From good promises to bad approaches

Zdravko Krivokapić’s expose dealt with the media narrowly, highlighting the existing problems in this area, without goals, plans, and solutions, while Dritan Abazović and Milojko Spajić’s exposes listed specific strategic and legislative goals in the field of media. However, there is no progress in this area, and certain conflicting approaches, actions, and decisions have made many ambitious promises meaningless, these are the conclusions reached by the team of the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) comparing the last three exposes of mandate holders for the composition of the Government of Montenegro.

In Zdravko Krivokapić’s expose, media freedom is positioned among the priorities. Nevertheless, apart from pointing out the problems and bad practices of the previous government, the expose does not provide precise goals or explain how the general situation in the field of media freedom in Montenegro will be improved. “Given the importance of media freedom, transparency, citizen participation, as well as the indisputable role that the media play in Montenegrin society, we considered that this area needs to be moved from the current Ministry of Culture, in order to, so that through this new department in the Ministry of Public Administration, digital society and the media, and through a more sensitive relationship, they achieve an improvement of the environment in which the media in Montenegro operate“, it is stated in the expose through the explanation of the changes in the organizational structure of the Government.

The European Commission’s report for 2021, in the section on freedom of expression, states that, despite certain signals from the Government that they will consider this area a priority, the recommendations have only been partially fulfilled, while the safety of journalists remains a cause for serious concern.

In Abazović’s and Spajić’s expose, the media are not listed in the Government’s priorities, but those documents address this topic through clearer strategic and legislative goals. Also, the fact that the media are treated in these two exposes in an almost identical way and to the same extent leads to the conclusion that Spajić practically took over the part about the media from Abazović’s expose, adapting it insignificant.

Both exposes commit to strategic alignment with the Media Strategy 2022-2026, improvement of conditions for fair media operations, media pluralism, media literacy, financial independence, digital transformations, strengthening of independence and professionalization of the Public Service. Also, they point out as a goal the improvement of the legislative framework by completing work on amendments to the Media Law, the Law on the National public broadcaster RTCG, as well as the Law on audio-visual media services, along with their implementation.

In Dritan Abazović’s expose, certain promises were made about strengthening the independence of the Public Service. “Amendments to the Law on the National public broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro will strengthen the independence of the RTCG Council and the management’s responsibility for the achieved results, which includes changing the procedures for the selection of Council members,” it is stated in this document. However, there were no key changes in the procedure for electing members of the Council, and the Prime Minister and the Government conspicuously kept silent about the final court verdict on the illegal election of the general director and the re-voting of the members of the RTCG Council who ignored that verdict. 

The reports of the European Commission for Montenegro for 2022 and 2023 warn that the recommendations from previous reports in this area have only been partially respected, and that they still stand as valid, that is, that the problems are not being solved systematically. Also, the Freedom House Report for Montenegro from 2023 in the area of freedom of expression notes that Abazović has brought back some bad habits from the period of DPS rule in the form of inflammatory rhetoric and targeting of journalists. “Unlike the DPS Government, Krivokapić’s Government did not put the pressure on journalists. Abazović, on the other hand, brought back some of the DPS’s incendiary rhetoric that targets critically oriented journalists”, assesses from this relevant international organization.

Milojko Spajić’s expose in a little more detail addresses the position of media workers in more detail, with the promise ” to work on the improvement of the economic and social position of media employees and freelance journalists/photojournalists and create a safe environment for their work”. He also makes an announcement that he will “initiate that hate speech in the Criminal Code be defined as a separate criminal offense “.

It is evident that all promises from the exposes should be taken with reserve. For example, in Spajić’s expose, it was pointed out that he will work to liberate the media from political and financial influence. Still, one of the first decisions of the 44th Government related to the field of media was to propose a change in the way of financing Public Service, which until now was characterized by a legal solution that, within that framework, guaranteed a higher degree of independence of the Public Service, and with the change of which the financing of the Public Service brought the service in a position of greater dependence on the Government, which is especially problematic in the Montenegrin context in which RTCG has yet to position itself as a truly public service.

These documents were reviewed through the CCE’s programme, supported by the Core Grant regional project SMART Balkans – Civil Society for a Connected Western Balkans. This project is implemented by the Center for the Promotion of Civil Society (CPCD), the Center for Research and Public Policy (CRPM), and the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway. The content of the text is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of CPCD, CRPM, IDM, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway.

Nikola Mirković, Programme Associate