Government should finally commit to media and media freedoms

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) congratulates 3 May, the World Press Freedom Day, to all media and media representatives in Montenegro and points out with regret that this year this day is being celebrated again in an atmosphere in which journalists cannot do their job safely and without negative consequences.

The environment in which the media operate in Montenegro leads to further erosion of overall media freedoms, as noted by many relevant domestic and international reports, such as the latest report of the Reporter Without Borders.

Since 2010, there have been 55 attacks in Montenegro, with the note that neither the murder of Duško Jovanović nor the attempted murder of Tufik Softić and Olivera Lakić have not yet been fully revealed. The latest physical and verbal attacks on journalists (Jelena Jovanović, Sead Sadiković, Esad Kočan, Nebojša Šofranac) are also worrying, representing consequence of strong and inadequately addressed tensions in the last year and a half. None of these cases has a final epilogue, whereby the key responsibility for establishing a favourable environment for the work of the media falls on institutions of the system that must resolve these cases and prosecute responsible persons.

CCE recently presented findings of the research “How do citizens perceive media in Montenegro?” which indicated that a significant share of respondents (38.5%) deems that journalists and media assets in Montenegro are endangered, while slightly more than a third (34.2%) consider that journalists are not adequately paid for their work. This is a confirmation of earlier CCE claims that the attacks on journalists, in addition to their poor economic position, also resulted in an increase in self-censorship, i.e. a decline in a number of journalists willing to dedicate themselves to professional and investigative journalism. Ultimately, this also affects the overall decline in the quality of the information provided to citizens.

Although the public funding of media is well regulated through the new Law on Media, which was adopted at the end of July 2020, there is still no public register of advertising of state bodies in the media. Since 2012, CCE’s researches indicate that public funding of media, through various forms, is directly related to how media report on government decisions and activities, i.e. whether they take a critical or supportive stance.

RTCG is still not a public service for all citizens, nor does it produce enough content that includes different argumentative positions. The new Law on National Public Broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) did not improve the manner of electing members of the RTCG Council but did expand the space for political influence on the members of the Council, and, by extension, on the management and editorial team of RTCG. The lack of objective and balanced reporting is indicated by the general cross-section of the interlocutors on all socio-political conducted by the CCE during 2020. There is a justified suspicion that the trend of party influence will continue, with the difference in the change of actors that correspond to the results of the last parliamentary elections. RTCG as a Public Broadcasting Service must have financial and editorial independence, and it must not be a tool for strengthening party influence of any political option.

The new Government should work more diligently on media pluralism and media freedoms, as well as on strengthening media independence. Unfortunately, even after more than four months, there are no concrete actions of the new Government and the competent Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, except for the announcement of the creation of the Media Strategy, and without an explanation of its purpose.

Media freedom is unquestionable, therefore, any interference with the autonomous right of journalists to truthfully and objectively inform about everyday life is a gross violation of the fundamental postulates of democratic societies.

Damir Nikočević, Development Coordinator