From a responsible mayor to a caring father: this is the shortest way to describe the video campaign “A day with the mayor” in which Serbian Finance Minister, Siniša Mali, is filmed during a typical working day 2018. The clip showed Mali, the then-mayor of Belgrade, having back-to-back meetings, arranging benches in the park, greeting the binmen and doing a series of PR appearances.
In March 2018, three days before the local elections, this video was broadcast on the Facebook page called “Beograd Zivi” (Belgrade Lives). The Wireless Media Company, owned by Igor Žeželj, who is also the proprietor of the Adria Media Group, is the video’s author.
The Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) has revealed the entire network of social network sites and accounts created by Wireless Media that have sprung up all over Serbia in the last three years, mostly before the elections. The aim is to convince citizens to vote for local authorities and officials of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). According to CINS, however, this practice has not been reported to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption.
Wireless Media (WM) is an IT company that designs and creates websites and other digital content to be promoted online. The company has established a special department that promotes local authorities and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) since 2017, says CINS.
The Serbian Progressive Party, and in particular, its Stari Grad branch, has been the company’s clients for a number of years. The cooperation continued after the SNS came to power in 2020 in Stari Grad, says CINS, adding that in the last three years, the company has designed social network sites and accounts for Belgrade and Sombor municipalities, as well as towns of Pančevo, Novi Sad, Subotica and Sremska Mitrovica.
How the cooperation with the SNS party was established and realised is best demonstrated in the case of the Pančevu Treba brand, which the company worked on until July 2020.
“It all starts with a meeting between Wireless Media and the mayor. The company explains that they are experts in social networking, that they have the ‘Beograd Živi’ project behind them, and then they talk to the mayor about the municipality’s priorities. Wireless Media then commissions an opinion poll from the IPSOS agency to find out the biggest problems that the citizens are facing in that area, the municipal services and projects they were happy and to whom the success of these projects are attributed to, what they think of the government and the like. Based on this, the company draws up a strategy to promote the city’s leaders and life in the city,” CINS explains.
In less than six months, 140 videos were uploaded on the YouTube channel of Pančevu Treba, or an average of 23 videos per month. Wireless Media had project coordinators at the local level, and they were all local SNS officials. In most cases, the promotion started before the elections and in some cities ended after them. The former mayor of Pančevo, Saša Pavlov, confirms to CINS that everything was done for the purpose of the election campaign.
This statement can be understood as a kind of confirmation that the promotion was part of the campaign of the SNS party, believes Nemanja Nenadić of Transparency Serbia. The money spent on the promotion is not reported in the financial reports of the SNS party and Nenadić says that, by law, that should have been reported to the Agency for Prevention of Corruption.
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