Belgrade daily Danas said on Friday that Telekom Serbia CEO Vladimir Lucic is planning to finance three news channels and strike a blow against N1 TV and Nova S.
“Besides the Telekom-Telenor agreement which Lucic said is intended to break SBB, the new CEO of the state telecommunications operator also intends to use direct or indirect routes to finance three news channels which are to be launched soon and strike another blow against N1 and Nova S TV channels which are broadcast on SBB,” it said.
Danas recalled that Euronews Serbia is set to launch in May as a partnership project with Telekom Serbia, adding that the project was presented almost two years ago and, interestingly, is set to launch a year ahead of the 2022 parliamentary elections. TV Tanjug is also set to launch soon after owner Zeljko Joksimovic got millions in loans from Telekom. Danas said that Zeljko Mitrovic is also launching a new news channel, financed with advertising by Telekom.
Danas said that the Serbian authorities are counting on the Euronews Serbia channel, which will be aired under license, to be able to show that free media do exist in the country and convince the European Union that there is not political pressure on the media. That channel is supposed to be a rival to N1 with former state Radio TV Serbia foreign desk editor Bojan Brkic as editor in chief. Brkic confirmed that the channel should go on the air in May. The daily’s sources said that Telekom has earmarked huge funds to pay for anchors and reporters who worked on objective media for the new project, naming celebrity anchors from B92 and N1, Al Jazeera among others.
The idea is to create the impression that this is an independent channel and we will see quickly if its journalists are free to do their jobs, depending on whether they will report on scandals involving the authorities, issues of public significance and how much air time the opposition will get, Danas said.
The daily was told by sources in Telekom that the new channels editorial policies will be completely independent.
“Telekom Serbia said a year and a half ago that it would cooperate with one of the biggest news companies in Europe – Euronews. We are extremely proud that a globally TV station has chosen our company as its partner to launch the Euronews Serbia channel. The agreement with Euronews clearly states that the channel’s editorial policy is completely independent. We believe that with TV stations in 160 countries and its rich experience, Euronews knows best how to promote the channel,” the Telekom sources said.
Tanjug was bought/leased by Joksimovic’s Tacno company for a 10 year period for 628,000 Euro recently, financing the purchase with a loan guaranteed by Telekom. Tacno is owned by RTV Pancevo and Minacord Media which has a business arrangement with Telekom, thanks to which it got bank loans totaling 2.4 million Euro. The guarantee for those loans are three Minacrod Media contracts with Telekom to distribute TV content.
It will launch its news channel. “We’ll start as soon as we’re ready and as things are now that will be soon. TV Tanjug will be a 24h news channel. As for the platforms it will air on, we are available to everyone who is interested in this type of content,” he told Danas but did not say what it’s editorial policy will be or how it will be different from Pink and N1. Telekom confirmed that it had no cooperation with that channel, adding that it is focused on creating the best sports content and series.
Telekom is not new to the media market, Danas said and recalled that the company bought the Kopernikus cable operator for 200 million Euro in 2018, paying much more than what experts said it was worth to Srdjan Milovanovic (brother of a high-ranking ruling Serbian Progressive Party – SNS – official) who then used 180 million to buy TV Prva and O2, changing their editorial policies right away. That was followed by the purchase of the Kurir tabloid by businessman Igor Zezelj who denied that Telekom was behind the deal even after the media reported that Telekom had invested 38 million Euro into his Wireless Media company helping him buy the tabloid and launch the Kurir TV channel which is distributed on Telekom’s Supernova cable provider.
Brankica Stankovic editor in chief of the Insajder.net investigative portal is also preparing to launch a TV channel which Danas says Telekom CEO Lucic is interested in. Stankovic said that Insajder won’t have an exclusive contract with any one operator. “We are negotiating with all operators because we want all of Serbia to see the Insajder TV channel,” she said. Telekom said that they are open to negotiations with anyone who wants their channel aired on its platform.
Marinika Tepic, an official of the opposition Party of Freedom and Justice (SSP), has warned that Lucic is “the main censor in Serbia alongside Vucic” adding that he came up with the plan to use public money to control the media. She said that the president’s advisor Suzana Vasiljevic is one of the people recruiting journalists for Euronews Serbia.
NewsMax Adria chief Slobodan Georgiev told Danas that Telekom can’t have its own TV channels, adding that the launch of news channels is intended to destroy N1 and Nova S “even physically”. “Telekom can’t legally own TV stations, especially not those with news shows because the state is banned by law from owning media outlets and it has started setting up proxy companies to launch TV stations for Telekom and the state or government. What is the goal of that? Flooding the public with countless meaningless channels just like they did with tabloids,” Georgiev said, adding that they want to create chaos, demean everything and show that there is a lot out there and that they are all the same. “All those new TV news channels are intended to destroy Nova S and N1, even physically by stealing away people from both channels. I think that this is a short-term project and that the goal is to turn things around in Belgrade because that is the only place where the authorities are worried they could fall from power and they need to eliminate opposing voices,” he said.