Serbian Media Group Files 150 Suits, Claiming ‘Repression’

Source/Author: Balkan Insight, BIRN, Maja Zivanovic

BELGRADE, 08.08.2017. – Adria Media Group filed 150 lawsuits against state officials and other media owners, alleging government “repression” and the waging of a “negative campaign” against the company’s boss, Aleksandar Rodic.

“All employees at the Adria Media Group and at the daily [newspaper] Kurir are working in scandalous conditions of repression by the authorities,” Adria Media Group’s chief of corporate communications, Zelimir Bojovic, alleged in comments to BIRN, explaining the large-scale legal actions launched by the company.

The media group announced on Monday that it had filed a total of 150 lawsuits against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, Tax Administration workers, the editors and owners of several Serbian tabloids, and many others.

The move came in reaction to an alleged smear campaign in pro-government media targeting Adria’s flagship tabloid Kurir and the group’s owner, Aleksandar Radic.

Kurir used to be strongly pro-government, but in recent months started to criticise the Serbian administration and Vucic, as did some other Adria outlets.

The lawsuits were also a reaction to the Tax Administration’s decision to freeze the company’s bank accounts on July 7 over alleged tax debts, although the amount Adria was claimed to owe was never revealed.

Bojovic insisted that “AMG has no tax debts”.

He said that the group’s journalists were continuing to fight for “what the government is trying to permanently take away all the time, the right to free reporting and critical writing about all the scandalous moves and criminal acts at the top of the government”.

With more than 820 employees, AMG is one of the biggest media companies in Western Balkans.

It published 57 printed and 26 digital editions, plus 21 YouTube channels in Serbia, Macedonia, and Croatia, and owns licences for the Serbian issues of National GeographicCosmopolitanMen’s Health and Elle.

Before its accounts were frozen, Kurir claimed that it was faced with dozens of tax inspections.

Bojovic said that Adria was told informally that it “may not be solvent of it has to settle liabilities towards the Tax Administration” and that therefore its “bank accounts must be blocked until the end of the procedure”.

He said that this procedure could last for months, alleging that it was obvious that the authorities’ intention is to take over the company’s assets.

On August 1, it announced it will no longer publish the local edition of Newsweek even though it has a license to do so until 2024, calling the closure “the first victim of the persecution”.

“If such brutal repression against AMG continues, it is quite possible to expect that some other issues will be closed,” Bojovic said.

Adria also announced on August 4 that more than 800 employees didn’t receive their salaries due to what it called the “illegal blockade” of the company’s accounts.

“We have no other way but to seek our legal satisfaction in court,” Bojovic said.

Rodic, the head of the media group, has accused Vucic and his closest associates several times of being responsible for the serious financial situation at the company.

He also announced in June that he would enter politics.

But Vucic has described Rodic’s open letters, which he publishes on the Kurir website to express his opinions, as “stupid”.

Adria is not the first major media group in Serbia to have been accused of having massive tax debts.

The Serbian Anti-Corruption Council in 2015 called the owner of pro-government TV Pink, Zeljko Mitrovic, one of the “biggest tax debtors and the richest businessmen who delayed paying taxes for years thanks to strong and unbreakable connections with politicians and the state”.

The pro-government station’s accounts were not frozen, however, and Mitrovic said in June 2017 that his company does not owe anything in tax.