The media under the banner of Dragan Šolak’s United Group are fully immersed in the grey zone: they operate without a permit issued by the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM), have not been entered into the media registry, broadcast undeclared ads, and are practically exempt from paying taxes in Serbia.
Unlike all the other domestic broadcasters, TV stations N1, Nova S, Sport Klub, and other Šolak’s cable channels are simply invisible to domestic laws, due to hidden ownership, registration outside of Serbia, and programming which is not treated as a product made in Serbia.
Altering the content
United Group is the owner of the cable operator SBB and multiple cable channels which misuse their cross-border television status. In a deliberate move, Šolak’s media are only fictionally registered in Luxembourg. They do not broadcast their programmes there, but from a studio in Belgrade instead. REM tolerates this, allowing them to get enormously wealthy and to grossly violate Serbian laws. Despite the warnings from many experts that these television stations have for years been in gross violation of the laws on electronic media and advertising, as well as the Convention on Transfrontier Television, which define the notion of rebroadcasting, United Group still manages to retain its privileged position by falsely presenting its media as cross-border broadcasters. However, in order for a programme to be rebroadcast in Serbia, it must be broadcast in a different country, where the master control and production control room are located, whereas these television stations production control rooms are located in Serbia. Rebroadcasting implies relaying an original programme without altering its content, which is not the case with the television stations owned by United Group. Their programming is not broadcast in Slovenia, where it is officially ‘packaged’, or in Luxembourg, where it is registered, and it reaches the cable networks with its content modified and altered.
Shady ad business
This repackaging is a cash cow for Šolak and his empire, as in this part of the chain, ads that he had sold at high prices are put in, without so much as a cent going into paying taxes in Serbia. It is a segment through which many hundreds of millions of euros are turned around. For example, Sport Klub channels have been broadcasting hundreds of domestic company advertisements every day for 14 years (on average over 10,000 seconds per day on each channel), although the Law on Advertising expressly prohibits it. Those ads are not recorded anywhere, taxes are no paid for them, and the marketing agency CAS Media, owned by United Group, sells advertising space on other cross-border channels, which is illegal.
N1, Nova S, Sport Klub and other Šolak’s media sell advertising space in Serbia as foreign media service providers. However, even REM has admitted, in a letter to the Government of Serbia that Kurir has seen, that there were ‘doubts regarding how and where they “package” their programming, given that their studio and part of the workforce are located in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia, while their headquarters are in Luxembourg, which is where they obtained their permits for media service provision.’
Whose television is it?
The State Secretary at the Ministry of Culture and the Media Aleksandar Gajović notes that it is still an open question - which he insists on – whether N1 is a Luxembourg television, as it is registered there, or Serbian, as that is where its programming is produced:
‘On the other hand, cases like these, when there is any sort of dilemma, fall within REM’s remit. REM needs to take a stance on this, make a decision, and notify the general public if N1 operates in accordance with the laws and regulations or not. Furthermore, in light of the Council of Europe’s Declaration on Transfrontier Broadcasters, they need to inform us whose and what kind of television they are. If they are a Serbian television, they are subject to the Serbian laws. We must all be subject to the same legal system. If laws hold for some, but not for others, then everything falls apart.
BLURRED AND ENTANGLED
Ćosić confirms it all
Not even Jugoslav Ćosić, who is N1’s director of programming and manager of N1’s production centre, Adria News d.o.o. Belgrade, owned by a Luxembourg company with the same name, could justify the entangled editing, production, repackaging, broadcasting, and rebroadcasting arrangements of N1 programming. Yesterday Kurir published extracts from the minutes of a public hearing at the Higher Court in Belgrade for the charges that Ćosić had brought against the managing editor of Kurir. The extracts contain Ćosić’s contradictory statements, indicating that he is actually not sure what it is that he does at N1, what his duties are, or what the connections are between the Serbian and Luxembourg parts of United Group.
Kurir.rs/ Redakcija Kurira Foto: Screenshot