Although Dragan Šolak’s United Group media violate all conceivable laws and regulations in Serbia, they seem by all indications to be shielded from any responsibility. This is why questions can be raised regarding which people from state institutions protect United Group, who works in its interest, and how it is possible that the relevant authorities, above all the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM) and the inspections, turn a blind eye to the fact that Šolak’s company conducts its business in the grey zone.
An oasis of lawlessness
It is a fact that for years REM has been ignoring the numerous warnings that N1, Nova S, Sport Klub, and other channels owned by United Group grossly violate all the laws and regulations of Serbia, and misuse the rules related to cross-border broadcasters. Assisted by an unacceptably passive and uninterested REM, Šolak has created for himself a grey zone which is a veritable oasis for his media. In it, they are both invisible and untouchable to the domestic laws, which allows Šolak to get enormously wealthy.
In addition to REM, United Group is trying to get the Anti-Corruption Council to take their side too. A member of this Council, Jelisaveta Vasilić, has already had several appearances in United Group’s media, defending this company and openly attacking Telekom as the only competitor to Šolak’s business.
Owing to hidden ownership, registration outside of Serbia, and programming which is not treated as a product made in Serbia, United Group’s media have not even been entered into the media registry, they operate without a REM permit, broadcast practically undeclared ads, and are exempt from paying many taxes in Serbia.
All of this was not enough for any of the relevant inspection teams to respond.
Šolak deliberately evades the duties and rights which all domestic channels have, but REM keeps tolerating him due to the brutal misuse of the cross-border television status. His media are only fictionally registered in Luxembourg. They do not broadcast their programming in that country, but from a studio in Belgrade. However, REM turns a blind eye to that and allows them to have a privileged position.
The domestic laws stipulate the rules related to cross-border television: in order for a programme to be rebroadcast in Serbia, it must be broadcast in the foreign country in which the master control and production control room are located; Šolak’s television stations’ master control is in Serbia. Further, 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. The most lucrative part for Šolak is inserting blocks of advertisements (which he has sold at high prices through his company CAS Media), which constitutes a gross violation of the law, as it is an interruption of the original signal.
Trampling the regulations
Secretary General of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia Nino Brajović explains that cross-border television stations’ programming should be broadcast in the country in which they have a permit, and rebroadcast programming must reach Serbia in its original form, i.e. without a signal interruption:
‘I don’t believe that N1 programmes are broadcast in Luxembourg, and they claim they are broadcast from Slovenia. Our legislation obliges broadcasters to broadcast their programming in its original form. So, a BBC programme or a CNN programme must be the same in Serbia as it is in the country in which these stations have a permit, which includes blocks of advertisements. Interrupting the original signal and altering blocks of advertisements is in violation of our laws and regulations. It is the job of REM, as the only competent authority, to clarify all these dilemmas. REM should be much more active in relation to these matters.
HIDING IN LUXEMBOURG
They do not pay royalties
Royalty payment is yet another in a series of motives for United Group to register its media in Luxembourg or another country considered as the so-called regulatory haven. As Šolak’s television stations effectively operate as domestic channels, he also evades paying royalties by misusing once again the cross-border television status – television stations do not pay royalties in the country in which they are broadcast, but where they are registered.
Kurir.rs/ Foto: Screenshot