Changes to the Law on Electronic Media, proposed by the Serbian Government, are an attempt to shut down SBB’s business operations, said the CEO of this cable operator, Milija Zekovic.
“The Serbian Government drafted changes to the text of the Law on Electronic media, out of public view, after a public hearing was held, that is, two paragraphs were added to Article 122, that essentially go against the interests of cable operators and in favor of broadcasters with national frequencies,” Zekovic said in an interview with the Beta news agency.
He said that “such non-transparent changes directly threaten the business operations of the SBB, which constantly warns of the different forms of obstructions by the incumbent government and media that it faces in its operation.”
The latest one was ensorship by the Serbian state TV (RTS) when it stopped airing SBB advertisements with no explanation whatsoever, said Zekovic.
Asked how the proposed changes to the media law could affect the SBB, he said they could put an end to the company’s business operations and result in an even greater media blackout in Serbia.
“The new legislation paves the way for the REM (Regulatory Body for Electronic Media) to regulate and force the SBB to pay all TV distribution revenue to TV channels with national frequencies. This means that this law will allow for an obligation to be imposed on the SBB to broadcast national channels, with the REM setting the price to be paid for that,” said Zekovic.
He explained that, in addition to this being a case of undue interference in the freedom to conduct business, the REM has been showing significant bias in favor of the national broadcasters, and it is expected that it will support them in their demands.
“This law actually legalizes the protection of television stations with national frequencies. So practically an operator, in this case the SBB, will be forced to pay the price set by media service providers, even if it is ten times the realistic price,” said Zekovic, recalling the problem from October 2022, when some broadcasters tried to increase the price ten times.
Explaining what this would mean for the TV channels that are distributed by the SBB, he said the SBB probably wouldn’t be able to survive in the market because the television stations with national broadcasting licenses would probably take all the money from the distribution of channels.
“I think it should be clear to the public that this move by the government directly threatens not only SBB’s operations, but also the citizens of Serbia who want to have access to information. Independent television stations would no longer be able to broadcast anywhere, not to mention the threat to the livelihood of over 1,800 people employed in the SBB,” cautioned Zekovic.
He said it is alarming that this is being done to a company that is one of the biggest investors in Serbia, with 900 million euros worth of investments in infrastructure and development, employees’ wages and media content, which was created in Serbia and has been regularly paying taxes to the state for over 20 years.
If the new media law is passed, the government’s message is clear – to prevent the SBB from operating, and to impose a complete media blackout on the Serbian citizens.
“Then this is no longer just SBB’s problem, but that of all those living and working in this state.
„It’s possible that some day this kind of non-market and unfair treatment of a company, which has so far invested 900 million euros in Serbia, and 300 million in the digitization of the network, will be studied at universities,” said Zekovic.