Comments on portals not in line with the Media Law

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) conducted, from 15 February to 15 March, monitoring of comments on news portals in Montenegro, with the aim of a qualitative and quantitative assessment of compliance with the new Media Law, especially Articles 34 – 39 of the Law. Detailed data indicate that this legal framework, unfortunately, still has not affected the decontamination of that area.

Current Media Law came into force in August last year, with innovation in the part of the obligation of portals, under the threat of misdemeanour liability, to remove comments of illegal content no later than 60 minutes of notification or receiving a report. This should have acted preventively in finding modalities of the portals themselves to act proactively concerning such comments.

The CCE team reviewed the comments daily on 10 portals in Montenegro (Vijesti, CdM, Analitika, RTCG, AntenaM, In4S, Pobjeda, Aktuelno, Standard and Borba), in two texts at each portal, chosen according to the criteria of the most commented or most widely read texts on that portal, i.e. according to the personal choice of the monitor for those portals where such a criterion is not applicable. During the monitoring, which lasted 29 days, a total of 31,945 comments were reviewed, which were within 580 texts or 58 texts per portal, with an average of 1101.55 comments per day of monitoring, or 55.08 comments per text.

Portal Vijesti dominated both in readership and the number of comments, therefore, the largest number of reviewed comments was on that portal, i.e. total of 14,960 comments or 46.83%, followed by CdM portal with 6,654 comments (20.82%) and In4S with 3,189 comments (9.98%). The portal Borba follows with 1,715 comments (5.36%), then portals Analitika with 1.438 comments (4.5%) and RTCG with 1.354 comments (4.24%). Further, 1.171 comments (3.66%) had portal Pobjeda, while portal AntenaM had 1.040 comments (3.25%). The lowest number of comments in selected texts had portals Aktuelno and Standard, with 358 comments (1.12%), or 66 comments (0.2%), respectively.

The monitoring covered the period shortly before the local elections in Niksic municipality, as well as the day after the elections. Dynamics of the current social and political events influenced the number of comments on portals, and except for elections in Niksic, the most attention in comments was given to events in Tuzi, when citizens protested because of the new closure of restaurants and bars in this municipality, then the arrival of the first vaccines in Montenegro, attendance of Montenegrin delegation at funeral of the bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), Atanasije, but also the events from the protest in Cetinje against several activities of the Government. The comments of the so-called trolls were usually registered in the texts in which there was mention of the president of Serbia, specific in the form and content that expressed support to the president of Serbia.

The number of comments varied daily, and within the selected articles during the monitoring, there was a small number of those which did not generate comments, and this refers to portals that generally have a lower number of comments.

Out of ten selected articles with the largest number of comments all were on portal Vijesti. When it comes to reviewed articles per portal, the most commented article on portal Vijesti had 678 comments, on portal CdM 288 comments, on portal In4S 183 comments, on portal RTCG 113 comments and on portal AntenaM 87 comments. They are followed by Portal Borba which had 86 comments, portal Pobjeda with 73 comments, portal Analitika with 70 comments, portal Aktuelno with 22 comments and portal Standard with 4 comments on the most commented text.

Analysis of the content of these comments indicates that there were no portals without comments with illegal content. The narrative of the comments depended on the portal and current affairs, but also on the person who made the statement, i.e. the person to whom the text refers.

In the context of Article 36 of the Media Law, which prohibits discriminative contents or contents with hate speech towards a certain group, comments containing hate speech based on nationality are mostly directed to the persons of Montenegrin and Serbian nationality. Also, comments with hate speech on grounds of religion were noted, as well as the comments with hate speech towards LGBT persons. The most violations of this Article were noted on portal In4S, which contained as many as 45 articles with comments of controversial content within this Article, followed by portal CdM with 42 articles, portal AntenaM with 41 articles, portal Pobjeda with 40 articles and portal Vijesti with the same number.

In the context of other articles of the Media Law, particularly Articles 34 – 39 of the Law (apart from Art. 36 that was analysed separately), a large number of illegalities was also noted. This refers to the comments contrary to Article 34, which guarantee the presumption of innocence, then comments contrary to Article 38 Paragraph 6 which prohibits hidden advertising, while the most frequent are comments which contain large number of insults contrary to Article 39 of the Law, which prohibits the publishing of information jeopardizing honour and reputation. The largest number of articles with comments violating the mentioned articles of the Law was registered on portal Borba, where 51 articles contained illegal comments, followed by portal In4S with 43 articles, portal Vijesti with 42 articles, portal CdM with 41 articles and portal Analitika with 35 articles with comments of illegal content.

Monitoring of comments on news portals is conducted within the project “Media for me!”, implemented by the CCE with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Norway and the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD) of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Damir Suljević, Programme Associate