The director of the N1 television station Jugoslav Cosic (photo N1)

The director of the N1 television station Jugoslav Cosic (photo N1 )

The director of the N1 television station and the editor-in-chief of the television portal have been sued with a request for one million Euros in compensation by Telenor, which is becoming increasingly aggressive towards United Media – a company that owns some Serbian media including N1

12/03/2021 -  Vukašin Obradović Belgrade

Waiting for the Commission for the protection of competition to express its opinion on the agreement between telecommunications company Telenor, owned by the PPF investment fund, and the company Telekom Srbija, of which the state is the majority owner – an agreement that provides for the concession in use to the Telenor company of the optical fibre infrastructures and the contents produced by Telekom. Telenor and Telekom on one side and United Media on the other might take their dispute to the courtroom.

On February 5, the Telenor company filed a lawsuit in the Belgrade High Court against the director of the N1 television station Jugoslav Cosic, the editor-in-chief of the N1 portal Nikola Stojic and Adria News LLC, accusing them of conducting a media campaign against the agreement between Telenor and Telekom and seeking compensation for damages equal to 113,235,628 dinars (approximately one million Euros).

The complaint states that N1 published a lot of untrue information about the company Telenor, in particular regarding the collaboration between Telenor and Telekom, as part of a smear campaign that allegedly caused significant material damage to Telenor.

Telenor has announced that it has also filed a lawsuit against United Media B.V. based in the Netherlands, Srpska kablovska mreza LLC based in Belgrade, Adria News s.a.r.l in Luxembourg, and Adria News LLC in Belgrade for unfair competition, specifying that it has not yet decided the amount of compensation it intends to seek.

Why one million Euros?

One of the most interesting aspects of the whole affair is just how it came to one million Euros in damages.

"In our opinion, the complaint is confused, incomprehensible, and incomplete. Furthermore, the accusation is unfounded. We believe that there are no conditions for claiming damages, as the defendant has not committed any unlawful action. Consequently, it is completely absurd to talk about the amount of compensation. The plaintiff claims that the amount requested matches the damages deriving from the loss of users, those caused to its professional image and creditworthiness, and the resources that Telenor will have to invest to rebuild its professional image and reputation", explains to OBC Transeuropa Milos Stojkovic, one of the lawyers of N1.

Stojkovic also adds that, in calculating the amount of compensation claimed, Telenor used completely inadequate criteria. For example, the lawsuit mentions the sanctions set by the law for the protection of competition which – as Stojković states – has nothing to do with the lawsuit in question.

“We have met all professional standards. Furthermore, we have always asked both Telekom and Telenor questions about their cooperation and their purpose. It is true that the financier of N1 is also involved in the affair, but when we decided to cover this story we took into consideration two facts. First, the state is the majority owner of the Telekom company. Second, some documents prepared by Telekom state that the goal of its collaboration with Telenor is to put an end to the work of SBB and United Group – a scenario that, if it were to occur, would make SBB and United Group unable to finance the media they own. These are two issues of great public interest", N1 director Yugoslav Cosic told OBCT.

Cosic also adds that all the information published by N1, including that published on the broadcaster's portal, is based on documents the veracity of which has been confirmed by Telekom. Stressing that their stories were not focused on the Telenor company, Cosic explains that Telenor and Telekom share the goal of putting an end to the work of SBB and United Group, so any damage suffered by Telenor is not caused by the information published by N1, but rather by its collaboration with Telekom.

The response to the lawsuit filed by Telenor against N1 states that the complaint contains numerous faults in form and substance, so it should be rejected. It also states that the lawsuit is completely unfounded.

One of the main theses argued by the defense is that the collaboration between Telenor and Telekom – the objectives of which are contrary to the principle of free competition and risk producing anti-competitive effects – is a matter of public interest and public opinion has the right to be informed. The defense also argues that there is nothing problematic in the way in which N1 has covered this issue, since it has complied with all the ethical and professional rules, including the obligation to verify, with due attention, the veracity of the information.

Provisional measure

Telenor accompanied both lawsuits with the request for the application of an interim measure against N1, asking that Jugoslav Cosic and Nikola Stojic be prevented from publishing, for the duration of the trial, any information or comment on the announced agreement between Telenor and Telekom, under penalty of a fine of 300,000 dinars (about 2,500 Euros) for each piece of information published.

"In the first trial, the High Court rejected Telenor's request for the application of an interim measure, deeming it unfounded, and then also rejected the appeal against that decision, thus reiterating the groundlessness of the request for an interim measure. As regards the second trial, Telenor presented a similar request for the application of a provisional measure, and on March 8 the Commercial Court rejected this request, considering it unfounded. The plaintiff has the right to appeal, but at the moment we do not know if Telenor has made use of this option", explains lawyer Milos Stojkovic.

Some jurists believe that this is a strategic lawsuit against information of public interest, better known by the English acronym SLAPP (similar to "slap"), aimed at intimidating journalists and the media and dissuading them from covering with certain topics.

Regardless of whether this is a SLAPP or not, one party will be heavily defeated in this trial – it remains to be seen whether it will be telecom companies or journalists.

 

This publication was produced within the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR - link), co-funded by the European Commission. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa and its partners and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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