Media Privatisation

Major shift in media ownership occurred in 2015 when the State withdrew from direct ownership over media through privatization process. The new Law on Public Information adopted in 2014 stipulated that by July 2015 the state should divest itself from ownership in the media sector, with the deadline later extended to October 2015.

Out of 73 once state-owned media enterprises, 50 of them entered the privatization process through portfolio of Privatization Agency, while 23 applied different methods, some were shut down, while others used different legal modalities (e.g. joint-stock companies). Out of the 50 media, only 34 found new owners. According to the BIRN research, 17 out of the 34 have new owners with known affiliations to political parties.

As with the wider privatization process, media privatization was also full of controversy. According to the report by the Toplica Center for Democracy and Human Rights, many media were sold to buyers who did not fulfill the necessary conditions to take part in privatization processes.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that only a year after the purchase, some new owners broke their privatization contracts. The most famous case is related to the Radio Television Kragujevac, a media outlet operating in the fourth largest Serbian town in Sumadija region, Central Serbia which was shut down, and left behind a significant information gap. The new owner, Radoica Milosavljevic, known for his ties to the ruling Serbian Progressive party, failed to comply with the privatization agreement, resulting in media losing its broadcasting license.

Most recently, and particularly due to the RT Kragujevac case, the Government passed the latest Regulation (May 2017) which effectively brings back the privatized media to the local self-government supervision. According to the Regulation, local self-government bodies can receive special approval from the Government to take managerial control over media for six months and prepare it for a new round of privatization. So far, according to the findings of BIRN, besides RT Kragujevac, local self-governments are taking back TV Blace, TV Pruga and Backopalanacki nedeljnik (local weekly newspaper). The concern remains, as Regulation doesn’t stipulate, what happens if media are not privatized in the six-month period.   

Alongside these examples of unsuccessful privatizations, perhaps the most infamous and bizarre case relates to the privatization of the state news agency Tanjug. Its privatization failed and as a consequence the government adopted a decision according to which Tanjug was to cease all of its operations. However, this never happened and Tanjug continues to work to present day in dubious legal regime, financially depending on contracts with state institutions.

The latest developments depict the numerous problems media privatization faced. According to the analysis from the Toplica Center for Democracy and Human Rights, by 2010 a total of 56 media outlets were privatized, of which 18 unsuccessfully, the privatization contracts of which were made void.

The process of privatizing state and socially owned companies in Serbia began in the early 1990s, picked up speed after the democratic changes in 2000, but has dragged on until the present day. Throughout this time it has remained controversial and problematic – while some companies became successful afterwards, many privatizations were shrouded in corruption and resulted in the destruction of previously successful businesses.

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