The newly agreed code of ethics for the media should improve reporting standards in Montenegro – although the lack of penalties for non-compliance is seen as a problem.
By Dusica Tomovic, BIRN, Podgorica
Journalists in Montenegro have agreed on a revised Code of Ethics, which could help the country’s media – sharply divided between anti- and pro-government outlets, raise their standards.
The revised code was prepared by a six-member group consisting of representatives of the independent media outlets Dan, Vijesti and Monitor as well as the national Media Self-Regulation Body.
The process lasted about a year and was conducted under the auspices of the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
The new code sets new rules for online commenting, privacy issues, reporting on children, conflicts of interest, transparency, plagiarism and reporting from political rallies.
According to the code, online media should define their internal rules regarding the comments of third parties with the aim of avoiding illegal and unethical content but with full respect for freedom of expression. Commentators must be familiar with these rules.
However, the code does not mention any sanctions or liability in the event of non-compliance with the rules.
The chief editor of the newspaper Dan, Nikola Markovic, told BIRN that in amending the code, first adopted in 2003, they had tried to define professional standards and respect for them.
“We have not been able to agree on interpretation of those standards, however. What is the highlight of investigative journalism for the independent media, the pro-government media see as an attack on the state and on constitutional order,” Markovic noted.
The media must act in good faith even when they make strong criticism, the documents reads. Although journalistic freedom covers “possible exaggeration or provocations”, slander is not acceptable, nor are terms that are not justified for the purpose of reporting or that do not serve the public interest.
Offensive speech, the code explain, refers to gratuitous personal attacks and cannot be protected by appealing to the right to freedom of expression.
The new rules also oblige the media to respect the “originality” of content. This means that reporters may not use someone else’s content, ideas or photographs without the crediting the authors and sources.
“The launch of the new code is a significant step,” the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, said.
“I congratulate the working group, as they have paved the way for strengthening media self-regulation and raising professional standards of the media in Montenegro.
“Media self-regulation is an important tool to safeguard editorial independence, promote professional standards of journalism and ensure increased credibility as well as solidarity among the media community,” Mijatovic added.
The latest resolution by the European Parliament on Montenegro, released in March, highlighted the need for improved media standards.
The resolution voiced concern about the state of media freedom and the “weak professional and ethical standards” among the media in Montenegro.
The article was originally published by Balkan Insight.