SARAJEVO (RFE/RL) -- A claim by Sarajevo's mayor that Doha-based Al-Jazeera will buy Bosnia's Studio 99 radio and television station has raised confusion and focused attention on the struggling broadcaster.
RFE/RL's Balkan Service has confirmed that talks are under way about the sale of the Sarajevo-based broadcaster to the Al-Jazeera satellite network. City officials involved in those talks say they expect a final agreement to be reached early this month.
Fuad Husic, a Sarajevo city councilor, told RFE/RL that a preliminary agreement on the sale of Studio 99 has been signed with Al-Jazeera.
"I have seen the preliminary agreement -- that is the agreement. It is in English and in Bosnian. Before the [beginning of negotiations], I saw how serious Al-Jazeera's intentions are to take over Studio 99," Husic said.
"Naturally, the negotiations are [still] under way. I will not meddle into details because I do not know them. But [this deal] is certain."
However, the possible sale is complicated by an on-going lawsuit against Adil Kulenovic -- the managing director of Studio 99's parent company, PEP.
Al-Jazeera's office in Doha has declined to comment on the lawsuit or the ongoing negotiations. It also would not comment on Sarajevo Mayor Behmen's claim early this week that the acquisition of Studio 99 is part of Al-Jazeera's strategy to establish a regional news center in the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Studio 99 was set up in early 1992, just before the start of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, by about a dozen journalists in Sarajevo. A former affiliate of RFE/RL, the station was widely praised during the war for broadcasting content that promoted tolerance and multiculturalism.
It was largely due to international funding that Studio 99 survived the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. But it has struggled since the end of the war when that financial support ended.
Kulenovic set up a new firm after the war called PEP -- a company that he fully owned until he sold it to the city of Sarajevo in late 2009 for about $220,000.
The pending lawsuit against Kulenovic charges that he transferred the ownership of Studio 99 to PEP without the consent of the station's co-founders and co-owners.
The lawsuit challenges the sale of Studio 99 to Sarajevo, claiming that Kulenovic never had the authority to sell it to the city council in the first place.
Zoran Ilic, a Sarajevo-based journalist and a cofounder of Studio 99 who is involved in the lawsuit against Kulenovic, said, "City authorities have [no right to negotiate] with Al-Jazeera. The founders of Studio 99 -- and Adil Kulenovic as the managing director of PEP -- should talk with Al-Jazeera."
Sarajevo city councilor Lejla Somun-Krupalija, a member of the multiethnic Our Party, says the journalistic work of Al-Jazeera is not an issue that is influencing the sale. Rather, she says, any sale of Studio 99 must conform to Bosnia's laws on transparency.
"It is a fact that the process of finding a new buyer has been, in the final analysis, non-transparent. It has been done away from the eyes of the public and is not in any way in accordance with the law on public procurement," Somun-Krupalija said.
Emir Suljagic, an aide to Sarajevo's mayor, told RFE/RL he is confident that the sale of Studio 99 to Al-Jazeera will go ahead.
"Very soon we will formalize our relationship with them and withdraw from the process, and then [Al-Jazeera] will have at their disposal the time, the money that they determine for themselves," Suljagic said.
Mayor Behmen said in a statement on March 29 that Al-Jazeera will pay Sarajevo about $210,000 for control of Studio 99 -- nearly the amount that the city invested in the purchase of the broadcaster last year.