Whenever his business operations and profits come under threat, the founder and co-owner of United Group, Dragan Šolak, makes use of his tried-and-tested MO – resorting to the dirty game of releasing inaccurate information, spin, blackmail, and baseless claims, with the aim of dragging the competition and his political opponents down into the mire of his own making. In addition to his own media machinery in Serbia, Šolak has increasingly been involving the Croatian media – where he evidently has a lot of clout – in this wheeling and dealing of his, the reason being that his business operations in Croatia have been sent reeling as well, and he is facing the same fate as in Serbia and Slovenia.
The recent articles published in Nacional and Jutarnji List, attacking Telekom Serbia's contract for the Premier League broadcast rights, indicate that United Group's boss has a hand in these editorial teams as well, using it to write pieces on the apparent damage done by the business moves of the Serbian company. Telekom is the target. So is Serbia. But, so is the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić. A Nacional headline is clearly suggestive of that: "In order to destroy his political opponents, Vučić spends pension savings on UK football" A headline in Jutarnji List makes a somewhat different, but equally bizarre claim: "Croat's pockets to take a beating over Vučić's showdown with most vocal critic".
Following an established pattern
In order to substantiate the commissioned claims made in their articles and develop their outlandish assertions, Croatian media have had guest appearances by such people as Marko Milosavljević. Milosavljević is a full professor at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences and, according to reliable sources from United Group, on Šolak's company payroll. His claims are therefore no surprise, based as they are on mere assumptions and unfounded estimates, to the effect that the purchase of the Premier League rights by Telekom Serbia has no economic benefit.
Moreover, Jutarnji List has demonstrated an utter lack of professionalism in quoting their guests as well. For example, in an attempt to put an additional spin on the whole story, it used a recent statement by Nemanja Simeunović, head of Šolak's Sport Klub, turning it into a statement by an anonymous source, because the Premier League had previously disapproved of releasing such statements to the public.
The abovementioned neighbouring country media have packaged up their stories in such a way as to make it seem that Šolak's business failure in the UK football race will not only affect the Serbian aficionados of this popular sport, but also result in Croats suffering over it too. If they continue to follow Šolak's dictate and keep firing out inaccurate and arbitrary predictions, the next article might be concerned with how this transfer of rights will impact on Salah's, De Bruyne's, Kane's, or another Premier League star's play.
Šolak's methods are so recognizable that one can reliably predict the timeline of his media machinery – made up of N1, Nova S, and Danas – springing into action and having all its platforms pick up these commissioned articles from the Croatian media. It was prompt this time as well, with a pre-planned headline: "Nacional: Vučić spends pension savings on UK football," or, in the case of Jutarnji List: "Pockets likely to take a beating over Vučić's showdown with most vocal critic."
What is especially interesting is that in their comprehensive and arbitrary analyses, neither Jutarnji List nor Nacional stopped to consider for a single moment how much Šolak had actually offered to continue his collaboration with the Premier League. On the one hand, they, noticeably, never asked any questions about this, while on the other, they kept insisting on the money provided by Telekom Serbia. The very same Zagreb media outlet openly sided with Šolak and his empire in September last year, when the Serbian tycoon used any means available – allowed and disallowed alike – to stop the rise of Telekom. Back then, Jutarnji List picked up and presented in detail the oft-repeated, baseless allegations levelled against Telekom and the head of state by the political wing of Šolak's business lobby.
Spin and lies
Nonetheless, the case of the Premier League seems to have hurt Šolak the most, as Telekom Serbia remains under fire since the news of the new broadcast rights holder first broke, with an abundant use of spin, partial, and even false information. As Kurir has already reported, United Group's media outlets kept advancing the claim that Telekom had paid 10 times the amount needed to obtain the broadcast rights for the most popular football league, misleading the public into believing that Telekom was squandering taxpayers' money and that it had all been done without so much as a financial plan. At the same time, Šolak's media never once revealed how much United Media and its partners had offered for the deal in the race with Telekom and, according to the information obtained by Kurir, they had a good reason to do so.
According to our United Group source, this company lost in the bidding for the Premier League broadcasts by about 30 million euros. This means that United Group and its partners offered between 560 and 580 million euros for six years of broadcasting these matches, i.e. only five to six percent less than Telekom Serbia, as Beta News Agency reported.
Kurir.rs/ Redakcija Kurira Foto: screenshot