Placing AEM under the control of Government is a bad solution

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) expresses concern over decision of Government of Montenegro to place the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), an independent regulator for electronic media which exercises public jurisdiction in accordance with the Law on Electronic Media and operates in the public interest, under its direct control, as it was defined by new proposal of Law on State Administration.

At the session of the Government of Montenegro from 20/9/2018 a proposal of the Law on State Administration was determined by which in the Article 43, for the first time are introduced State agencies and it is prescribed that they are directly responsible for their work to the Government of Montenegro, while the Article 44 enhances this by determining that the Government elects and dismisses members of councils of state agencies. We support the systemic approach of regulation of state administration, which certainly opens up a space for greater level of coordination over the already existing agencies. However, AEM due to its importance, role and position in the system must not be treated in this manner and put in the same rank with the other agencies. Additionally, this solution is in contradiction with the principles of functioning of regulators in the media, and also the EU Directive on Audio-visual Media Services (AVMSD) which is due to be adopted soon, and which Montenegro is obliged to assume and apply, as a part of its regular obligations within the negotiation process.

Amendments to this Directive are precisely going against intentions of the Government of Montenegro to put a regulator under its direct control, i.e. they are going towards strengthening of independency of regulators. It is precisely prescribed that a regulator must be legally separated from the Government and functionally independent, i.e. that it must exercise its jurisdiction impartially and transparently and in the public interest.

AEM, as an independent and autonomous regulator should, among other, ensure improvement of quality and diversity of electronic media services, contribute to preservation, protection and development of freedom of opinion and expression, operate in the aim of protection of the public interest in the area of electronic media and protection of users of electronic media services in the manner appropriate to democratic society. With all objections to the performance of AEM so far, to which the CCE also has pointed out, which relate to decisions or absence of decisions that have benefited the authorities, and instead of strengthening independency of this body in order to overcome identified problems, entirely different actions are being undertaken. This direction reveals an intention of the Government to take over the creation of policies in this area, bring the electronic media under its control, which certainly can jeopardize basic democratic principle in the area of freedom of expression and media.

It is also confusing the fact that representatives of the Ministry of Culture have announced amendments to the Electronic Media Law right upon adoption of amendments of the precisely mentioned EU Directive from this area, in order to harmonize the valid solutions with novelties that this Directive brings. This opens also an issue of inter-sectoral cooperation within the Government of Montenegro and harmonization of policies at the state level.

We invite MPs of Parliament of Montenegro to act by amendments and to change the proposed solution within the Parliament procedure by removing AEM from the scope of state agencies which Law on State Administration refers to. The proposed solution of the Government can contribute neither to the necessary improvement of situation in the media nor to acceleration of our path towards the EU.

Ana Nenezic, Programme Coordinator