Serbian Govt Halts Sale of TV Avala

Serbia’s ruling Progressives have exerted pressure on Avala co-owner to halt the sale of the troubled broadcaster, which as a result faces bankruptcy and closure.Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party has exerted pressure on Zeljko Mitrovic, TV Avala co-owner, to cancel the contract for the sale of the station, Balkan Insight has learned from two independent sources.

“They have stopped Mitrovic at last moment from selling his share, although everything was ready for the sale,” the source close to Mitrovic told Balkan Insight.Mitrovic nominally owns only 4.95 per cent of the station but a Balkan Insight investigation showed that Mitrovic was in fact the majority owner through an Austrian company, Greenberg Invest, which owns 48.41 per cent.

The purchaser was expected to be a turbo-folk production house, Grand Production, along with another Serbian company, Beohemija.

As a result of the apparent halt to the sale, TV Avala, whose debts in 2010 amounted €25.7 million in short-term loans, services and credits, faces bancruptcy. Its workforce of around 90 could then end up jobless.

Following the interruption to the sale, the Serbian broadcasting agency, RRA, on Friday withdrew Avala’s broadcasting licence.

The RRA said the broadcaster had failed to pay fees to the agency and had failed to produce a programme scheme, as national brodacasters are obliged to do.

Avala obtained a national frequency to broadcast in 2006 but has faced financial problems for years. The employees have not been paid since last December and the live progamming was suspended in May, two months after an earlier strike ended.

The two sources told Balkan Insight that the Progressives wanted to stop the sale in order to give Avala’s national frequency to a Serbian cable television which served their interests.

Serbia’s new ruling party lacks punch in the national media. A report by the Anti-corruption council said most Serbian media are either owned or controlled by the former ruling Democratic Party.

The Serbian state owns 50 per cent of oldest newspaper, Politika, but the other 50 per cent is owned by a Democrat through a company based in Russia.

A national media strategy adopted in September 2011 urged the state to withdraw from ownership of media.

Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, Aleksandar Tijanic, general director of the public service broadcaster RTS, has complained of pressure from the ranks of the Progressives for his sacking.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic repeated more than once recently that he wanted Tijanic to quit his post.

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