NGOs demand that the Government enable RTCG to become a genuine public service under the new law

A group of 38 NGOs today delivered an initiative to the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milojko Spajić, and the Minister of Culture and Media, Tamara Vujović, requesting that the new legal framework ensure that RTCG becomes a genuine public service for all citizens of Montenegro.

Also, NGOs are calling on the Government to enable the appointment of new members of the RTCG Council and the general director immediately after the expected swift adoption of the law by the Parliament of Montenegro.

“We take this opportunity to point out that representatives of civil society organizations who participated in the working group for drafting media laws fully support the solutions contained in the draft media laws, which relate to new procedures for selecting Council members from NGOs, increasing the number of Council members from the current 9 to 11, and further tightening the general criteria for Council members and for the selection and dismissal of the general director,” states the initiative.

The initiative’s submitters support the latest version of the draft Law on RTCG (Law on the National Public Broadcaster – Public Media Service of Montenegro), which prescribes clear conditions for the selection of RTCG Council members, requiring them to have a VII-1 level of professional qualification and 10 years of work experience, while the general director must have a VII-1 level of professional qualification and at least 10 years of work experience. Additionally, the draft Law on RTCG stipulates that the number of Council members should be increased from the current 9 to 11. Moreover, the draft law proposes appointment procedure for RTCG Council members that limits inappropriate political parties influence by ensuring that NGO representatives in this body will not be selected by MPs in the in the Administrative Committee of the Parliament, but rather by NGOs themselves that meet strict criteria demonstrating their activism. These provisions and the tightening of criteria for selecting Council members should lead to greater independence of the RTCG Council and consequently greater independence of RTCG management.

“We believe that the legal solutions contained in the current regulation, adopted in July 2020, are poor because they allowed the NGO representatives in the Administrative Committee of the Parliament to be selected by MPs of the current majority. We remind you that since the adoption of the first Law on RTCG aligned with EU practices (2002), the right to appoint NGO representatives belonged exclusively to NGOs from prescribed categories (human rights, media, environmental protection, culture, etc.) and not to MPs, as this would enable undue political influence on the work of the RTCG Council and consequently, on the entire editorial policy of the public media service,” states the Initiative.

The new provisions contained in the draft law stipulate that only NGOs that meet the criteria of being registered at least three years before the call for the election of Council members, and having had annual budgets of at least 3000 EUR in the previous three years, with at least 2000 EUR intended for projects in the field in which they propose a candidate, can participate in the nomination process. These provisions essentially allow active NGOs the opportunity to participate in nominating their representatives to the RTCG Council.

The continuous manipulation circulated through the media linked to certain clientelistic NGOs suggesting that the number of “signatures” of NGOs determines the selection of Council members is untrue. Only active NGOs (as proven by annual financial reports published on the Tax Administration’s website) and with annual budgets of at least 3000 EUR can participate in the nomination of NGO candidates.

Political parties in the Administrative Committee should not decide on NGO representatives, just as they do not decide on representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, employers’ associations or the Montenegrin Olympic Committee, etc. Only representatives of NGOs appointed by NGOs themselves have the legitimacy to represent the public interests, because if they are appointed by political parties, they will have to represent the interests of those parties.

The current legal solution was faking NGO participation in the process of appointing RTCG Council members, as they were selected based on three criteria: NGO support, interview impressions with MPs, and the candidate’s biography. In practice, this meant that the selection process was reduced to the will of the majority political parties and their mutual agreements within the Administrative Committee. Those who want to maintain this procedure aim to make deals with political parties to get elected to the Council, rather than with NGOs that should entrust them.

“Furthermore, we consider it a good solution in the draft law to tighten the general conditions for all Council members (including NGO representatives), requiring a VII-1 level of professional qualification and 10 years of work experience. This ensures that the key governing body of RTCG includes individuals with proven work experience in areas relevant to RTCG’s operations (media, law, economics, etc.). People with longer work experience are more likely to make decisions in the public interest,” the initiative emphasizes.

Furthermore, we consider it a good solution in the draft Law on RTCG to retain the general conditions for the election of the RTCG General Director, which currently prescribes a level VII-1 qualification and at least 10 years of work experience. If the Government decides to reduce the required years of work experience for the general director from the current 10 to 5, it will be clear to everyone that the position of the general director has already been pre-arranged to appoint someone willing to make deals with political parties.

The consequence of the election of Council members from NGOs under the law passed in July 2020 by the DPS and applied in April 2021 by the then-new parliamentary majority is the current composition of the Council, which has twice unlawfully appointed the general director and is under strong party influence. The current Council was elected in a procedure that allowed significant political influence through the Parliamentary Administrative Committee, selecting NGO representatives according to their political preferences, constituting 4 out of 9 Council members. Such a Council has twice illegally appointed the general director of RTCG, as confirmed by court rulings, including one final and two Basic Court rulings.

The Government of Montenegro must understand that NGOs do not want their representatives to be decided by political party representatives, as such Council members are not NGO representatives but political party representatives, as is the case in the current Council.

We remind that precisely for this reason, only a small number of credible NGOs participated in the process of appointing RTCG Council members in April 2021. If the government intends to again exclude all credible NGOs from this process and make deals with clientelistic NGOs, it will resort to amending the draft Law on RTCG and retaining the model prepared by the DPS in July 2020 with the same goal.

We believe that increasing the number of RTCG Council members from 9 to 11 (as it was in the RTCG Law of 2002) makes it more difficult to negotiate and agree within a smaller number of members and creates better chances for decision-making in the public interest. We also consider it a good solution from the draft law to introduce the Bar Association as an entity authorized to propose a Council member, whose representative should contribute to ensuring a higher level of legal procedure knowledge in the Council and reducing errors in the application of regulations.

What we disagree with in the draft Law on RTCG is the beginning of the implementation of the part of the regulations that refers to the moment of choosing new management structures. The Ministry proposes that the implementatin of the law postpone for three years so that the current Council and RTCG management can complete their mandate. By doing so, the Ministry demonstrates an inappropriate dismissive attitude towards pressing issues and consciously undermines the necessary changes that new media laws should induce.

We remind that the process of amending media laws has been ongoing for almost 30 months and that the key demands of the European Union and the Council of Europe are to increase the independence of the management bodies of RTCG and the Electronic Media Agency (AEM). These are obligations of the state of Montenegro in the EU accession process. The final adoption of these legal texts is expected in the next month.

We hope that the Government will not exploit the positive relationship within EU structures and, in anticipation of receiving the IBAR, will not resort to proposing legal solutions that would again place RTCG under full control of political parties.

We believe there is no valid argument to delay the election of all RTCG management structures for three years, as this is the only way to create the preconditions for this institution to be freed from party influence and professionalized into a genuine public service.

Law-breaking and ignoring court rulings at RTCG cannot contribute to the government’s position that claims to be committed to European integration and the rule of law. Therefore, we call on the government and the Ministry of Culture and Media to respect this demand of the civil sector and include provisions in the final draft of the Law on RTCG that allow the law to be applied immediately after its adoption.

The initiative was submitted by:

  1. Media centar, Goran Đurović
  2. Union Media of Montenegro, Radomir Kračković
  3. Union of Free Trade Unions of Montenegro, Srđa Keković
  4. Center for investigative journalism CIN-CG, Milka Tadić Mijović
  5. Human Rights Action, Tea Gorjanc Prelević
  6. Montenegrin Media Institute, Olivera Nikolić
  7. NGO Juventas, Ivana Vujović
  8. Center for Civic Education (CCE), Daliborka Uljarević
  9. NGO Prima, Aida Perović,
  10. Association SPEKTRA, Jovan Ulićević
  11. Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI), Zlatko Vujović
  12. Alliance for equal rights of LGBTI persons ERA, Danijel Kalezić
  13. Montenegrin women’s lobby, Aida Petrović
  14. Montenegrin LGBTIQ association Queer Montenegro, Staša Baštrica
  15. Association of Montenegrin publishers, Vladimir Vojinović
  16. Women’s Rights Center (CŽK), Maja Raičević
  17. Center for the development of non-governmental organizations (CRNVO), Zorana Marković
  18. Union of Young Entrepreneurs of Montenegro, Uroš Bulatović
  19. NGO HOPE-Herceg Novi, Marina Vuksanović
  20. NGO Association of parents of children with developmental disabilities – Podgorica
  21. NGO Association for Affirmation and Support of Youth, Podgorica
  22. NGO Association for the support of children with developmental disabilities and their families of Montenegro – Podgorica
  23. NGO Vuča – Berane
  24. NGO Vunov lom – Berane
  25. Non-governmental foundation – “Help – Action for the North of Montenegro” , Andrijevica
  26. NGO “Stečajci u Crnoj  Gori”,  Berane
  27. NGO SOS phone for women and children victims of violence in Bijelo Polje
  28. NGO Manifest
  29. Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in Bijelo Polje
  30. NGO European Youth Center of Montenegro
  31. NGO Agro center
  32. NGO Democratic Center of Bijelo Polje
  33.  Association for the Protection of the Rights of Workers and Unemployed Persons of the Municipality of Bijelo Polje
  34. NVO E-Roma
  35. Association of Roma New Road
  36. NGO Democratic progress
  37. NGO Green Action
  38. NGO Ecological Society Breznica