Montenegro is still far from genuine media freedom

Media Freedom Day – 3 May – the media, media associations and journalists in Montenegro face in an unchanged environment compared to previous years, which is characterized by a number of problems. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to remind on the importance of the media in the defense of the public interest, i.e. that part of media workers who do their work professionally, with integrity and in accordance with ethical standards. The government in its technical mandate does not have the legitimacy to make the necessary legislative changes, and it turned out that it does not even have an equal relationship with all media, which is another expression of its democratic deficit.

No progress in investigations of attacks on journalists

CCE noted 19 attacks and threats against journalists and the media in 2022, and 21 in 2021 – a total of 39 in the last two years. During these first four months of 2023, CCE noted 4 cases of pressure, threats and verbal attacks on journalists. Institutions have a key responsibility for creating a favorable environment for media work, but awareness of this is lacking. The care taker Prime minister, Dritan Abazović, does not contribute to this either, as he continued the practice of his predecessors by targeting the media that report negatively on his and the Government’s activities. Some of the most serious cases (Duško Jovanović, Olivera Lakić, Tufik Softić) still did not receive an adequate epilogue, regardless of numerous promises by the authorities that they would be resolved. Amendments to the Criminal Code have tightened sanctions for attacks on journalists, but timely processing of attacks and restraining political leaders from threatening journalists/media will be of key importance for changing the current climate.

Controlled chaos at RTCG

Radio Television of Montenegro (RTCG) is characterized by numerous controversies, starting with the disputable election of Boris Raonic as the general director. A legally binding court epilogue on the occasion of this election is still awaited, with a note that other proceedings against Raonic by employees are being conducted before the courts. Violation of the human rights of RTCG journalist Žarko Božović due to the use of a lotated version of the Montenegrin language, financing of the production of a TV show led by a person with history of publicly expressing misogynistic, homophobic, as well as attitudes of support for Russia in connection with its aggression against Ukraine, the attitude towards journalists in the house itself, such as the case of Tanja Šuković, who has been accusing the general director of mobbing for a long time, trade union dissatisfaction – these are just some of the problems that characterize RTCG today. Also, the quantity of interlocutors is supposed to compensate for the lack of quality and genuine diversity, as well as the lack of the necessary critical edge towards decision makers. The fact that four out of five TV stations with national frequencies in Montenegro are owned by companies from Serbia indicates the importance of RTCG as a public broadcaster with a special responsibility towards the public interest, which he does not demonstrate for now.

Media financing from public funds is still insufficiently transparent

Although the issue of media financing from public funds is well defined by the Media Act, practice still warns of a lack of transparency, which was also confirmed by the CCE’s research from July 2022, and there are no sanctions. CCE previously proposed, and now strongly supports a new solution in the draft Law on Media, that public bodies may not advertise on unregistered/unregistered media, but also advocates that public bodies may not advertise in media that violate the Journalist Code of Conduct.

Strengthen self-regulation, high expectations from the new head of AEM

Self-regulation is still not functional, and CCE indicates the need to strengthen it through ombudsman positions within the media, bearing in mind that the creation of a single self-regulatory body is a utopia. A positive development is that the head of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) has found a person with a good knowledge of the media flow of Montenegro, and expectations are that the work of AEM will be improved through proactive action and greater openness to the public, unlike the earlier period, which was characterized by closedness and absent or delayed reactions.

Amendments and changes to media laws to be adopted by the new government

In November 2022, the CCE submitted a series of proposals for amendments to the Draft Law on Media and the Draft Law on Public Media Service of Montenegro as part of public hearings. Those texts bring certain unaccepted solutions, but also some that represent a step back or miss the opportunity to solve important issues in a way that fundamentally supports the freedom and development of the media in Montenegro. CCE is also in the position that the current Government in its technical mandate does not have the legitimacy to adopt either the Media Strategy or a new set of media laws, that is, that work should be done by the new Government in its full mandate and with full legitimacy.

The need for media literacy has never been greater

Media literacy, the fight against misinformation and hate speech must be high on the agenda of the new Government, bearing in mind that, despite a certain institutional shift when it comes to media literacy, more comprehensive efforts are needed to bring this topic closer to citizens who are exposed to continuous media manipulations, foreign malignant influences and hate speech, which is increasingly present, especially in comments on portals and social networks.

CCE will continue to monitor topics in the field of media pointing out bad policies and practices to which apparently no government is immune. Informal education programmes in the field of media literacy and disinformation will be in focus in the coming period as well. Without the freedom and sustainability of the media, the physical and economic security of journalists, there is no objective information to the public or a democratic society.

 Damir NIKOČEVIĆ, Development coordinator