Public Broadcasting Service RTCG – a Newsreel of a government

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) has published a report Public Broadcasting Service RTCG – a Newsreel of a government, which provides an overview of the RTCG in the last year, including both management and programme and financial aspects of the RTCG’s work. The focus of the report is on the RTCG after the illegal dismissals of the management in 2018, and especially on the transparency and efficiency of the current Council of the RTCG. The report also encompasses an analysis of the news programme on sensitive issue, such as the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities, as well as a cross-section of guest appearances in key informative programmes on RTCG during 2019, which represents the bifocals through which the RTCG presents the Montenegrin reality. Furthermore, the financial plan and report for 2019 were also assessed, as well as the recently adopted Law on the National Public Broadcaster RTCG, and the report provides a number of recommendations as well.

Javni servis RTCG - dnevnik jedne vlasti

In the report, it is assessed that the path to establishing a true public service in Montenegro has proved to be a thorny one, accompanied by the tenacious resistance of the Montenegrin government to relinquish control over RTCG. That is why the changes that RTCG has gone through over the past 18 years have been more simulated than honestly and dedicatedly implemented. This was most obvious when, due to certain circumstances, a balance of power in the Council of the National Public Broadcaster changed in favour of members over whom the government had no influence. At the time, the Montenegrin government took direct action and, through a series of illegal decisions, in the middle of 2018, it has established full control over RTCG. Illegal dismissals of members of the RTCG Council, and later of the management, represent the most direct demonstration of political pressure on the media in recent years in Montenegro. This is also noted in the relevant reports in which Montenegro records ever so low ratings of media freedoms, and one of the key reasons for this is RTCG as such. The current RTCG Council proved to be strict in the announcement but lukewarm in the end, thereby essentially and in entirety standing behind the existing editorial policy and has so far practically not performed responsibility nor did it sanction any of the identified violations of professional standards that occupied the attention of the Montenegrin public.

The management of the RTCG serves the government, not to the public interest, as evidenced by the decline in trust in the public service since the period of its party enslavement, which is supported by available public opinion polls, conducted also by RTCG itself.

Even in tense social dynamics, RTCG did not profile itself as a service to all citizens, as reflected in the frequent biased reporting. The lack of debate on the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Communities was particularly striking. An analysis of the content of fifteen Dnevnik 2, the central news programme, (from 25 December 2019 to 8 January 2020), showed that TVCG followed exclusively the position of the Government, which is contrary to basic professional principles and standards. During the analysed period, 111 TV pieces of various genres were published, which (in)directly covered events related to the topic of this Law. None of these pieces were value-neutral. The fasting for the Serbian Orthodox Church and the regular communion for the Democratic Party of Socialists are also reflected in the selection of interlocutors who commented on this Law in News 2 and in the debate shows after the adoption of the Law. There were no interlocutors in Dnevnik 2 who perceived the events that followed after the adoption of the Law significantly different from the government, and in the six shows of Arguments, concluding on 17 January 2020, 15 guests of different profiles have participated, of which only two were representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

However, the coverage of the Law on Freedom of Religion is no exception, although it represents one of the most drastic examples of violations of professional standards in RTCG. The lack of objective and balanced reporting, which is based on the pluralism of opinions in society, is indicated by the general cross-section of interlocutors to all the socio-political topics. The CCE team has analysed eight informative shows broadcasted in prime time – Akcenti, Argumenti, Dvogled, Fokus, Okvir, Teleskopija, Živa istina, Zumiranje. In 2019, it amounted to 236 shows with 529 guest appearances, and the analysis indicates that every fifth guest of TVCG was a representative of state institutions (20.79%), followed by non-governmental organizations (13.80%), political parties (11.53%), analysts/experts (10.02%), businessmen (6.81%), academia (5.67%), independent institutions (3.59%), trade-unions (2, 27%), local self-governments (2.27%), foreign representative offices (2.08%), public enterprises (2.08%), media (1.32%), judiciary (0.76%) and religious communities 0.57%), with the category of “others” (16.45%) which consisted of other actors from and outside Montenegro.

During 2019, in the analysed informative programmes of RTCG, the largest number of guest appearances has had the ruling DPS and representatives of state institutions. In the final ranking list, the largest number of guest appearances has DPS, followed by the University of Montenegro, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce, independent MPs, Democratic Montenegro, the European Movement in Montenegro and the University of Donja Gorica (UDG). The CCE team noted that the RTCG editorial board is also biased in the selection of political parties, because the number of guest appearances by representatives of the opposition often goes significantly below the publicly available ratings of those parties. Also, in relation to some non-governmental organizations, only RTCG favourites are present, thus the most represented are NGOs – European Movement in Montenegro, Civic Alliance, Montenegrin Tourist Associations, Lawyers’ Association, Union of High School Students of Montenegro and the Atlantic Alliance of Montenegro. No guest appearance was noted in the central debate shows of NGOs that are prominent in their critical attitude and hence often publicly attacked by the authorities and the ruling parties.

Individually, the most frequent interlocutors in the analysed political-informative shows of RTCG in 2019 are Momčilo Radulović from the European Movement in Montenegro, Sergej Sekulović, analyst, Vasilije Kostić, economic analyst, Aleksandar Drljević, Chief negotiator, Boris Raonić from the Civic Alliance, Goran Danilović from the United Montenegro, prof. Gordana Đurović from the Montenegrin Pan-European Union, Predrag Bošković, Minister of Defense, Predrag Drecun, economic analyst, Raško Konjević from the SDP, Aleksandar Damjanović, independent MP and Nikoleta Đukanović from UDG. Each of them had between four and seven guest appearances in the analysed shows during the prime time on RTCG in 2019.

The financial operation of the RTCG, according to the 2019 financial plan and report, is characterized by poor planning, as reflected in the differences in budget execution. The RTCG’s revenues in 2019 were € 16.398.362, and their structure is such that 90.07% comes from the Budget, while 8.85% refers to commercial revenues and 1.08% to other revenues. Therefore, although RTCG is organized as a public enterprise, it is essentially almost entirely financed from the Budget of Montenegro. There are a lot of ambiguities in the part of the analysis of expenditure of funds that have been allocated for digitalization, both in the manner of spending and in the part of calculation and recognition of depreciation, and these are significant funds. Due to the aforementioned, but also due to many other data, CCE recommends to the State Audit Institution (SAI) to perform an audit of the financial operations of RTCG. Finally, the RTCG Council did not adopt the Annual Financial Report of the  RTCG for 2019 submitted by the General Manager Božidar Šundić, and it is unusual that the Council did not inform the public about it via a statement, although it did manage to express itself on less important occasions.

It is clear that the governing structure cannot contribute to establishing the basis for transforming RTCG into genuine public service and that as long as this Council and management are governing the RTCG, it will remain a black spot in domestic and international reports that follow media freedoms. Nowadays, the RTCG is closed for argumentative, different and critical opinions, with occasional simulations of that otherness, and many questions are opened about the manner of operation within that house. All this is paid for by all citizens of Montenegro, although RTCG does not have inclinations towards all their differences adequately.

The report was published within the project “Facts are important 2 – For the media that we deserve!”, which is supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Damir Suljević, Project Assistant