by Goran Đurović, 4 October 2016
Goran Đurović reflects on the rejected proposals to amend the media laws and calls for a wide debate over the future of media in Montenegro.
The lack of dialogue of the key social actors about the future of the media in Montenegro is overwhelming. The debate was not even fostered when the recently proposed amendments to the media laws were passing the parliamentary procedure. Not only were the proposals of the opposition rejected, but the opportunity for reconsidering the media laws concerning some of the major issues in the media sphere was entirely missed.
In Montenegro, many are apparently dissatisfied with the situation in the media. Constant mutual accusations of the opposing media, attacks on journalists and assets of media outlets, brutal violation of the journalistic code in clashes with political opponents and representatives of non-governmental organizations, are only some of the many problems. The division of the media with those that are trying to work professionally (although they do not always succeed) on one side, and those whose only goal is to support the ruling parties, regardless of professional standards, on the other side, is still very apparent. The public service broadcaster, RTCG (Radio and Television of Montenegro), is far from being a model of professional conduct, for other media or for the citizens. It seems however that this situation in the media suits someone.
Amendments to the Law on Electronic Media and the Law on Public Broadcasting Services have been prepared by the Government of Montenegro, while the proposal of the Law amending the Law on Media has been submitted by representatives of the three opposition parties. The laws have been in the parliamentary procedure for a month, but they haven’t been the subject of a serious dialogue. This was a rare opportunity to consider how the situation of the media can be improved in Montenegro, but it was missed and it is uncertain when will these issues reach the agenda of a parliamentary session again.
Proposals of the media laws entered the Parliamentary procedure on 5 July and they were subject of voting on 29 July. Not surprisingly, the amendments to the media laws which were proposed by the Government were adopted, but almost all proposals to media laws which were coming from the opposition parties were rejected. Why were the latter judged to be so problematic?
The proposals of the opposition parties were in fact based on the initiatives of non-governmental organizations. One of them was to increase the volume of broadcasters’ own production to 20 percent of the programming, in amendments to the Law on Electronic Media1. The introduction of a minimum percentage of own production is meant to ensure that the broadcasting license may be obtained only by the sustainable AVM service providers who can contribute to media pluralism and to citizens being better informed. This also prevents unfair competition and the possibility that the media with almost no production of their own and almost without employees generate revenues from advertisement on equal footing. This request is justified the more so because the Article 59, paragraph 4 of the Law on electronic media lays down: “A broadcaster is obliged to dedicate at least 10 percent of the weekly program to releasing news and information from the area of its coverage.”
Also, one of the important proposals concerning the law on electronic media, which the ruling majority in the Parliament rejected, was to establish a Fund for the promotion of media pluralism. Specific sources of financing of the Fund were proposed – compensation paid by cable operators, in the amount of 0.40 euro per month for each user logged on 31 December of the previous year, as well as “from the state budget funds in the amount of 0.005% of GDP (gross domestic product)”. The proposed funds would be used to support the production of content that satisfies the public interest in different areas. The priority areas of public interest for each year, as suggested, can be determined by the Council of the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM). The Fund could be used by the electronic media for their own production, covering specific local or regional territory or operating on the entire territory of the country. This makes it possible for broadcasters that actually produce the program in Montenegro to improve their content, for the benefit of better informing of the public. The Council of AEM can be a body that makes the final decision on the allocation of funds, but on the basis of the proposal of independent experts whom it will not be possible to ignore (model of the allocation of EU funds).
Proposed revenues from cable operators, with a total of around 170,000 customers, should amount to around 800,000 euros a year. From the other source, the Budget of Montenegro, with a fixed allocation of 0.005% of GDP, it is possible to provide around 200,000 euros annually. This wasn’t good enough solution for the governing structure in the Parliament, and moreover there were no modifications or improvement suggested in return.
In the process of adoption of the Law Amending the Law on Public Broadcasting Services, the proposals to increase the number of members of the Council of public service broadcaster RTCG, in order to enable better public interest performance were completely ignored. The proposed increase of the number of candidates from the NGO, as opposed to candidates directly financed from the budget of Montenegro, would ostensibly contribute to the independence of the Council, as the biggest governing body of RTCG.
Proposal to increase the responsibilities of the RTCG Council and the Director General in respect to the financial and program (especially news program) results was also not accepted. In addition to the existing conditions under which the Parliament dismisses the RTCG Council, the proposal was that it should also happen if:
• the planned annual budget was exceeded by the end of the year and the broadcaster operated with a financial loss
• RTCG is in the third or lower position among broadcasters with national-level licence in respect to the trust of citizens on the basis of opinion polls
With these changes, greater financial discipline would be introduced and a possibility of irresponsible spending of taxpayers’ money would be reduced. Public opinion research would have to be done at least once a year, in accordance with the methodology adopted by the Council of RTCG. It would be a test if the RTCG manages to gain the trust of the citizens and thus to confirm its public service role.
In the public debate on the Law on Public Broadcasting Services no one also commented on the proposal to improve functioning of the bodies of RTCG concerning the appeals of the viewers in the pre-election period. It was proposed that upon complaint received during the election period, a session of the RTCG Council must be held within 48 hours. This proposal to set an obligation for urgent consideration of complaints of listeners and viewers meets the recommendations of the OSCE/ODIHR from the report of 25 June 2013 on the occasion of the election for the President of Montenegro. The recommendations state that the Law on Public Broadcasting Services should specify a clear standard related to consideration of complaints of listeners and viewers. Delay in considering such complaints, until the post-election period, means that possible corrective measures would also come too late. The proposal thus enables drawing the attention of the editors, through recommendation of the Council of RTCG, to the possible violation of professional principles and standards and thus makes the enhancement of the public service possible while the pre-election communication is still ongoing. Also, it was suggested that the Director General of RTCG appoints the directors of Radio, Television and the Portal with the consent of the RTCG Council, by which the largest governing body assumes additional responsibility for the implementation of program objectives of the public service broadcaster.
Proposal of the Law Amending the Law on Media offered several solutions that should increase transparency of the expenditure of public funds in the context of advertising.
Unfortunately, no international organization has called on political entities and the scientific community for a serious dialogue while the media laws were in the Parliament of Montenegro. Immediately after the voting the letter of the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic regarding the recent proposals appeared in the public. Mijatovic wrote that imposing any general programming quotas for the production of own program represented an unduly limit to freedom of the media and the editorial policy. “The proposed quota for producing 20 percent of own program content is not justified, especially for the media who do not use limited resources such as the FM frequency or MUX capacities, but conditional access platforms. Defining the mentioned as a condition for access to the fund for pluralism, limits the space for potential users which opens up another area of discrimination”, said Mijatovic. But it should be noted that EU rules provide similar general quota which are here challenged by Ms. Mijatovic. The proposed amendments to the Law on Electronic Media and the Law on Public Broadcasting Services are not inconsistent with the EU Directive on Audiovisual Media Services. The Montenegrin Law on Electronic Media from 2011 (Article 61) entails exactly the Articles 16 and 17 of the EU rule and the obligation that broadcasting media in Montenegro ensure that European audiovisual works constitute at least 51% of the annual transmission time. This percentage includes the program contents of the own production of broadcasters. The Article 59 of the same Law sets an obligation for electronic media to broadcast at least 10% of news and information from the coverage area. Percentage of own production was also introduced by the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) already in 2012 in the Rulebook on the conditions for determining program content which is considered as the own production. This Rulebook (Article 11), requires that a broadcaster has at least 10% of its own program in relation to the total broadcasting content. It remains unclear how the mentioned quotas were never considered problematic2, and the proposed increase of the medias own production from 10 to 20 percent quota suddenly became so undesirable although it apparently seeks to achieve the public interest.
Ms. Mijatovic objected also to the proposal concerning the Fund for the Encouragement of Media Pluralism, but failed to provide a detailed justification. I hope that Ms. Mijatovic will continue the dialogue regarding the media laws and indicate clearly which amendments proposed by the opposition are in violation of international standards and in particular the rules of the European Union.
Interestingly, the High Representative of OSCE for Media Dunja Mijatovic, while addressing the Prime Minister and the public, failed to mention the negative comments by an OSCE expert about the Law on Public Services, proposed by the Government and adopted by the majority in the Parliament, which was provided by an OSCE expert. Mayor concerns and comments were related to financial discipline and transparency, (in)dependence and control over the public service broadcaster. A negative assessment of the text of the law proposed by the Government was given by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) as well.
There was no serious dialogue because obviously there is no will for any enhancements in the media sphere. If the media community does not start a stronger dialogue on the legal framework in which it operates, then it should be done by another interested parties, such as non-governmental organizations or political parties. Any further delay in dealing with the problems will further ruin the media scene.
The author is a member of the RTCG Council and an advocate of media laws.
1 More precisely, it has been proposed that the broadcasting license may be obtained by legal or natural person that is registered with the competent authority for production and broadcasting of radio or television program and that provides for the production of at least 20% of its own programming.
2 Also the fact that some media did not respect these provisions and that AEM tolerated did not seem to present such an issue.
The article was originally published by South East European Media Observatory.