Serbia's TVs channels with national frequency, as well as some MPs, used an article by the Centre of Investigative Journalism (CINS) about the spots advocating the boycott of Serbia's June elections broadcast by N1 and Nova S TV, which no opposition party but a private production house paid for, to launch yet another campaign against United Media and its TV channels.
The spots calling for the boycott were broadcast several months ago during the campaign.
They were banned by the Regulatory Body for Electronic Media (REM) because President Aleksandar Vucic was mentioned in some, and then because they advocated the boycott.
Back then, REM said it did not know who the advertiser was and whether they had the right to political advertising, but said describing the spots were similar those of the opposition group the Alliance for Serbia (SzS).
CINS’ journalist Jovana Tomic published the article two days ago, saying Jovana Peic’s private production house produced and paid for the broadcast.
„Those spots broadcast by N1 and Nova S were similar to the SzS campaign in some parts like both had a red’ X’, ‘Boycott’ written in Cyrillic, red-black spot… Also, they were broadcast at multiple time lower price than the political parties paid to N1 and Nova S for their campaign messages,“ Tomic said.
CAS Media director Marija Kovljenic, who does the advertising for N1 and Nova S, says those spots have been treated as „regular ads what reduces the price.“
„A private company ordered and paid for the boycott campaign, not a political party. We believe we could have violated the Law on Advertising had we broadcast the spots as pre-election political marketing. The spots did not contain candidates’ or any political party’s names,“ she said.
Milos Stojkovic, the media law expert, agreed. He said the rules stipulated that political marketing meant the recommendation of a candidate and electoral lists holders and their activities. That was not the case here according to the REM book of rules, he said.
„REM’s rules cover only public broadcasters, but they have some provisions related to political advertising. By analogy with other media, we can say the spot is not political advertising, but a simple marketing message broadcast outside the political airtime,“ he said.
However, the pro-regime media dealt with who and how much paid for the spots.
„This has not been done ever; no one has ever done that in any election in our region so far. Until tycoon (Dragan, an opposition leader) Djilas who got a genius idea, or maybe not he, maybe Jovana (Peic) herself got the idea, and we all pretend to be naïve,“ Dragan J. Vucicevic, the editor-in-chief of the Informer tabloid said.
Vucic also commented, while touring future COVID hospitals.
„Why (his Serbian Progressive Party) SNS paid Djilas media 35,000 Euro for 28 broadcasts and paid tax on that amount, and why would someone else pay 10,000 for 407 broadcasts? The time has stopped for them in the criminal period of the 2000s, and they would like to have that time back,“ Vucic said.
Aleksandar Martinovic, SNS deputy, agreed with his party boss.
„Everyone sees that people like Djilas and (Dragan, founder and Chairman of the United Media Advisory Board) Solak are criminals and thieves of the worst kind. We’ll ask the Anti-Corruption Agency what would they do about what Djilas and his coalition partners had done during the election campaign,“ Martinovic told the Parliament’s session outside the schedule and without anyone to comment on his claim.
CAS Media denied the tabloids’ claim the taxes were not paid for advertising on the United Media channels.
„That could be checked in the findings of the Financial Inspection and independent auditors,“ Kovljanic said.
Tomic added CINS was only responsible for what was published on its website, and not for what tabloids like Alo or Informer wrote.
N1 and Nova S operate within United Media, which is part of the United Group.