Pols to ax channels in reform

Serb gov't looks to make TV industry viable

BUDAPEST — Serbia, a media free-for-all for the past 15 years, is set to pass laws this month bringing order to the chaos and opening up the sector to regulation, privatization and modernization.

Literally hundreds of local cable channels flourished during ousted President Slobodan Milosevic’s rule between 1987 and 2000.

Broadcast watchdog the Belgrade Media Center lists 42 national and regional TV stations, the major players being TV Pink, BK TV, Art Televizija, TV Palma, B92 TV, TV Politika, SOS TV, Studio B TV and state network Radio Television Serbia (RTS).

Next fall the government will reduce the number of players by offering three to five frequencies in order to bump up rock-bottom TV ad rates and make the sector viable.

“The fact that a broadcaster airs today is no guarantee that it will keep the same frequency once the tender is over,” says Yugoslav Minister of Information Slobodan Orlic. “The only two channels that can be taken for granted are those of RTS, in its capacity as a public broadcasting service.”

Serb lawmakers are mulling the makeup of a regulatory body, the Broadcasting Council, mandated by the Broadcasting Act that was passed six months ago.

It has not yet been enacted due to political uncertainty as lawmakers toil over constitutional amendments that will eventually replace Yugoslavia with the Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

Next they will adopt the Telecommunications Act, paving the way for the allocation of national TV frequencies for privatization.

One casualty is expected to be B92, the former news service that defied the regime by bringing news to Serbs during the latter Milosevic era. Government officials admit they have a soft spot for B92, but say that Serbia’s TV industry must be commercially viable to survive.

Serbia, a nation of 10 million people, has 2.38 million TV homes, 83,000 satellite households and 2.55 million cable households.

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