Media in Montenegro – between the stranglehold of power and the struggle for the profession

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) published a report Media in Montenegro – between the stranglehold of power and the struggle for profession, which represents an annual review of the state of affairs within media field. The focus of the report is on key challanges of the Montenegrin media scene – from hard censorship which refers to cases of attacks on journalists and the manner of their processing, through media sustainability and their access to public fundsfunctionality of self-regulatory bodies and regulator, to the public broadcaster RTCG after unlawful change of managerial and editorial structures, with series of accompanying recommendations.

The number of attacks on journalists was reduced in 2019, but none of the most serious previous cases, such as the murder of co-owner, CEO and Editor-in-chief of daily DanDusko Jovanovic, the attempted murder of journalists of daily Vijesti and weekly MonitorTufik Softic and Oliver Lakic, has been revealed. Majority of 92 cases of attacks on journalists and media property in Montenegro, from 2004 until the end of 2019, never ended with proper epilogue. Certain actions and announcements by the police have also been noticed before the release of the European Commission’s annual report on Montenegro but without final outcomes when it comes to processing of these cases. This indicates that competent institutions work neither responsibly nor professionally, predominantly due to political constraints. Therefore, serious and considerable deepening of efforts and intensifying of investigations in cases of attacks on journalists and media property is necessary, accompanied by track record that also includes detection of those who ordered the attacks.

Soft censorship is reflected in less visible but dangerous forms of pressure and it is applied primarily through politicized, discretionary and non-transparent allocation of public funds, subsidies and accompanying facilities to the media. The researches of the CCE, who opened this issue in Montenegro, proves that public funding of media through various forms is directly related to how favourable or critical media broadcasters report on Government’s decisions and activities, whereby those who support the governing structure receive the largest amount of funds, while others are deprived of the money from the budget. The authorities have tried to ignore or deny the findings of the CCE’s researches for years, although they have been regularly cited as relevant in the numerous international reports. Finally, the problem was recognized and well addressed through the new Draft Media Law, adopted by the Government of Montenegro at the end of 2019, which is currently in the parliamentary procedure.

Hard and soft censorship has resulted in increased self-censorship – the fact that fewer journalists are ready to dedicate themselves to professional and investigative journalism, and this has an impact on the overall decline in the reporting quality.

Self-regulation in Montenegro is not yet functional, which leads to frequent violations of the Code of Journalists. Individual self-regulators have demonstrated a greater degree of commitment and professionalism than the Media Self-Regulation Council that is closer to the authorities. Therefore, the recommendations of the report emphasize the importance of ending privileged support to Media Self-Regulation Council with the assessment that it is counterproductive for the entire system of self-regulation. In this respect, it is noted that it is necessary to amend the provisions of Draft Media Law in order to functionally acknowledge plurality and autonomy of the work of self-regulatory bodies. At the same time, this includes  encouragement of media to invest in this area without attempti to transform self-regulation through budgetary financing into co-regulation or regulation. It is also recommended to support self-regulation through the establishment of an annual financial award for the self-regulatory body that performs the best at his work.

So far, the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM), as the regulator, has not consistently respected the Law on Electronic Media, which resulted in lack of implementation of adequate measures, including the final measure  revoking the operating licence for those who have drastically or continuously violated the Law. Such (non)work of the AEM stimulated unfair competition in the media market and enabled marketing revenues to go to broadcasters that do not produce significant scope of programmes in Montenegro. Furthermore, it also contributed to the collapse of professional standards and ethical norms by tolerating violations of programme principles. In order to improve this, it is proposed to adopt a new Law on Audio-visual Media Services modelled by the non-governmental organization Media Center, which guarantees the legal framework for the independence of the Agency for audio-visual Media Services (current AEM) and its managerial bodies.

The party take-over of the RTCG represents the most direct demonstration of political pressure on the media over the last four years, and as such has been noted in relevant international reports. The RTCG Council was ‘cleansed’ of ineligible members of civil society, and unlawful dismissals of management and editorial staff were also proven by final court decisions. Consequently, current RTCG’s doors are closed to argument based, different and critical opinions, with occasional simulations of this otherness through already affirmed and emerging forces amongst the ‘players’ of the ruling party. In this context, amendments to the existing Draft Law on Public Broadcasting Services of Montenegro are proposed to ensure the financial and editorial independence of the RTCG and the managerial bodies of the RTCG, particularly through the broader competencies of the RTCG Council, as well as the structure, manner of election, appointment and dismissal of Council members, but also through strengthening programme and financial transparency of the work of the RTCG and responsibilities of the Director General of the RTCG.

The report also provides series of other recommendations for the improvement of the Draft Media Law but also points to the importance of the proper implementation of the new media laws and the election of new councils of public service broadcaster and regulators in line with those proposals that define the legislative framework for necessary independence of these bodies. The importance of supporting initiatives in the field of media literacy is particularly highlighted.

 The report was published within the framework of the project ‘Facts do matter 2 – For the media we deserve!‘, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands.

 Damir SULJEVIC, Project Assistant