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Montenegro – Media and freedom of expression after EC’s Progress Report 2010

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After the adoption of Progress Report in 2010, where European Commission emphasized seven areas, including press freedom and freedom of expression that should be improved so Montenegro could get a date to start negotiations on the EU membership, the Government publicly declared commitment to changes and fulfilment of the tasks.

New PM Igor Luksic immediately brought certain improvements – more tolerant language and a new style in relation to the media and civil society. A bill was introduced to decriminalize defamation.

The government gave specific help of €5 million to the electronic media (to pay taxes for the signal transfer), that significantly improved the financial situation of private broadcasters. The Government also supported the printed media, by bailing out the big newspaper distributor Bega press in the amount of € 800.000. It made possible for all Montenegrin publishers to get 85% of their receivables that Bega press owed to dailies Dan, Vijesti and Pobjeda and to the weekly Monitor.

However, despite these positive examples, the media that are not controlled by the ruling circles continue to have serious problems in Montenegro.

The state has never solved the cases of physical attacks on Montenegrin journalists, including the murder of newspaper editor Dusko Jovanovic. Even worse, when the perpetrators are known, the state still fails to dispense justice and sends a clear message to those who continue to criticize the government and write about organized crime and corruption.

Pressure on the daily Vijesti: In July and August, in three actions, unknown individuals have put on fire 4 cars of the daily Vijesti. In statements following the first incident, Director of Police Veselin Veljovic and Prime Minister Luksic, agreed that this was just an 'isolated case'. Unfortunately, they turned to be wrong, since the attacks continued while the perpetrators have still not been found and there are no signs of progress in the investigation.

It is interesting that in two cases, cars were set on fire immediately after interviews that former prime minister Milo Djukanovic gave in July to daily Pobjeda in August to Serbian TV Kosava. In each interview, Djukanovic strongly attacked the independent media, particularly the daily Vijesti.

The Persecution of Mihailo Jovovic, Vijesti's Editor in Chief: In September 2011, a court case was initiated against the Editor-in-Chief of the daily Vijesti. In August 2009, the then deputy editor-in-chief Mihailo Jovovic and photojournalist Boris Pejovic were assaulted by Mayor of Podgorica Miomir Mugosa and his son while covering a story on Mayor's repeated illegal parking and the functioning of the city's communal police. The journalists were threatened with a gun by the Mayor's son and Mr. Jovovic was admitted to hospital with a ruptured eardrum.

Colluding with the Mayor, police failed to take any evidence from the scene, including the gun, while prosecutors falsely indicted Mr. Jovovic for attacking the Mayor's driver and causing him serious brain injury, contrary to two expert medical opinions.

At the end, almost two years after the event, instead of investigating and prosecuting the Mayor, his son and driver, the prosecutor indicted Mr. Jovovic for inflicting minor injuries in the form of scratch to the driver's head with his mobile phone. He based that only on Mr. Jovovic's admission that he had a mobile phone and a tape recorder in his hands during the incident, because all other claims by the Mayor, his son and driver that Jovovic hit the driver with his hand, fist or elbow were refuted by the court experts.

Anyhow, the prosecutor decided that a mobile phone is a tool or weapon that could have seriously endangered one's health or life (up to now, prosecutors and courts considered that such tools or weapons were metal bars, baseball bats, guns, knifes, etc.) in order to have a more serious legal qualification of the alleged crime in the indictment, so that Mr. Jovovic could go to jail up to three years, if convicted.

The Mayor was fined €400 for misdemeanor, but was not charged with assaulting the Vijesti journalists and instigating the attack. The Mayor suffered no political consequences and was publicly supported by the Prime Minister and other high ruling party officials.

Treatment of the independent media representatives as criminals and enemies: In a TV interview, the state prosecutor Ranka Carapic put in the same rank Vijesti founders and members of Darko Saric's organized drugs cartel. However, she did not cite any evidence for such false claims while announcing the criminal procedure against the owners of the daily for alleged irregularities on the stock exchange. Earlier, the same prosecutor used to announce criminal procedure against Vijesti owners for other alleged crimes, but she said that she cannot do it now due to the statute of limitation, and that she was focusing on a new investigation now.

In an interview to the state TV, former PM Milo Đukanović, who is still at the helm of the ruling DPS, said that there is no opposition in Montenegro, and that „our biggest problem are some media centers that are trying to stir chaos in the DPS".

These dangerous statements were followed by a smear propaganda against the independent media, led by media controlled by the ruling circles close to Djukanovic. The representatives of the independent media have been accused for being disloyal to the Montenegrin state and depicted as non-patriotic, even for belonging to the organized crime.

Only in the independent media one can find serious investigative pieces on corruption, non-transparent privatizations, links of the political elite with criminals, etc. The aim is clear – they are trying to silence and discipline the independent media, their founders, editors and journalists by publicly lynching them.

Financial pressures through advertising: The biggest portion of the total advertising budget from the state institutions - the national and local governments, agencies, ministries, state owned companies - goes mostly to the media controlled by the state and ruling political structures

The state companies and government institutions place most of the print ads in the daily Pobjeda, that has three times smaller circulation than private dailies Dan and Vijesti.

Pobjeda sells its advertising space to the state companies and institutions for much higher prices than do Vijesti and Dan. Also, Pobjeda offers very law advertising prices to private companies, threatening thus the independent media to lose its main source of revenue.

The oldest daily, state owned Pobjeda, should have been privatized according to the Media Law already in 2002, so that it would not have the monopolistic position. That has not been done so far. Despite the state advertising monopoly, being financed from the state budget, Pobjeda incurred a loss of €4.2 million last year. Until recently, the political director of the ruling Djukanovic's DPS was the President of Board of Pobjeda. Pobjeda leads the propaganda campaign against the independent media. During 2010 and 2011. A series of 60 articles has been published using a hate speech against representatives of Vijesti and Monitor, which have often been portrayed in these texts as an organized criminal group.

Court cases: Despite numerous announcements and statements that they would stop with persecution of independent media through the courts, Montenegrin courts delivered several decisions for libel, without sound reasoning, and the fines were much higher than those prescribed by the European Court Of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Monitor weekly was recently fined for alleged defamation to pay €4.000, which is significantly higher than six monthly average wages, which is the Strasbourg Court practice.

Lawsuits against independent media are usually initiated by representatives of political and business elite, but also by the suspects from the organized crime ranks. Among plaintiffs against dailies Vijesti and Dan, and the weekly Monitor, are former prime minister Milo Djukanovic, suspected narcoboss Safet Kalic, cigarette trafficker Stanko Subotic Cane, and the war minister of interior in Republika Srpska Tomislav Kovac, suspected for war crimes and alliance with Radovan Karadzic. Some of the cases have been concluded with hefty fines against independent media, while others are still underway.

Public radio and television: RTCG has stayed captured and under complete domination of the ruling political circles. Its program does not reflect the public interest and serves mostly as propaganda of the ruling structures. There is no pluralism of ideas and subjects, there is no proportional representation of different social groups. In the news programs, the primacy is given to the ruling parties and leading government officials, while the information on actions and views of the opposition and civil society representatives significantly lags behind. RTCG TV journalist Marko Milacic was replaced as the main news anchor and now works in international news, because he publicly expressed his critical views of the ruling DPS. He was told that his contract would not be extended and that he would lose his job at RTCG.

Branko Vojicic, general manager of RTCG was replaced on 28 July 2011, after the RTCG Council refused to adopt the financial statements for 2010. According to media articles, the State Audit Institution report on RTCG cites numerous examples of non-transparent financial transactions.

Self regulatory body: The new self regulatory body has not been formed in Montenegro, but thanks to OSCE efforts a working group has been formed in order to agree the modalities of the future body. Members of the working groups are representatives of te state and controlled media – Pobjeda, RTCG and Radio Antena M. As well as representatives of the independent media – Vijesti, Dan and Monitor.

It is questionable to talk about self regulatory body in the country were most of the media, controlled by powerful people, above all by the ex PM Djukanovic, is used to persecute independent media. Even if we left aside this blatant fact, it is clear that Djukanovic's media intention is to make self regulatory body look like the RTCG Council, the body that would looks after and protects Djukanovic's family private interests and not professional standards. The media controlled by the powerful structures argue for so called united self regulatory body, while independent media representatives want a kind of a 'press council', whereby the Broadcasting Agency would regulate the electronic media, which is already its function by law.

Independent media representatives argue for self regulatory body that would look after professional standards, ethics and advice, in order to help media with suggestions and criticisms to be more objective, while giving possibility to the public to complain, highlighting mistakes and breaches of code of ethics. On the other side is the intention of the controlled media to form the so called united body, where they would have a majority and control self regulation.

The media that are the furthest from the professional standards simply do not have interest to form self regulatory body as a serious institution. We reiterate that none of the cases with elements of corruption and organized crime at the highest level was investigated by these media.

The champions of the investigative journalism are Vijesti, Dan and Monitor, and those media are under attack by the courts and the executive. Their journalists were also subject to brutal physical attacks in the last several years.

Pressure by the criminal structures: Representatives of the independent media have a huge problem with regard to security and normal functioning of their newsrooms due to the pressures from the criminal circles. In the last six months we had a drastic case of persecution of Vijesti journalist Olja Lakic, who wrote a series of articles on illegal production of cigarettes in the northern town of Mojkovac.

After that, those in that murky business have threatened Mrs Lakic and her family in several ways, while the police tried to minimize and cover it up, instead of investigating it thoroughly and protecting the journalist.

On the basis of these facts, we believe that changes in the media freedom and freedom of expression are minimal. The biggest problem is the heavy burden and practice of the former PM Djukanovic that PM Luksic, despite democratic rhetoric, obviously cannot fight off yet.


Milka Tadić Mijović
CEO Monitor, weekly

Željko Ivanović
CEO Vijesti, daily newspaper

Podgorica
13.09.2011.

 

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