Tanjug News Agency pledged 205 pieces of artwork at the total value of 7,069,166 dinars so that the City of Belgrade Public revenue secretariat would grant it deferment of payment of taxes at the amount of 5,704,093 dinars through installments, to be paid over five years. The Business register agency (APR) adopted the decision on lien of the Tanjug artwork on 5 May 2017.
The City of Belgrade was granted the right to the artworks in the capacity of the ‘encumbrance’, which means that in case Tanjug fails to pay by the stipulated deadline the City may collect for it through sale of the artwork. Likewise, within this period of time Tanjug must not damage, destroy, or sell such artwork, according to the minutes signed by the tax inspector of the city Public revenue secretariat on 22 March 2017.
Prior to this, on 13 March 2017 Tanjug filed the Secretariat the request to be deferred tax payment, stating that the tax debt comprises somewhat more than 5% of the total annual income Tanjug had earned in the previous year, and that forced collection of the total amount would incur Tanjug ‘significant economic damage’, presenting an ‘inappositely high burden’.
Based on the documents obtained by Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS), it is not possible to conclude whether Tanjug started repaying the debt. The documents state that the debt relates to property tax and construction land utilization fee; however, it is not precisely stated which property this is about.
Some of the most valuable pieces of artwork within the pledged belongings of Tanjug comprise a sculpture by Stevan Bodner worth 1,859,981 dinars, two paintings by Stojan Aralica worth 309,997 dinars respectively, a painting by Ljubica Cuca Sokić worth 123,999 dinars, and a painting by Martin Jonas worth 111,599 dinars.
According to data from the real estate cadastre, Tanjug has right of use over 122,908 m2 of state-owned land in Belgrade municipalities of Čukarica and Zemun. This comprises fields and structures, including business and residential facilities. Since the mid-1960s, the Tanjug head office has been located at the state-owned building in the centre of Belgrade, which is one of 155 Serbia’s cultural monuments.
Appraisal of value of 197 paintings and 8 sculptures owned by Tanjug, which are located in the premises of this news agency in Obilićev venac in Belgrade, was carries out by a court expert in the area of visual arts employed with the Institute for economic research.
Sources from the City of Belgrade Public revenue secretariat refused to be interviewed by CINS so as to explain their agreement with Tanjug into more detail. They stated that the data collected on Tanjug is classified, and that they could not provide information on the tax position of this news agency.
Branka Đukić, Tanjug director, has not accepted to be interviewed till the moment of publication of this text. Answering to phone calls of the CINS journalist, she said that she had received an e-mail with a request for an interview, that making phone calls presents exerting pressure on her, and asked the CINS journalist not to call her again.
Tanjug was already deferred tax liabilities
Tanjug was one of the 73 state-owned media outlets which were planned to be privatized. Sale of Tanjug failed on two occasions, and the agency was to be closed down back in 2015; however, it continued working. The grounds for this have not been fully clarified till the present date.
The validity of the Law on the public company News Agency Tanjug ceased on 31 October 2015. The government passed the Decision on legal consequences of termination of this public company, which stipulated that employees were to be paid outstanding salaries and other allowances, and that the archive materials of Tanjug were to be taken over by the Yugoslav archives. This is why in 2016 the only employee remaining was Branka Đukić, Director.
At the moment when closing down of Tanjug was being planned, Đukić stated that the agency did not need a law to be operating.
Nowadays, Tanjug is registered with the APR as an active business entity.
Tanjug misrepresented the report on media freedoms
‘Media freedom in Southeast Europe has deteriorated everywhere but in Serbia’ is the headline of the news published by Tanjug on 13 March 2018. It reads that this is the result of the project of measuring political influence, state of the legislative and institutional framework, and conditions in which journalists work in the states of Southeast Europe, presented in Brussels a week earlier.
Upon this news, Lawyers’ Committee for Human rights and Independent Association of journalists of Vojvodina (NDNV) launched a joint press release as participants in the research entitled ‘Citizens’ response to clientelism in media – MEDIA CIRCLE’ which invokes Tanjug, stating, among others:
‘Real indicators of the Index measurement show that Serbia is stagnating in a sharply negative trend following the dramatic drop recorded in 2015, although it was statistically presented as minimum progress (…) The text published by Tanjug also points to the intention to use misinterpreted data to make up reality, which is currently very poor in the media sphere.’
Following several arrangements on giving statement, Nino Brajović, former state secretary of the same Ministry and current secretary general of the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS) did not reply to the request addressed by the CINS journalist. In January 2017, in an interview for N1 he said that Tanjug is a privatization phenomenon, adding ‘Tanjug lives from media services, while the users of such services are state bodies and public companies’.
Slaviša Lekić, president of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS), said that Tanjug is an example of how regulations on media privatization were not implemented as they should be, but in accordance with political interests, and that it survived only thanks to state money, which, in previous years as well as nowadays, put FoNet and Beta news agencies in an unequal position.
Zoran Sekulić, director of FoNet News Agency, says for CINS that the state should establish a press bureau. Dragan Janjić, editor-in-chief of Beta, is of a similar opinion.
‘The solution is to establish a proper news service which would monitor over work of all state bodies into detail and (…) offer everything they do to everyone in Serbia for free – because this is paid by money from the budget. Everything else is a matter of mutual competition. In theory, this approach depreciates prices of private agencies, but it is fair’, says Janjić.
Zoran Sekulić from FoNet says: ‘Just provide us with equal starting grounds, so if we are good, we will be able to develop (…) And as it is, we cannot even tell how good we are, nor can we compare ourselves with anyone, because in the same field with us there is someone who is favored, privileged, and able to operate illegally’.
According to the annual financial report, in 2016 Tanjug ended the year with the loss of 51.3 million dinars, before it deferred payment of its tax liabilities at the amount of 3.5 million dinars. At the same time, it was generating more considerable income from sale of products and services, at the amount of 86.5 million dinars, than Beta and FoNet which earned 65.7 million dinars and 30.6 million dinars respectively.
Based on the financial report for 2016, it may be concluded that Tanjug continued to operate. The report states that the Ministry of Culture and Information announced that ‘a solution for continuation of operation of the news agency is sought for within the new media strategy’. A similar statement was given by Minister Vladan Vukosavljević in the beginning of November last year. The report for 2017 has not yet been published.
The Serbia 2016 Progress Report of the European Commission also states that it is necessary to clarify the legal status of Tanjug and harmonize it with the existing legislation.
This project is financed by the European Union through the small grant project “Protection of media freedom and freedom of expression in the Western Balkans” implemented by the Croatian Association of Journalists within the regional project Regional platform for advocacy of media freedoms and safety of journalists in the Western Balkans, six journalists’ associations from the region – Independent association of journalists of Serbia, (NUNS),Association of BH journalists, Croatian Association of journalists, Association of journalists of Kosovo, Association of journalists of Macedonia, and Media Trade union of Montenegro