By Gal Kovač (nova24tv.si)
In 2021, the state-owned Telekom company filed a lawsuit against the television stations Pop TV and Kanal A. According to the company’s management, Pop Tv, Kanal A, Brio, Oto and Kino, which form a joint business unit together with Pro Plus, have been abusing their monopoly position on the market since mid-November 2017, which has led to the company paying an “unfair and exorbitant” price for the aforementioned programmes. However, the new management, set up by Prime Minister Robert Golob and his coalition partners, has apparently “realised” that there is nothing wrong with the exorbitant prices. Our readers can draw their own conclusions as to whether this is related to the highly biased reporting of Pop TV and Kanal A in favour of the then-candidate and now Prime Minister Robert Golob. After Pop TV and Kanal A dropped their countersuit, the Ljubljana District Court ruled on Monday that the legal proceedings in this case are officially closed.
At the end of 2021, Telekom filed a lawsuit against Pop TV and Kanal A. The basis for the lawsuit was the partial nullity of the contract on the inclusion of Pop TV and Kanal A in Telekom’s system. As a result, Telekom demanded a reimbursement of just under 12.4 million euros. Pop TV and Kanal A filed a countersuit last May, almost immediately after the victory of the left in the elections, claiming damages of 58.15 million euros. This was allegedly the money they wanted for damages suffered as a result of underpayment of the distribution fee for TV programmes.
What exactly was the thing that bothered Telekom? As recently as last year, Telekom’s management argued in its statement of claim that “Since the 16th of January 2017, the supply of pay-to-watch TV programmes Pop TV, Kanal, OTO, BRIO, KINO has been offered exclusively in a package which, in addition to the two most watched TV programmes on the territory of the Republic of Slovenia with a wide range of content – films, series, news, sports, children’s programmes, etc. (Pop TV and Kanal A), also includes the two most popular TV programmes on the territory of the Republic of Slovenia which form a necessary part of the offer of all operators in the territory of Slovenia. In addition, the package also includes other pay-to-watch TV programmes of the defendants, which are thematic in nature, significantly less watched, and in the eyes of end users less important and substitutable with other TV programmes (the so-called “bundling” of TV programmes) and, at the same time, condition the supply of those TV programmes in such a way that the applicant, as a distributor of audio-visual content, is obliged to include all of those TV programmes of the two defendants (the entire package) in all of its own retail TV programme schemes.”
The Telekom management then went on to argue that this constituted a direct imposition of unfair commercial terms and conditions, a detriment to the competitors and a restriction of production, market and technical progress to the detriment of the consumers. Not only that, but the two programmes exploited their monopoly by offering an “unfair and exorbitant price” to the operator and distributor of audio-visual content (Telekom), thereby also treating Telekom unfairly compared to other operators. In doing so, the applicants “applied unequal conditions to comparable transactions and thereby placed Telekom in an unequal position.”
Not only that, but the long-term contract between Telekom and the two programmes in question was designed in such a way that Telekom had no possibility of terminating the contract.
Telekom – a cash cow for the left-wing media
Both Pop TV and Kanal A ran into serious financial difficulties a few years ago. PRO PLUS, the company under which they operate, despite consistent annual revenues of close to 50 million euros per year between 2012 and 2016, recorded operations that barely kept them afloat or recorded losses of several million euros. The company was in such dire straits, the investigative journalist Požar reported a year or so ago, that the owners at the time were considering shutting down the programme and leaving Slovenia.
But then came the solution – precisely in the form of unfair contracts, for which Telekom sued both programmes. The effects of the contracts concluded by the then-management of the state-owned company with the monopoly suppliers of the programmes are clearly visible in the financial statements of PRO PLUS, the broadcaster of Pop TV and Kanal A. The “silent contracts” were concluded on the 17th of November, 2016. As they were signed towards the end of the year, they have not yet been reflected in the annual accounts, but their effect is clearly visible in 2018 and beyond.
What has changed in the meantime?
A critical observer might ask why Telekom entered into such a contract in the first place, why it was only after the previous management that it had realised that “something was not right,” and what has changed since the filing of the claim to make Telekom “realise” that the leeching off described above is, in fact, “quite OK.” To answer this question, it is first necessary to understand the interplay of economic-political interests that bring together the transitional left and the media that consolidate their power. Telekom is a state-owned company, or rather, it is owned by the Slovenian Sovereign Holding. When the government of Robert Golob came to power, it appointed Žiga Debeljak to the leading position of the Slovenian Sovereign Holding. The first thing he did was – change Telekom’s management. First, they replaced the Chairman of the Management Board, Cveto Seršen, and then they dismissed Tomaž Jontes.
You already know the rest of the story. The new administration withdrew from the lawsuit, which was then followed by the withdrawal of the countersuit by Pop TV and Kanal A. These two channels, which carried out a daily information offensive against the government of Janez Janša during the previous government’s term in office, have been paid their dues. The leeching-off contract between the two media outlets and the state-owned company remained intact. The circle was thus complete, the most popular media and the political top of the country virtually washed their hands of each other and laid the foundations for the cooperation we see today.