National Television Stations in the Service of the Government
During the last two years, television stations with a national frequency have been fully placed under the control of those in power or people linked to them. Aside from pro-government televisions Pink and Happy, which have opened their space for spreading government propaganda and attacking critics of the regime since the beginning of Aleksandar Vucic’s rule, towards the end of last year the former B92 and Prva televisions also gained new owners close to the ruling SNS.
Srdjan Milovanovic, the brother of Zvezdan Milovanovic, the Serbian Progressive Party trustee for Nis, bought these two television stations in December 2018 for €180 million. Milovanovic secured the funds for this acquisition by selling his stake in the Kopernikus cable operator to state telecommunications company Telekom Srbije. Both of these transactions can be understood in the context of the government’s desire to secure an even tighter grip over the media space and both generated controversy among the public. The sale of Kopernikus is part of state-owned Telekom’s struggle with private company SBB, the owner of N1, one of the few critical television stations, for domination in the field of cable operators. On the other hand, the price at which Koprenikus was sold is considered to be too high, but given that not long thereafter Milovanovic bought Prva and O2 televisions for almost the same sum (just under €200 million), much of the public suspects that these companies were, in essence, bought with public money.
Immediately after the arrival of the new owner, changes could be sensed. The host of the main entertainment talk show, Ivan Ivanovic, left Prva, believing that he could no longer work freely. On the other hand, at the beginning of March the managing editor of O2 became Dragan Krdzic, the vice president of the Managing Council of RTS, who had often attacked critics of the government on social media.
Srdjan Milovanovic has been linked to another television with a national frequency. According to the gathered documentation, in January 2017 he gave a loan to Happy television totalling €4.8 million. As collateral for this loan, a stake in Happy was offered, hence, if the loan is not returned, Milovanovic could become the owner of this television station as well.
Currently there are four television stations with a national frequency in the Serbian ether, but this may soon change as the Regulatory Agency for Electronic Media (REM) decides if, and to whom, it will award a fifth frequency. At stake is the frequency which used to belong to Avala and for which a tender was launched in 2013, but which was ultimately not awarded to anyone because none of the applying television stations secured enough votes. It is still not known when the REM Council will decide if the frequency will be awarded to someone, yet even if this happens, it will not increase diversity as three pro-government stations are currently in the running – Kopernikus, Studio B and BK.