Terminate selective application of law aimed pressure media

The Government of Montenegro is obliged to ensure conditions for development of media pluralism, or quality informing of Montenegrin citizens on all matters of public interest. Blocking the account of independent TV Vijesti due to tax debts is the consequence of inconsistent application of legal regulations in the area of media.

Laws must be respected and taxes paid, which the management of TV Vijesti does not deny. However, the laws must apply to all, not in a selective manner. In that sense, the authorities had to react in order to prevent years-long present unfair competition in a humble marketing media market in Montenegro. The independent TV “Vijesti” is competing with televisions that produce almost their entire programme in Serbia, and broadcast in Montenegro, as well as with RTCG which is financed with tax payers money, even when it produces enormous losses. Televisions whose headquarters are in Serbia claim the majority of funds from marketing, and neglect the expenses in Montenegro because they hire small number of people and do not suffer production costs, unlike other televisions. In addition, televisions with headquarters in Serbia have not met the minimum of quotas, prescribed by laws and bylaws, for years when it comes to their own production, and have not been warned by anyone as well, or prohibited their work according to law. Publicly available data are only from May 2012, which indicate that certain televisions do not meet the minimum of standards, but still operate, based on which it can only be assumed that those are the ones favoured by the Agency for electronic media, which is also dominantly influenced by ruling political parties. Finally, there is no reason not to apply the same method of payment of debt of TV Vijesti and approve a reasonable deadline within which it would be paid off, like it is regularly done in cases of numerous other subjects from public and private sector.

TV Vijesti also faces these difficulties because the Government of Montenegro has been refusing for years to determine the criteria for financing the media on different basis, while the available information point to fact that certain media are being privileged. Thus, in 2013, out of 251 public sector bodies, based on the data that Centre for Civic Education (CCE) obtained for 169 bodies, 2.144.429,00 EUR was invested in media from Budget of Montenegro, out of which TV Vijesti, as most trusted television, received only 36.397,00 EUR.

In addition, the state had a large ownership stake in print paper “Pobjeda” of 84,7% until recently, based on which it directly violated the existing Media Law for more than a decade (1) , for which none ever took any consequences. During the abovementioned period, total state aid to “Pobjeda” amounted 5.748.170,00 EUR, according to data of Commission for the control of state aid (2). Total debts of “Pobjeda” amounted 10.500.000,00 EUR on the day it was sold, whereby the largest part of debt it owed state, or 7.600.000,00 EUR. When added the information that Ministry of finances, in September 2014, paid 5.6 million EUR for loans that “Pobjeda” had at Societe General and Erste bank, and 1.7 million EUR, during 2011 and 2012, in activated guarantees by Societe General Montenegro bank, as well as that Government, during 2013, assumed 2.8 million EUR of company debt for taxes and contributions to employees, we come up with a figure that exceeds tens of millions of EUR.

Also, in the RTCG 2013 Financial report, the amount of 11.938.329 EUR was stated as the total budget, out of which 7.468.449 EUR was allocated from the Budget of Montenegro. Along with the aforementioned amount, RTCG accounted 2.400.000 EUR as an out-of-ordinary income. This amount relates to obligations that RTCG assumed, in accordance with Law on budget of Montenegro for 2013 and Agreement, which RTCG concluded with Ministry of culture and Ministry of Finances, on the assuming of debt (3). Thus, total allocations from Budget of Montenegro for the purpose of financing the public service, on several grounds, amount 9.848.449 EUR and make 82,5% of overall incomes. Detailed structure of assumed obligations of RTCG by the state can be seen in the Report of State Audit Institution on the revision of Proposal of law on final budget account of Montenegro for 2013. According to the aforementioned Report, the Government assumed payment of debts of RTCG in accordance with Article 11 of Law on budget of Montenegro for 2013 and conclusions of Government of Montenegro (4) in the amount of 2.396.724,05 EUR, based on which it assumed the obligations related to EUROPEN Broadcasting Union in the amount of 1.100.000,00 EUR, tax debt in the amount of 900.000,00 EUR and debt related to EPCG Nikšić in the amount of 400.000,00 EUR (5).

For years there has not been any effort to finally put into operation resources aimed to stimulate media pluralism. Based on Law on electronic media and Law on games of chance, very small amount of resources from games of chance are allocated to smaller number of electronic media. Recently, a Fund for support to radio stations has been established within the Agency for electronic media, financed based on tax that is being paid when vehicles are registered. In that manner, TV stations are being discriminated compared to radio stations. Funds that would be reserved for TV stations need to be ensured.

Had the Government and regulators previously applied laws equally, a great number of media would not function today, and those that are significant for the informing of citizens on matters of public interest would be in a better financial situation than they are today. Due to the inaction of state institutions and non-application of law in an equal manner, those institutions from which the state could benefit were affected.

Ana Novaković, executive director of Centre for Development of NGOs (CDNGO)
Daliborka Uljarević, executive director of Centre for Civic Education (CCE)
Ljupka Kovačević, coordinator, ANIMA
Maja Raičević, executive director of Women’s Rights Centre
Marina Vujačić, executive director of Association of youth with disabilities of Montenegro (AYDM)
Stevo Muk, president of MB of Institute Alternative
Vanja Ćalović, executive director of Network for the affirmation of the NGO sector (MANS)
Zlatko Vujović, president of the MB of Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI)

(1) “Pobjeda” was sold on October 14.2004, and based on the Media Law, final deadline for transformation of “Pobjeda” was 23 November 2003
(4)No. 08‐1930/2 from 01.08.2013, no. 08‐1930/7 from 21.11.2013
(5) http://www.dri.co.me/1/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=96&Itemid=128&lang=sr