United Group has found itself involved in another high-profile dispute in South Eastern Europe.
This time it involves Telekom Austria’s A1 Croatia and its refusal to carry’s United Group’s channels N1 and Sport Klub from the end of this month. Instead, it will offer its subscribers similar channels such as Arena Sport.
On the face of it, the dispute is about the failure of the two parties to reach an agreement on carriage fees. However, A1 Croatia has since accused United Group of exerting pressure on it through news reports on N1 criticising its “business decision”. Meanwhile, United Group has said that this “business decision” amounts to an attack on media freedom and censorship during an election campaign.
The dispute between United Group and A1 Croatia is someone different to the one the Dutch-registered company is currently involved in with Telekom Srbija and Telenor in neighbouring Serbia. However, the arguments being used by the sides are similar. A1 Croatia, Telekom Srbija and Telenor claim to be acting in a purely rational and business-like manner while at the same time all criticising United Group for the supposedly dominant market position it holds in the two countries.
United Group, on the other hand, sees the actions being taken against it as part of a wider campaign to limit press freedoms in the region. These concerns, it has to be said, have also been voiced by several international organisations.
Looking specifically at the Croatian market and speaking on N1 earlier this week, an industry expert named Djuro Lubura suggested that a way out of the current problems it faces would be to change the law to allow for vertical integration. This would see companies such as United Group’s Telemach, which is a currently a mobile operator, being permitted to enter the telecom market.
While this may be a constructive proposal, United Group’s problems in Croatia, and more especially Serbia, are unlikely to end anytime soon.
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