New Law on RTCG must ensure the independence and plurality of the RTCG Council

The Media Centre and the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) invite members of the Parliament of Montenegro to amend the Draft Law on National Public Broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) in direction of ensuring independence and plurality of the RTCG Council.

At the recently held session of the Committee on Political System, Judiciary and Administration, the Ministry of Culture, as the proposer of this legal text on behalf of the Government, accepted a number of our important suggestions which improved this existing legal text and we appreciate that. However, in order to create a normative framework in which the RTCG can really become a media public service free from party influence, additional changes are necessary related to the RTCG Council.

The independence of the RTCG is directly determined by the independence of the RTCG Council. And for the RTCG Council to be independent, precise criteria must be prescribed for the organizations that can nominate candidates, as well as for the candidates themselves so that hidden representatives of political parties are not among them, as is the case with the current RTCG Council or some previous convocations, but also to provide judicial protection in this process.

Namely, the Draft Law on RTCG, which is in the parliamentary procedure, envisages that the members of the RTCG Council are elected in the Parliament of Montenegro, and that the Administrative Board compiles a list of candidates for members of the Council based on biographies and experiences of candidates, interviews of MPs with candidates and the number of institutions or non-governmental organizations that supported the candidacy of an individual candidate. Biographies of candidates and interviews of MPs with candidates represent simulation because MPs vote on the quality of candidates is based on their beliefs. Therefore, this practically means that the majority in the Administrative Board will decide on suitable candidates and only those who in line with the will of the majority will be able to enter the RTCG Council, which is a worse solution than the existing one that we already witnessed to be manipulated by political parties. Unfortunately, there are no developed European standards in this area, but it is up to each country individually left to regulates this issue, and the authorities are expected to demonstrate required sensibility and accountability in that respect.

The issue of RTCG and the RTCG’s Council is in the negative focus of numerous relevant domestic and international reports, including the last EC’s Non-paper on the state of play regarding chapters 23 and 24. Hence, the position of the authorities towards the independence of the RTCG Council will be monitored on its further European path.

We appeal to the Ministry of Culture to show openness at the upcoming plenary session for the changes that will increase the independence of the RTCG Council. In this context, the Media Centre and the CCE propose that the RTCG Council should have 13 instead of 9 members and that its composition should be expanded to representatives of national councils of minority peoples and NGOs in the field of environmental protection, women’s rights and consumer protection. Also, the monthly fees for the work of the members of the RTCG Council should be decreased to half so that the increased number of members would not increase the total amount of funds for their fees. Only NGOs that have a budget of more than 3,000 euros in the previous three years (thus proving their continuous activism in certain field of activity) and that are not financed from the state or local government in the amount of more than 50% of their annual budget can participate in the procedure of appointing RTCG Council members. This reduces the possibility of ruling political parties to exert influence in the RTCG Council through NGOs, predominantly financed from public funds or completely inactive NGOs. The concept of the Media Center and the CCE implies that, as before, representatives of NGOs that receive the greatest support from qualified NGOs must be appointed to the RTCG Council, i.e. those who meet the criteria, without any interference from political parties (interviews and voting on NGO candidates). In this manner, unlike the current ones, genuine representatives of NGOs would be members of the RTCG Council. Rejection of these proposals would make the process of appointing NGO representatives meaningless and prevent genuine NGO representatives from membership into the RTCG Council, but would also keep the negative assessments of the RTCG Council in the relevant reports which affect also the process of European integration of Montenegro.

Media Center and CCE also suggested that the procedure of dismissal of a member of the Council can be initiated exclusively by the RTCG Council, to avoid repetition of the situations of illegal dismissals by other institutions. Finally, we emphasize the importance of ensuring judicial protection in the procedure of appointment and dismissal of members of the RTCG Council to prevent illegal appointment or removal of members of the RTCG Council that we have witnessed so far. Functional judicial protection in these processes will be one of the key indicators that the authorities are making a qualitative step forward in this normative solution, while its absence will represent an expression of the commitment to keep the space for inappropriate influence on RTCG.

Goran Đurović, Director, Media Center
Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director, Center for Civic Education (CCE)