The lack of transparency with regard to media ownership remains a source of controversy.
By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 30/07/12
Most media outlets do not declare their owners, fuelling public suspicion that politicians own and control the press. [Reuters]
An entity known only as the East Media Group bought 50% ownership in Serbia's oldest and most established media outlet, Politika Newspapers and Magazines, from the German media concern WAZ, but the transaction prompted Serbia's new government to announce it will investigate the case.
Disclosure of media ownership is not required, per the 2003 Law on Information, which was adopted during the now-outgoing Democratic Party's government. The practice has continually fuelled public speculation on whether politicians actually own the media.
"This case suggests the practice of hiding media owners and controlling the media continues," Danilo Shukovic, member of the Council for the Fight against Corruption, told SETimes.
A council report, which examined 30 media outlets, said that the owners of nine out of 11 media houses that operate nationwide are not disclosed.
The owners of an additional 18 outlets are offshore companies whose owners are also not known.
The director of the East Media Group, which was established in Moscow earlier this year, is Urosh Stefanovic, but the association of journalists of Serbia claims that the true owner is Miroslav Bogicevic, a financier of the Democratic Party.
"The Democratic Party is trying to put all media in Serbia under their control. They have been doing it for years and the purchase of Politika is now the most obvious example," Nebojsa Stefanovic, president of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, told SETimes.
Bogicevic denied having any connection with the purchase of Politika's stock. "I do not know where the idea of raising so much dust by using my name comes from," he said.
First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said authorities will immediately investigate the sale of the Politika stock. "Crime will not be tolerated in this country," he said.
"The privatisation of Politika should be a public matter, just as it was when WAZ became its co-owner," Dragan Bujoshevic, Politika's editor-in-chief, said.
Other well-established Politika employees, like foreign policy commentator Boshko Jakshic, said the sale was conducted in a manner which "stinks of the suspect Serbian privatisation."
Shukovic argued that although the matter is a private transfer that the government cannot control, it can make more it transparent. "Also, the Anti-monopoly Commission should determine whether the purchase disrupts the concentration of ownership in the market and whether it is a monopoly," he said.
Analysts said the case is an opportunity for the new government to fulfill its promise to fight corruption and change the controversial information law.
"The new government can also quickly pass a Law on Origin of Property, which would specify that nothing can be sold if the owner is not known or where he got the money," Chedomir Chupic, political science professor at Belgrade University, told SETimes.
The Democratic Party, which most of the public holds responsible for the non-transparent transaction, said they are in favour of examining the changes in ownership.