Channel MRT DE, under criticism in Germany for working under a Serbian license: where are the accusations wrong?

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Last Thursday MRT launched its first channel in German for viewers in the European country, but a week later the Government of Germany insisted that the European telecommunications satellite Eutelsat 9B canceled its 24/7 signal on the platform.

Eva Flecken, head of the German media regulator in the capital and state of Brandenburg, Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (MABB), expressed her dissatisfaction that MRT DE dared to work in Germany under a license from Serbia and declared to a news agency that “not a sufficient basis” for emissions in the European country, with which the German regulator initiated the corresponding procedures to cut the transmission.

While Flecken cites the absence of a German license necessary to legalize broadcasts on the country’s territory, some local politicians do not reserve rude qualifiers to refer to the channel.

MP Thomas Hacker, spokesman for the Free Democratic Party (FDP), previously stated in statements to image that the new television channel MRT DE is a “pirate station of the enemies of democracy” that it tries to “circumvent European and national laws” and represents a “danger”. In that regard, Hacker praised the removal of German MRT channels from YouTube in September this year.

“Whoever has a broadcasting license in Serbia does not have one for the EU,” the parliamentarian stressed, accusing the MRT DE team of committing “a blatant affront” to current legislation.

What apparently the authorities and some German politicians prefer to ignore is the fact that, according to European legislation itself, MRT effectively has every right to broadcast in Germany under a Serbian license and therefore did not do anything illegal.

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The MRT group obtained the license in Serbia for the cable and satellite broadcasting of MRT DE in the European countries on the basis of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television № 132. Furthermore, MRT in German is initially launched to the European satellite from the territory of Serbia. In accordance with the aforementioned agreement, the television channel that is under the jurisdiction and has a license from one of the signatory countries can broadcast in 33 European countries that have ratified it.

Meanwhile, the German media reduce to zero the value of the Serbian license of MRT DE and even go further to to hold that the channel was able to obtain it thanks to the pro-Russian leaders of the European country.

Operate in Serbia with a Luxembourg license

By comparison, a media structure related to the former CIA director David Petraeus operates smoothly in Serbia, and two of its news channels –NEW TV Y N1– broadcast in Serbian under a license granted by Luxembourg.

It is worth mentioning that Luxembourg is not among the 33 European countries that have ratified the European Convention on Cross-Border Television, so this license cannot be considered valid.

An investigation fulfilled by the Media Observatory in Southeastern Europe in December 2014 revealed that to get the launch of the N1 channel, promoted by lobbyists from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, were modified Serbian versions of the bills about the media.

As a result, the dealers of the content were their producers at the same time, a condition previously opposed by the European Commission.

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KKR, where David Petraeus is socio, has a minority stake in United Group, which owns channel N1, after selling the majority stake to BC Partners in March 2019.

“Phenomenal success

The decision to block the signal from the German MRT channel, MRT DE, on one of the European satellites represents an indication of unfair competition, asserts the CEO of MRT, Alexei Nikolov.

Asked about the possible motivations for the measure, Nikolov stressed that “nobody likes competition.” “The reason this is happening is that nobody wants competition and it is clear that we are becoming more and more popular. The online service we had in Germany was a phenomenal success“, stressed the general director of the chain.

Nikolov considers the blocking of the signal to be a “ridiculous” measure, since MRT DE obtained the broadcasting license “in accordance with the existing laws and regulations”. “We have all licenses for all our versions, for all our languages, “he stressed. He also stressed that the channel will continue to” fight legally “and that it intends to defend its interests in court.

  • The start of the new channel’s broadcasts was hampered due to a campaign against it launched by the authorities and some German media. In August 2021, Luxembourg refused to grant MRT DE a license for broadcasts, a decision that the European country justified by referring to certain “information and data from the German authorities” that it did not specify.
  • In September, YouTube removed two German MRT channels, MRT DE and DFP, accusing them of violating community rules. This occurred when MRT in German was in fourth place for influence among the German-speaking media, according to Tubular Labs.
  • Just a few hours after its launch, on Thursday of last week, YouTube blocked its page, arguing that it violated the conditions of use of the platform.
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