The European Western Balkans (EWB) website reported on Tuesday that the concerns about the already insufficient media pluralism in Serbia increased after a document emerged showing that the state-owned company Telekom intended to sign a contract with the private Telenor company to reduce the share of the cable television company Serbian Broadband (SBB) in the country's market.
The website added it was not the first time that Telekom’s business decisions were considered to work directly against pluralism and media freedom.
EWB’s report recalled it already reported about the opposition politicians claim that Telekom had been used to transfer taxpayers’ money to the accounts of companies owned by media moguls supporting the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).
„In August 2020, Vice President of the opposition Freedom and Justice Party (SSP) Marinika Tepic unveiled a 38-million-Euro-worth contract between Telekom and Wireless media, a company of Igor Zezelj, who owns the pro-SNS tabloid Kurir, one of the daily newspaper with the highest circulation,“ EWB said.
It added that „this case also sparked reactions from the European Commission who said that „media pluralism must increase, not decrease“.
The website also recalled the case from 2018, „when Telekom bought the Kopernikus cable system. The previous owner of Kopernikus Srdjan Milovanovic, whose brother is a high-ranking SNS member, immediately afterwards bought two TV channels with national frequency Prva and O2, for an amount similar to what he sold his company to Telekom for.“
Also in 2018, the users of the United Group’s SBB EON application on the MTS Telekom Srbija internet network, had been denied access to the N1 programme.
The EWB said that the latest controversy regarding the relations between Telekom and SBB could have huge effects on media freedom in Serbia.
„First, SBB broadcasts channels such as N1, Nova S and Newsmax Adria, one of the few in Serbia that is not characterised as pro-regime, as noted by the international organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF),“ the website added.
It quoted the RSF representative for the Western Balkans Pavol Salaj who told Radio Free Europe (RFE) that media like N1, Nova S and Newsmax Adria provided the public with information that could not be heard in the state-controlled outlets.
„We are concerned that the agreement between the state company Telekom and the private mobile operator Telenor could negatively affect media pluralism and further increase state influence in the media sphere. There is a risk that the Telekom-Telenor agreement could prevent the cable SBB operator from reaching a wider audience, „Salaj had said.
The EWB added that Serbia’s experts warned that if the agreement was approved, it threatened to become a monopoly agreement, hurting competition on the Serbian media market.