IPI releases report on press freedom mission in Montenegro

VIENNA, Feb 29, 2012 – The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a subsidiary of the International Press Institute (IPI), yesterday released a report on the media situation in Montenegro. SEEMO conducted a press freedom mission to Podgorica, the country’s capital, from Nov. 8-10, 2011.

The delegation met with Prime Minister Igor Luksic and Deputy Minister of Culture Zeljko Rutovic; Police Department Director Veselin Veljovic; Ambassador Leopold Maurer, head of the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro, and Press and Media Officer Dragan Mugosa; Alyn Roberts, head of the Political and Public Information Unit of the Office of Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Mission to Montenegro, and Media Programme Manager Radka Betcheva; and more than 30 media representatives including owners, directors, editors-in-chief, journalists, media experts, media NGO representatives and other professionals.

The objective of the press freedom mission was to assess the media situation in Montenegro following several developments: a) the introduction of new media-related laws, including decriminalisation of defamation and libel; b) follow-up of the activities related to attacks on journalists, including the 2004 assassination of Dusko Jovanovic, editor-in-chief of the daily Dan; c) fact-finding about pressures on media; and d) evaluation of the steps taken towards the establishment of self-regulatory bodies.

Conclusions

Until December 2010, when Igor Luksic was appointed prime minister, Milo Djukanovic defined both the political and the media scene in Montenegro: media supported or criticised him and he publicly spoke of media he disliked. The current prime minister has adopted friendlier rhetoric. During the meeting with the SEEMO delegation, he expressed full commitment to respecting media freedom.

Different media-related laws have been adopted, in line with international standards. The government has assisted media survival by directly or indirectly bailing out both electronic and print media, and respect for media freedom is high on the agenda. However, media laws have to be properly implemented, institutional capacities have to be built and, above all, the government needs to make an extra effort in order to gain credibility among media representatives. Last but not least, access to information has to be improved: sometimes it is too slow.

Most journalists and editors interviewed by the SEEMO delegation consider that political and business pressure is a major threat to media freedom.

In a country with 620,000 inhabitants and with one media unit per 4,700 inhabitants, economic survival of media outlets is not easy: some depend on government or municipal subsidies, others on government-sponsored advertisements and on dwindling commercial advertising.

Survival is not guaranteed and competition is fierce. In order to gain market share, media outlets attack other media outlets by publishing allegedly incriminating information that is often difficult to substantiate, including personal attacks exchanged publicly by media owners and representatives. Investigative reporting is scarce, information is not always checked and many journalists lack steady jobs. There is no censorship, but content is determined by financiers, media owners and their business interests and/or political views, powerful individuals or fear of reprisals.

The number of major media players in Montenegro is not as elevated as the number of officially registered media outlets. Owners, editors and journalists know each other well: their personal relations, rivalries and animosities influence the media environment. Editors and journalists have been unable to form credible professional institutions, such as self-regulatory bodies, unions and associations.

Quality journalism is scarce: virtually all SEEMO interlocutors agreed that professional standards were low and the ethical code was frequently breached. The right of the public to receive fair, well-checked and reliable information has not been respected.

Recommendations:

To the Authorities in Montenegro:

1. Laws should be fairly and impartially implemented;

2. Political pressure on the media should stop;

3. The government and its institutions must gain credibility. If most media professionals perceive political pressure as a major threat to free media, authorities on all levels must step up efforts to gain confidence. The media must do its part to gain credibility, as well.

4. All outstanding cases of attacks against journalists and media property must be resolved. By finding and prosecuting all the perpetrators, the government would be demonstrating that it cares about media freedom and that it is committed to respecting a free media environment. In other words, it would demonstrate that democratic rhetoric is not a facade that camouflages political practices of the past.

To Media and Media Professionals in Montenegro:

1. Media and individual journalists should cease their public wars, mutual accusations and finger-pointing. By breaching ethical codes of conduct, they undermine their own credibility. Market share should not be acquired through unethical practices and violation of professional standards. Media should place the public’s right to information above media members’ right to insult each other.

2. Creation of a self-regulatory body would be a step in the right direction, although it is not clear if the establishment of parallel regulatory bodies would overcome the current divisions.

3. Professional training and the education of journalists must be strengthened at all levels. The public deserves credible and verified information.

To the European Commission and the OSCE:

The international community must keep up the pressure on Podgorica. Montenegro aspires to join the EU and must therefore abide by the rules for doing so. The international community should use all of its instruments in order to ensure that laws are not only changed but also implemented. It should engage in further capacity building of different institutions. After all, learning democratic procedures is a process.

Source: International Press Institute

The report can be downloaded here: Media_Scene_in_Montenegro__2011 (pdf)

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