US Ambassador Anthony Godfrey told Prime Minister Ana Brnabic that it would be in Serbia’s interest for the media to reach as wide an audience as possible, adding: Wouldn’t it be better if N1 broadcast its program to as many viewers as possible.
Speaking during a live talk show appearance on the pro-authorities TV Pink, Godfrey said he hadn’t been following the commercial dispute between Telekom Serbia and the United Group, adding that he thinks the context and preparations for the election campaign had not been taken into consideration. “I will not enter into a commercial dispute if that is what this is nor will I speak about political parties,” Godfrey said, adding that the best possible media environment should be created.
“We heard justified criticism from the European Union and we have also pointed out some problems with the media,” the ambassador said.
Brnabic said that she agrees that the media should reach as many people as possible but added that she isn’t clear about why United Media did not accept an offer from Telekom Serbia to extend the contract for two or three months while the talks went on.
“What is surprising is the extent to which N1 has presented this as a political issue and political campaign. If you ask me, at this moment, of all the political parties with opposition leanings who do not agree with us, the ruling coalition, the best campaign is being waged by N1 TV. For me, N1 TV really has become a political party in this campaign and it has good angle to place its campaign,” Brnabic said.
She showed a document which, she claims, is from the United Group on January 16, allegedly forbidding the Supernova operator from broadcasting N1. She also claimed that Telekom senior official Vladimir Lucic offered the United Group an extension of the contract for 2-3 months and that the Telekom agreed to a price but not to a ban on expanding its network. According to her, that was when N1 launched “a par excellence political campaign”. “I don’t know if this is a political campaign by a foreign media or if the media outlet is being used to force another company to accept better conditions, forcing Telekom to accept any conditions and if it doesn’t we’ll call it censorship,” she said adding that this is impermissible. She said that she spoke to President Aleksandar Vucic about this and that she would contact European institutions.
“This is a commercial issue, and if it isn’t political but commercial I would call United Group to reach an agreement, discuss a contract under the same conditions or whatever conditions they want and allow the channels to continue being aired on Supernova,” the Prime Minister said.
She said that this is a political issue and that it’s senseless to say anything else. “This is something that United Media, in my opinion, created just to have a political campaign because this is not about N1 at all. The commercial debate between United Media and Telekom is about Sport Klub channels not about N1. If I’m not mistaken, N1 on Supernova is number 36 or 38 in terms of viewers. There is no interest, political or otherwise, to shut down N1. That would be completely stupid. Why shut down something that is 38th in viewership. Sport Klub is very much viewed and it is very important to Telekom. And this is absolutely not about any political story. They managed to create a political campaign prior to elections and showed that they are really more capable than the largest part of our opposition,” the prime minister said.