Huge Losses Hit Montenegrin TV

Montenegrin state television comes under intense pressure as managers admit to massive losses

Huge Losses Hit Montenegrin TV

Montenegrin state television comes under intense pressure as managers admit to massive losses

Managers at Montenegro's state-owned broadcaster Radio Television Crna Gora, RTVCG, admitted on Wednesday, December 6, the station had accumulated losses of 7 million German marks. The figure is expected to balloon to 11 million marks by the end of the year.

Rumours of heavy losses have been circulating for a while, but the scale of the problem - exposed in a financial report published by the opposition daily paper Dan - has shocked Montenegrins. In this small republic of 650 000 citizens, an average salary is around 200 marks per month.

The financial bombshell has overshadowed a long running and heated political debate over RTVCG's programming and editorial policy. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, an advocate of independence, wields considerable influence over the broadcaster, a fact reflected in the station's news coverage.

The dispute reflects a divide within Djukanovic's ruling coalition on the independence issue in the wake of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. The president's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and Zarko Rakcevic's Social Democratic Party, SDP, support secession. But the third coalition partner, People's Party, NS, advocates the continuation of Yugoslavia.

NS claims RTVCG leans too much towards independence. After issuing several public warnings, NS deputy presidents, Predrag Popovic and Predrag Drecun, resigned from their posts on the state media executive committee.

But what concerns people more now is the whereabouts of the millions of missing German marks. It appears no one from the state broadcaster could answer that question, as it is impossible to get a breakdown of the losses.

It is presumed that at least part of the losses are unpaid debts to commercial banks.

But the secrecy surrounding the state TV's financial details has led to speculation that the money, which should have gone to fund employee pension schemes, may have been simply pocketed by the TV's managing board.

When one employee retired and discovered his pension was to be cut by three per cent because of unpaid contributions, his former colleagues were thrown into panic. Checks into their own finances revealed contributions had not been paid for three years. Such a scandal in the state sector is unprecedented in Montenegro.

Managers at RTVCG clearly knew the financial situation was deteriorating some weeks ago. In November, 180 freelance staff were laid off and average salaries cut from 428 marks to 360 marks. Further redundancies have been announced.

When financial director Milenko Filipovic came to talk to furious employees last Wednesday, he needed bodyguards. He offered few details, blaming the deficit on unpaid licence fees and an increase in programming output. Most employees were unconvinced.

TV viewers pay a monthly licence fee of 1.5 marks. Filipovic recommended increasing the fee to 5 marks. Not a policy likely to win friends among Montenegro's impoverished citizens or rival TV stations.

Koca Pavlovic, editor-in-chief of the independent channel Television Montena, which has an almost equal audience share to state TV, thinks his station should get a share of licence revenues.

"Our television provides more service to the citizens of Montenegro than state run television," said Pavlovic. "We offer a variety of opinions and not only those of Djukanovic."

State TV executives, meanwhile, have blamed the losses on an excessive number of employees. The station employs 1,000 people, probably twice as many as necessary.

Back in 1997, Djukanovic abandoned his support of Milosevic and split with his Montenegrin ally Momir Bulatovic. When he switched to an anti-Milosevic line, the president purged RTVCG of pro-Milosevic and pro-Bulatovic employees.

In order to keep the peace, however, many of these sacked employees continued to receive their salaries, while new faces were brought in to do their work.

Then, in 1998, just ahead of the presidential elections, a third, youth orientated channel was set up. This new channel employs around 200 people. Goran Rakocevic, RTVCG director and close associate of Djukanovic, controls programming. During the November round of lay-offs no one from this channel was affected, which caused much resentment among employees elsewhere in RTVCG.

For now, it is unclear how the state TV deficit will be covered. The government budget for next year has allocated 25 million marks to RTVCG. Another 6 million marks is expected from licence fees and advertising. Whether this will be enough to cover losses and make-up the shortfalls in employees' pension funds remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the public waits expectantly for those responsible for the mess to be brought to book.

One beneficiary, however, will be the anti-independence lobby. Opponents of Djukanovic are bound to score political points from the scandal and demand the resignations of managers and editorial staff implicated in financial mismanagement.

Boris Darmanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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