Ministry of Culture and Media to carefully assess received comments regarding the media legislation

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) submitted a series of suggestions for amendments to the Draft Law on Media and the Draft Law on Public Media Service of Montenegro, which the Ministry of Culture and Media posted for public discussion. CCE notes that those texts bring certain improved solutions, but some represent a step back or miss the opportunity to solve important issues in a manner that essentially supports the freedom and development of the media in Montenegro.

Concerning comments related to the Draft Law on Media, the CCE assess that it is unacceptable to change the time limit for removing comments on portals with illegal content from the current 60 minutes to 8 hours as it makes the entire norm meaningless. If the media does not have enough capacity to react quickly to a report, then they can close the space for comments, instead of conscientiously, for the sake of greater readership, contributing to the overall degradation of the culture of speech, the spread of fake news and contamination, without them bearing responsibility while citizens remain without effective protection. Also, it is necessary to establish a more efficient control system for the processing of comment reports, and in this, the competent Ministry of Culture must be crucial.

Furthermore, the CCE strongly supports the proposed solution that public bodies must not advertise on unregistered/nonrecorded media, and that part suggests that in addition to records in the competent Ministry, they must be registered subjects, which includes transparency of ownership. The media have the right to their editorial policy, but also the obligation to respect the legal framework of the state of Montenegro, and institutions and public companies must not be a source of funding for those who do not operate according to Montenegrin laws. It should also be noted that the majority of such portals are used for the lowest confrontations with dissidents, sharing disinformation, publishing insults and slanders, and taxpayers’ money should not be the support for such an approach.

This legal text should contribute to the increase of production in Montenegro on topics that are important to its citizens, and this can be done by linking the allocation of funds from the Media Pluralism Fund to production, i.e. that funds cannot receive media that do not have at least 50% of their production and that production should cover topics from Montenegro. Also, the allocation of these funds should be linked to the strengthening of professional standards, so those media that violate them would not even have the right to apply.

CCE remains with the previous position that self-regulation of the media cannot be financed from budgetary means as this turns it into regulation, and the media’s investment in self-regulatory mechanisms and their promotion is also a reflection of these media’s commitment to ethical standards.

In a positive framework, the CCE indicates that the Draft Law on Media introduces the definition of journalists, emphasizes the importance of self-regulation, increases funds for media financing by almost 120%, but also specifies certain criteria and establishes better control over the use of these funds. Moreover, the CCE assesses as important, in the Montenegrin context, that the protection of journalists is improved so that they cannot suffer the consequences due to a different opinion about the media in which they work, but also in the manner how they can protect sources.

In its comments on the Draft Law on the Public Media Service of Montenegro, the CCE points out more strict conditions for the election of the general director as a step forward, but also the clarification of the potential conflict of interest, which is especially important considering the last, controversial election of the general director of RTCG. It is also positive that the criteria for the selection of members of the RTCG Council are specified in the references of the NGOs, and the part about ensuring judicial protection in cases of dismissal of a Council member is particularly important, which was not the case until now.

On the other hand, the CCE is on the position that the RTCG Council should not be conceived as bulky, because it is not a way to ensure pluralism of views, but it is an approach that can further complicate the functioning of this body and create the belief that every social group should have its representative, which is limiting the effectiveness of the Council. Also, it is inappropriate for candidates’ personal characteristics to be the decisive factor in the selection instead of professional references.

Finally, the entire Draft Law becomes meaningless if the election of new management bodies of the RTCG is not done immediately after its adoption. Namely, the new legal text introduces new criteria in the form of qualifications and work experience of the members of the Council, as well as new rules for NGOs as proposers, hence it is illogical not to initiate procedures for the selection of new management bodies in RTCG immediately after the adoption of the Law, especially taking into account that part of the current management does not meet the conditions foreseen by the proposed amendments.

The CCE appreciates that it is the duty of the Ministry of Culture and Media, as the bearer of this process, to carefully consider all received comments and suggestions and ensure the systematic improvement of the framework and environment for the work and activities of the media in Montenegro, which would be following the best international standards and practices.

Damir NIKOČEVIĆ, Development Coordinator