A great many self-proclaimed independent journalists, who pay lip service to free and professional journalism, actually work for the leader of the Party of Freedom and Justice, Dragan Đilas. They are part of the media machinery operated by Đilas and his political and business ally Dragan Šolak, owner and chairman of United Group.
By all indications, they are assisted in all this by institutions which ought to be independent, such as the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media (REM).
Covering their tracks
The latest example of the link between "independent" journalism and Đilas and Šolak's business and interest lobby is the discovery of the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ): a few months ago, the videos calling for an election boycott – advocated chiefly by Đilas – were officially made and funded by the private company JSP Produkcija, owned by journalist Jovana Polić. Polić is a close associate of Slaviša Lekić, a journalist who also claims to be independent.
"The videos calling for an election boycott, broadcast about 400 times on N1 and Nova S TV channels during the election campaign, were not paid for by any opposition party. Rather, the television channels were paid by JSP Produkcija, owned by journalist Jovana Polić," the CIJ said.
In addition to being broadcast by Šolak's TV channels N1 and Nova S during the election campaign, the privately produced videos were obtained free of charge by Đilas, who proceeded to make them available on the party-owned YouTube channel. By this sort of manoeuvring, Đilas attempted to cover the tracks resulting from the undeniable link between Šolak's media and his political activities.
In this way, Đilas and his party evaded the duties overseen by the Anticorruption Agency: the funds for the boycott campaign were not officially provided either by the former Alliance for Serbia or the Party of Freedom and Justice as its one-time member; rather, it was a privately-owned company, which claimed to have spent money on the videos out of conviction. Naturally, hardly anyone can believe that.
At the same time, Đilas has concealed from the general public that he and his party are behind the contentious videos, and more: instead of placing them in political marketing blocks - as is stipulated by the law - he managed to get these packaged boycott-supporting ad messages into regular blocks of advertisements on United Group's TV channels N1 and Nova S. For the purposes of this crooked undertaking, United Group enlisted the help of the REM through its marketing agency, CAS Media. The REM's legal interpretation provided United Group with a justification for placing these political ads in regular commercial blocks and, on top of that, for leasing the space for broadcasting them at far lower prices than those paid by other political actors.
"CAS Media ran JSP Produkcija's advertising campaign within regular blocks of advertisements as per the REM's interpretation," CAS Media said in response to the CIJ.
REM's favourable decision
The REM banned these videos during the campaign as they were not in line with the law. However, it subsequently provided a favourable interpretation regarding their broadcasting. In the final report on the election, it classified them as the Alliance of Serbia's advertisements. The REM report also finds that N1 and Nova S owners had not submitted a declaration on these videos, and according to the tally at the time, they had been broadcast a total of 222 times on N1 and 180 times on Nova S.
Polić alleged to the CIJ that the videos had nothing to do with the opposition and the party, and that they had been made "because we participated in the boycott campaign." The REM did not respond to Kurir's questions yesterday.
As a reminder, this is not the first time for the REM to act in a way that practically plays into the hands of United Group. As we have written before, the REM has for years tolerated TV N1's misuse of the cross-border television status, allowing it in this way to have a privileged position in the Serbian market.
Retweets and the N1 show
What is interesting is that it was JSP Produkcija that made a two-part documentary Vladalac (The Prince) early this year. The documentary was directed by Jovana Polić and provided a one-sided and biased picture of President Aleksandar Vučić's biography. It was shown – lo and behold! – on TV N1. Moreover, it is quite telling that on Twitter, Polić retweets Đilas's Party of Freedom and Justice tweets.
'The partnership of Đilas and Šolak'
Marko Matić from the Centre for Responsible Media is of the opinion that the CIJ's reports are yet another proof of the political and financial partnership of Đilas and Šolak: "The information published by the CIJ demonstrates conclusively that Šolak is financially and logistically behind Đilas's political alliance and the media supporting him. This also holds for all the campaigns mounted against the Serbian institutions for years, including the election boycott campaign. It took an evidence leak in Šolak's circle to confirm all those suspicions that Đilas and himself had denied for years, consciously misleading the people and the entire Serbian public.
Kurir.rs/Redakcija Kurira Foto: Ana Paunković, Shutterstock, Screeenshot