By Sunčica Bakić, Advisor at the Agency for Electronic Media of Montenegro
The picture of media landscape, broadcast by Montenegro today is pretty much TV static. This is evidenced by numerous studies, the analysts’ consensus, cries of journalists’ associations. According to Reporters Without Borders, Montenegro is ranked 114th for the level of media freedom, which is two times worse ranking compared with the 58th position in 2007. The reasons for such devastating results, at beginning of the digital era, have many roots – global and some quite local, some decades old or just born.
Fundamentals of the regulatory framework were established by adoption of the first media laws in early 2000s. At that time, the problem of media concentration wasn’t in sight as an imminent and real danger to pluralism, so focus was placed on de-monopolization of the state in the media sector. Proposed solutions had been easily accepted and even more so, ten years later, more easily abandoned, without analytical review whether the problem was in the rule or in its implementation, with particular emphasis on the unwillingness for tough and painful decisions to be executed completely.
Establishment of the media market was conducted by performing liberal interpretation of market entry. In doing so, we have forgotten that “pluralism of the media does not mean pluralism of information”. Through the idea of freedom of speech, we wrapped the expectation that the market will do its work – cut out the inefficient players from the game. What we have overlooked is that the transformation of the media sector cannot be considered outside of the political context and the general democratic capacities of the society. Media too reliant on funding from state funds or various international donors have never managed to develop a culture and practice of market economy. As for the market – we did not allow it to function. Whenever circumstances required that the number of participants should be reduced, pressure was made to create different programs of government assistance, grants, funds, that artificially maintain a large number of media. Consequently, the basic question of media freedom today is not a question of quantity but a matter of quality of the media offer.
Simultaneously with these local events, a number of changes took place at the global level – concentration of media ownership and convergence of technologies. The market is facing new subjects that integrate a variety of AVM services, broadcasting and distribution, the entire process of media production and distribution. New products that connect the different services and platforms have been developed. The convergence on supply side paradoxically led to divergence on the demand side, in behaviour and expectations of the audience.
Furthermore, the conditions are more complex because of the lack of sound and clearly defined policy, regulatory framework isn’t developing at a pace that technology and the overall trends in the media industry require, the position of an independent regulatory body is systematically jeopardized, the basic principles of self-regulation don’t function at an adequate level.
Small and fragmented Montenegrin media market needs to respond to these and similar challenges, with weakened subjects exposed to international, predominantly regional, competition and questionable interest of major advertisers.
Such composite image is significantly influencing the quality of media output, that is put in the service of making profit (or at least the resources necessary for mere survival). That business, politics and various interests represent an integral part of the media scene is evidencing omnipresent phenomenon that the media are now more concerned with discrediting each other instead of critically analysing social problems. Only rare ones use the forgotten term “information” when talking about the media product, media today offer “content” to be sold and that hardly contains a trace of something that information meant – accuracy, truthfulness, timeliness.
Is it possible, from the current situation, to improve the framework in such a way that in its essence, not only in form, it can guarantee the media viability placed in service of pluralism support, protection of fundamental cultural and social values, integrity as an ethical concept?
The development of the media system is part of a much more comprehensive process of democratic development and doesn’t have a measurable and final result, we can only follow its progress in terms of broader social change. For as much as it may sound as a phrase – the media are reflection of a society, and in this context, improving the work of the media in medium term will to a large extent depend on the development of society as a whole.
On the other hand, media represent an important lever for a great number of social changes and on that basis current situation requires a sort of consolidation of system capacity, primarily in order to form clear media policy that would result in long-term and sustainable solutions, instead of ad hoc mechanisms. Based on previous experience, a good regulatory framework on paper – does not guarantee good results in practice. What makes the difference are strong institutions. And that is why efforts must be directed towards strengthening the institutions that implement laws and strengthening their capacity for an adequate response to changes in the functioning of the media today. Because change is inevitable, progress is not.