New media laws have legalized state ownership of media

In October 2023, with amendments to media laws, Serbia has once again allowed the state to indirectly open and own media outlets, in a move that has legalised state-owned company Telekom Srbija take over of several television stations and online media outlets. Media associations and journalist organisations advocating for media freedom warn that the new laws will allow Telekom to expand its presence in the media sector further, bringing with it more undesirable state influence.

The Serbian Parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Public Information and Media and the Law on Electronic Media on October 26, about six months after the process of amending these laws began, with the participation of professional bodies such as media and journalistic associations.

After policy working groups, a wider body which included representatives of the Government and professional media bodies, had reached consensus and adopted draft laws, Ministry of Telecommunications and Information added a number of controversial clauses in both laws, despite warnings from non-governmental organizations and media associations that these late changes undermined positive changes (such as improvement of state subsidies to media) these laws were intended to bring.

One of the key issues independent media voiced against were clauses that enabled public telecommunications companies, such as Telekom Srbija, to establish and acquire media outlets.

In February 2024 Telekom Srbija Group responded to MOM Serbia team with a written request to publish their response stating that "Telekom Srbija Group (TSG) is unwaveringly committed to nurturing a vibrant, competitive, and diverse media landscape in Serbia, adhering to the principles of media diversity, transparency, and freedom. Recent allegations by Media Ownership Monitor Serbia have cast doubts on these commitments. In this first opportunity in a year to respond to an already published study, TSG is eager to address these concerns with factual accuracy and comprehensive insights into our operations and intentions."

To read the full text of the letter please follow the link below. 

It was a reversal from laws adopted in 2014 to ensure greater media independence, under which the state and state-owned companies were supposed to sell off all media they owned. In the following years, all local media outlets in which the Republic of Serbia had direct ownership were privatized, but the state hung on to some of the oldest and most influential outlets, such as the national newspapers Politika and Večernje novosti.

Večernje novosti was finally sold in 2019 to the Media 026 company, owned by little-known entrepreneur Boban Rajić. He became a co-owner of Politika two years later, and now owns exactly half of it, but the other half is still owned by various state institutions and companies.

Telekom entered the media market in 2004 by establishing its Mondo online portal. In a meantime, it has never withdrawn from the market as obliged to by the 2014 law. Instead,it has engaged in a series of transactions that raised concerns that it might be controlling some of the most influential publishers and broadcasters.

Most notably, on October 1, 2018, Telekom’s company Mondo and the Wireless Media company, owned by Igor Žeželj, signed a strategic partnership agreement with Adria Media Group, the publisher of Kurir, one of the best-selling tabloids in the country.

Although there were no records of the portal's publisher in the official Business Registers Agency, a 2018 investigation by BIRN (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) revealed that Telekom was the owner of the domain. On the Telekom website in the "our websites'' section, Mondo was listed, and at the time, the editor of this portal, Predrag Vujić, told BIRN that Telekom still owned the site.

Just five days after signing the Kurir agreement, Telekom signed an investment contract worth 38 million euros with Wireless Media and its subsidiary, Mondo Inc. In December, Mondo Inc. bought all Adria Media Group.

It is not known how much Žeželj paid for Adria Media Group, nor whether this acquisition was actually made with Telekom's funds.

About two months later, in February 2019, Mondo Inc. owned by Žeželj was registered as the publisher and owner of the Mondo portal.

The contract in which Telekom invested 38 million euros in Mondo Inc also stipulates that after five years, in October 2023, Telekom has the right to "request" to purchase a stake in Wireless Media, thereby creating the possibility for Telekom to ask Žeželj to sell Mondo Inc. This would allow Telekom to potentially become the owner of all editions of Kurir if it decides to invoke the clause in the contract and request Žeželj to sell Mondo Inc.

At much the same time, Telekom was involved in another media-related deal.

In November 2018, Telekom bought the TV cable operator Kopernikus Technology, paying 195 million euros to its owner Srđan Milovanović, businessman and the brother of Zvezdan Milovanović, who was then the representative of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party for the city of Niš.

The next month Milovanović bought media owned by Antenna Group for 180 million euros. This made him the owner of two television stations - Prva and O2 (now B92). These two TV stations are among five that have a licence to broadcast at national level. He also took over Prva TV Crna Gora (in Montenegro), Play radio, six cable channels, and three portals,, and

The Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia (NUNS) and the Independent Journalists' Society of Vojvodina (NDNV) stated at the time that this purchase was a "premeditated transaction mechanism” that aimed at giving ruling the Serbian Progressive Party, control   over Prva TV and O2, as well as other media outlets" operating within the Antenna Group.

In the meantime, under pressure from the European Union and international organizations, Serbia adopted the Media Strategy in 2020, committing to "reduce to zero” the number of media in which the state has a stake ".

However, just the following year, Telekom Srbija, through its subsidiary Arena Channels Group, established the cable television Euronews in Serbian.

During 2022, Bloomberg Adria television began operating in Serbia, also owned by Arena Channels Group.

Arena Channels Group is the broadcaster of 16 Arena Sport channels in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Arena has the right to broadcast the English Premier League, the Champions League, and numerous other European and domestic football competitions.

Immediately before the adoption of the law that legalized Telekom's media investments, media associations and organizations that had participated in drafting these laws, once again demanded that the contentious articles be removed.

They pointed out that the Law on Public Information and Media explicitly prohibited the Republic of Serbia, autonomous provinces, local self-government units, as well as institutions, enterprises, and other legal entities wholly or partially in state ownership, or those wholly or partially funded from public revenues, from establishing media outlets.
"Despite this prohibition, Telekom Srbija has been founding and acquiring media outlets in the recent period without any consequences. Now, the government wants to legalize these media outlets by exempting Telekom Srbija from the ban in the new draft laws,” the Coalition for Media Freedom wrote in a petition that was planned to be sent to Prime Minister Ana Brnabić, Minister of Information Mihailo Jovanović, and members of parliament.

“If such a legal solution is passed in parliament, it will enable Telekom, with taxpayers' money, to further disrupt the already devastated media market, impoverish independent media teetering on the brink of survival, and freely suppress important news and information, spread propaganda and manipulative content."

However, the law was swiftly passed in the Assembly, asSerbia has committed to align its media laws with the European Union's Audiovisual Media Services Directive by the end of 2023, in order to access the Creative Europe funds and the financial resources available to EU candidate countries.

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