Parliamentary majority does not want to legally regulate public financing of media

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) regrets for the majority decision of the MPs of Parliament of Montenegro who did not adopt the Proposal of law on the amendments of Law of Media. Integral part of this text, amongst other issues, were the CCE amendments concerning area of public financing of media, which is legally unregulated and not harmonised with the regulations of European Union and best international standards and practices.

From 2011, the CCE has been indicating, through four annual researches, on obscurities in legal framework and practices in terms of the financing of media from the budget of Montenegro, regardless if it is related to the marketing or contracts on other basis. Data which the CCE gathered, in line with the Free Access to Information Law, and which were continuously publically presented, demonstrate the tendency of public sector bodies, which used legal vagueness and gaps, to achieve and maintain their influence on media market, through selective and opaque financing od media. This was directly jeopardizing competition principles, creating unequal conditions on media market, but also exercising influence on the media editorial policy, known as soft censorship. Furthermore, this additionally polarised the media scene in Montenegro, eroded media freedoms and consequently reduced the level of quality of informing the public.

CCE research findings served as relevant sources for numerous international reports, which in dealing with this issue, also expressed concern in terms of the transparency of public financing of media and unequal chances that Montenegrin media have in that respect, especially when it comes to state advertising. Finally, in the Agreement on creation of conditions for far and free elections, signed by the representatives of authorities and opposition, it is clearly stipulated: “Political subjects – signatories of this Agreement also note that in the current legal framework it is necessary to regulate rules and criteria for advertising in media that will be mandatory for state bodies and other subjects with public authorities”, with further note that changes of law will be initiated in that direction.

In February 2016, the CCE prepared a set of amendments on media and related laws, and during March and April held series of consultations with representatives of the majority of MP clubs in the Parliament of Montenegro, and got their principal support for these amendments. The importance of these amendments and the need of their incorporation into the amendments of Law on Media was recognised by MPs Rifat Rastoder, Dritan Abazović and Zoran Miljanić who officially submitted them to Parliament for review and adoption.

Unfortunately, it turns out that majority in the Parliament of Montenegro supports the state of affairs in which public financing of media will remain unregulated, opaque and open for misuses. Apart of having these amendments strongly challenged by the ruling DPS and its partners, as well as DF, the fact that no interventions on these were suggested strengthens the impression that there was no willingness to resolve this issue in systematic manner.

Adoption of these amendments would create legal conditions for precise regulation of access to public funds for all media, as well as financing of media from the budget of Montenegro in line with transparent procedures in state advertising. Discussion on these changes and accompanying voting in Parliament is providing argument for conclusion in which interest is maintaining of the current state of affairs characterized with legal disorder and limitations of establishing equal chances for all media in Montenegro.

Advancement of legal framework, strict implementation of regulations which prevent interference of authorities into media operating and their reporting, as well as work on strengthening of professional standards and respect of Code of Conduct are crucial for renewal of media scene in Montenegro. CCE will continue to monitor this area and to try to contribute to the fostering of media community and media credibility in that manner, as well as consequently to the quality of information of citizens of Montenegro.

Ana Nenezić
, Programme Coordinator