Strengthening the protection of journalists by amending the Criminal Code

Nine media organizations, including the Centre for Civic Education (CCE), welcome the decision of the Committee on Political System, Judiciary and Administration to support our proposal to amend the Criminal Code, which prescribes more strict penalties for attacks on journalists and the introduction of two new criminal acts to protect journalists in conducting professional tasks.

We thank the MP of the Right Montenegro, Marko Milačić, who accepted and processed our proposal in the Parliament of Montenegro. We are especially encouraged by the fact that this proposal was unanimously supported by the parliamentary committee, which consisted of MPs of the position and the opposition. We are pleased that there is a general agreement that Montenegro has commitment to enable the environment for journalists, who face problems and unresolved attacks on journalists from the past, and the increasing number of incidents that threaten, hinder and prevent their work.

We are familiar with the opinion of the Government and their proposal, drafted by the professor of criminal law Zoran Stojanović, and we are invited to consultations on that proposal. The differences are in the legal technique and not in the essence, and both proposals have the same objective – stronger criminal protection of journalists. The Government proposes that protection should be provided through the formulation of “affairs of public importance”, which could provide enhanced protection to, for example, doctors and lawyers, which we support.

Our proposals coincide in terms of establishing qualified forms of criminal offences under Article 144 (aggravated murder) and Article 151 (heavily bodily harm), and we also support the Government’s proposal to establish qualified forms of criminal offences under Article 165 (coercion) and Article 168 (safety endangerment).

The proposals differ in that we have proposed establishing two new criminal offences, Preventing Journalists from Performing Professional Tasks and Attacking Journalists in Performing Professional Tasks, while the Government is proposing to change the wording of the existing criminal offence of Preventing Printing and Distribution of Printed Matters and Broadcasting under Article 179.

The Government’s proposal is also acceptable, in principle, provided that there is an expression in it that could lead to an excessive restriction of freedom of expression contrary to international standards and that would lead to the re-criminalization of insult in Montenegro.

Namely, the Government proposes that a person who “significantly endangers the peace of mind of someone who published an information or opinion of public importance by harsh insult or abuse, insolent or reckless behaviour”, should be punished by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years, ex officio. There are non-standardized terms in this statement, such as “opinion of public importance”, “harsh insult” and “significant endangerment to peace of mind”, which can be interpreted as making both journalists and other public figures criminally responsible for expressing an opinion containing a “dose of insults, exaggerations and provocations”, which is otherwise protected by freedom of speech in accordance with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.

The same proposal of Professor Stojanović was published within the Draft Law on Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Serbia. There is a public debate in Serbia over that controversial solution.

We remain willing to contribute to finding the best legal formulations to protect the safety of journalists and freedom of expression in Montenegro.

Human Rights Action
Trade Union of Media of Montenegro
Montenegrin Media Institute
Centre for Civic Education
Civic Alliance
Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro
Association of Journalists of Montenegro
Media Center
NGO 35 mm