Report on Ownership Structure and Control over Media in Serbia

Report on Ownership Structure and Control over Media in Serbia
Council identified and singled out five systemic problems that have paralyzed the public information system in Serbia for years.

The Anti-Corruption Council of the Government of the Republic of Serbia analyzed the media ownership structure and most important models of media control in the 2011-2014 period. Analyzing several hundred different media contents from print and broadcast media, as well as comparing available official data (more than 70 requests for information were sent to more than 25 state institutions), the Council identified and singled out five systemic problems that have paralyzed the public information system in the Republic of Serbia for years. They are:

  • Lack of transparency of media ownership,
  • Lack of transparency of funding, economic influence through budgets, tax reliefs and other indirect forms of funding using public money,
  • Problems related to media privatization and uncertain status of public services,
  • Censorship and self-censorship,
  • Tabloidization.

In order to establish the degree of transparency of media ownership in the Republic of Serbia, the Council analyzed the content of the media register and found that as of 30 June 2014 a total of 1,319 media outlets were registered: 711 print media, 237 radio stations, 208 internet media, 130 television stations and 20 news agency services, 9 mass media and 4 electronic publications. It was found that 613 legal entities appear at the same time as founders of more than one media outlet. On an analyzed sample of 50 media, including 9 internet portals and websites providing public information, the Council established that 23 media outlets have completely transparent ownership, the ownership of 14 media is non-transparent or partly transparent, and the ownership of at least 13 media outlets is formally transparent but another person is publicly perceived as the owner of these media.

In the Report the Council particularly emphasized control over state/public media and thus analyzed the status of the public companies Tanjug, the Politika newspaper, Dnevnik newspaper and several local media. The Council tried to prove political connections between these media outlets’ management bodies and political parties, as well as other forms of editorial and management control, such as budgetary loans, subsidies, tax proceedings and "restructuring" status.

The Council separately analyzed the business operations of Radio-Television of Serbia, a public service whose sustainability depends on funding from the budget of the Republic of Serbia which is managed by politicians. Abolishment of subscription fee is the result of the Prime Minister’s pre-election promise, although data analyzed by the Council demonstrate that until the passing of the new Law on Public Media Services and transition to temporary budget funding, RTS had generated most income from the subscription fee. Based on data obtained from RTS, the Council also analyzed the public service’s business operations with marketing agencies and a number of production companies and also revealed the structure of the most important buyers of advertising space.

Circumstances that led to blocking the process of privatization of state/public media and rendering it meaningless were analyzed in detail. There are 84 media outlets on the Privatization Agency’s list and the legal deadline for their privatization is 1 July 2015. The report also covers the case of recapitalization of the company HD-WIN d.o.o. and all four Arena Sport TV channels carried out by Telekom Srbija.

In the Report the Council pointed out key problems related to media funding from public revenue:

  • Funding of media services and advertising by state institutions, public and other state-owned companies (compared to the Report on Pressure and Control over Media in Serbia from 2011, a drastic change in the advertising and PR market was observed),
  • Subsidies and budgetary expenditures (the Council analyzed political influence on media through funding from the republic budget, provincial budget or budgets of local self-governments; funding of media in the territory of Kosovo and Metohija – media in this region were allocated around 200,000 Euros or 30 times less than Mreza-most and Panorama received together, without tenders; as well as funding of media from the budgets of local self-governments, e.g. Radio Stari Grad from Kragujevac, TV Plus and ADD Produkcija from Krusevac, Surdulicka Radio-Television from Surdulica, TV Skaj plus-Nasa televizija from Belgrade, TV Best and RTV F kanal from Zajecar),
  • Funding of media projects (the Council analyzed the structure of funding allocated annually from the budget of the Republic of Serbia (2014) and budget of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina (2013) based on project funding of media contents, as well as the way the money was allocated and who were members of the project selection commissions. The Council pointed out that there is a disproportion between direct and project-based funding of media using money from the budget of AP Vojvodina, where 80 media projects were funded in 2013 with 45 million dinars, while just the daily Dnevnik received a direct subsidy of 58.9 million dinars),
  • Granting tax reliefs as a form of funding (the Council found that 747 taxpayers as of 31 July 2014 owed 2,573,427,464 dinars, or over 20 million Euros, while 377 taxpayers registered for “cable communication” business as of 10 October 2014 owed 655,484,598 dinars. The Council also analyzed tax debts of Pink television, Borba Company, Borba Printing House and Vecernje novine newspaper).

The Council analyzed the structure of debts to the public company Emisiona tehnika i veze and found that 31 broadcasters as of 30 June 2014 owed 228,898,010.60 dinars.
Based on documentation obtained from RRA and RATEL, the Council found that RRA as of 30 June 2014 had over 400 registered broadcasters, 19 of which owed more than one billion dinars. Ninety-nine broadcasters had outstanding debts to RATEL as of 30 June 2014, 17 of which had debts of over one billion dinars. The Council also stated in the Report that RATEL and RRA had written off debts worth millions of dinars for some broadcasters.

The Council analyzed the work and limitations in the work of the Press Council – an independent self-regulatory body that gathers publishers, owners of print and online media and professional journalists.

The Report also pointed out the phenomena of tabloidization and relativization of serious social and political issues, as well as the phenomena of censorship and self-censorship.

The Council highlighted in the Report on the Ownership Structure and Control over Media that media laws were passed in August 2014 and that it was still early to assess the effects of these laws. The Anti-Corruption Council welcomes the passing of the set of media laws and decrees created by the Ministry of Culture and Information, which are aimed at improving the media situation in Serbia.

As a result of economic dependence and connections with the political and economic elite, as well as informal centers of power, most media do not work for the benefit of better informing citizens.

Due to all of the above, the Council presented more than 20 recommendations to the Government of the Republic of Serbia aimed at improving the media landscape in Serbia.

Source: The Anti-Corruption Council of the Republic of Serbia.

Media Ownership and Finances