonomist, Objektiv... Aside from this, the Report says that a group consisting of five media outlets (Happy TV, Happy Kids TV, Radio S, Akter and Pecat) is characterized by insufficiently transparent domestic capital. It is suspected that some of these media outlets are actually owned by domestic politicians or businessmen.
The Report also mentions the weekly magazine Vreme "which has not escaped the influence of the big capital i.e. Miroslav Miskovic. A loan made by Delta Maxi in the amount of 370,000 euros is interpreted as the direct reason for the change of the editorial policy of the reputable magazine.
With regard to RTS, the Council points out that it did not have access to all the information related to business operations of the public service broadcaster because Aleksandar Tijanic had refused to act in accordance with rulings adopted by the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and to deliver the required information. However, the Report expresses suspicion regarding the legality of contracts concluded between the public service broadcaster and certain independent production companies and physical persons.
The lack of transparency of ownership and the RTS have attracted less attention than the information related to millions that have found their way into the media sector, perhaps because, as the Report claims, this has led to "complete control over the media" and to the lack of objective and unbiased information available to citizens.
The Report also says that the Council sampled 50 of the most important state institutions and established that around 15 million euros had been allocated to advertising and promotion. The media receive additional 21-25 million euros via public contests. In comparison with the total size of the advertising market, which amounts to 160 million euros, it is evident that the state controls around a quarter of the market.
Telecom Serbia is also mention in the Report. The company spends around 10 million euros annually on the media, and most of the sum goes to RTS, RTV Pink, RTV B92, TV Foks and TV Avala. With regard to the print media, Telecom Serbia advertises mostly in Vecernje Novosti, Blic, Kurir and Press.
It is worth noting that the Privatization Agency has spent around 62 million dinars on advertising, mostly in Vecernje Novosti, Blic, Politika and Press.
The Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning is also mentioned. The largest sum of money has been paid to Ringier newspapers Blic and Alo: a contract worth almost half a million euros was concluded with these two newspapers for the purpose of "research on environment"?!
The Ministry of Economy and Regional Development has spent "at least" 60 million dinars on the media. The former minister, Mladjan Dinkic, had spent largest amounts of money on services rendered by TV B92, RTS and RTV Pink.
Next on the list are the Ministry of Health with 35 million dinars (RTV B92 – 5.53 million dinars, Politika – 3.22 million dinars, Blic – 2.36 million dinars...); the Ministry of Agriculture (Politika – 2.4 million dinars, Blic – 6.12 million dinars); as well as the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, the Ministry of Kosovo and Metohija, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Tax Administration, the National Employment Agency, the Electrical Power Company of Serbia...
The Report pays special attention to marketing and production agencies that are "owned by political party activists or persons connected with them".
Dragan Djilas, the mayor of Belgrade and the deputy president of the Democratic Party, was mentioned as having links with Multicom Group, Direct Media and Emotion, while Srdjan Saper, "a former member of the Board of the Democratic Party and an informal advisor to the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, was said to be connected with McCann Erickson.
Taking all this information into account, it is no wonder that most of the media outlets acted as if the Report prepared by the Anti-Corruption Council did not exist. However, the Report has largely exposed the inappropriate relationship between the government and the media.
Still, the more important issue is why the bigger part of the Serbian media scene has transformed from the so-called "independent media" into a mere link in the chain of corruption.
Such a role was simply forced on them. They were faced with a simple choice: follow the rules or cease operations. In this way, the state has constructed an efficient mechanism of control over the media which, evidently, works even when it is not working. The purpose of making the media the participants in the corrupted game is to make them incapable of leaving the game. The state and agencies closely tied to the state control more than a half of the total advertising market, and the media simply had no choice. Most of the media outlets have decided to take what was offered to them and to accept the rules that were created at a meeting of four classmates. A legendary quote, published by the magazine Status and mentioned in the Report, was taken from the interview of Boris Tadic given to Svetislav Basara:
Boris Tadic: It may seem atypical how I came to participate in this. The four of us – my childhood friends and I – met one evening to discuss whether Serbia should be surrendered to the Radicals... There were only four of us...
Basara: You, Krle, Saper... Who was the fourth classmate?
Boris Tadic: Tucko. The four of us.
The problem is, now there is much more than four of them. Someone asked: How many pupils were in that class?
December 2, 2011
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