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Montenegro: Media and Freedom of Expression, Regular Report 2013

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In 2013, Montenegrin independent media and its representatives have been exposed to stronger and more vicious attacks and pressures than in the previous years. Independent dailies Vijesti and Dan and the weekly Monitor continued to be the main targets. These were manifested through physical assaults on journalists and independent paper's premises, financial pressures and legal proceedings. Not surprisingly, therefore, Montenegro is now ranked on the Reporters without Borders' list on media freedoms at the 113th position, which is lower than year before when Montenegro was on 107th place. In Europe, only Macedonia, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine have lower rankings, while in the region Bosnia is at 68th position, Serbia on 63th.

The 2013 EU Progress Report contains the following statements in this regard:"The involvement of public officials, in particular police officers, in cases of intimidation and assaults against journalists remains a source of serious concern, as does the recent rise in cases of violence against journalists. All old and recent cases of threats and violence need to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted" and, "Freedom of expression needs to be strengthened, including by properly investigating all cases of violence and threats against journalists and bringing perpetrators to justice."

The case of Tufik Softic: In August 2013, Mr. Tufik Softic, a journalist of the weekly Monitor and daily Vijesti was attacked by an explosive device activated in the front yard of his house that has damaged his car. This journalist was also attacked 6 years ago at the same location where he was brutally beaten by several persons. No person has ever been held responsible for the violent acts against the journalist, who at that time suffered serious injuries. In his reporting for Monitor and Vijesti, Mr. Softic investigated smugglings of cigarettes and other illegal goods in the northern region of Montenegro.

The case of Miodrag Babovic and Luka Zekovic: Journalist and a photographer of the daily Vijesti, were attacked on 3 September by Vladimir-Beba Popović, director of the newly founded NGO Institute for Public Policy and former Communications Chief of the Serbian Government, while performing their regular duties in front of the Institute's premises. Mr Popovic took away the camera from the journalists and attacked them verbally, while Mr Zoran Jovanovic, a bodyguard of Prime Minister Djukanovic, was standing next to him. Vijesti filed a suit against Mr Popovic, but the same was rejected. Beforehand, Prime Minister Djukanovic stated that the attack was fabricated and that "it never happened."

The case of Olivera Lakic: On 20 July 2012, the Basic Court of Podgorica sentenced Ivan Buskovic to nine months in prison for physically attacking Vijesti reporter Ms Olivera Lakic on March 7, 2012.The attack, preceded by threats against Lakic and her family, followed articles she wrote alleging that cigarettes with fake branding were illegally produced at the tobacco factory in the northern town of Mojkovac. Ivan Buskovic, a 29-year-old petty criminal whom Lakic recognized as her attacker, according to Ms Lakic did not have any motive to assault her. Authorities continue to investigate whether Buskovic was operating under the orders of others, an issue the court did not address. In December 2012, Montenegrin prosecution authorities examined in relation to this case Mr Milenko Rabrenovic, a police officer and driver of Mr Veselin Veljovic, former head of the Montenegrin Police Authority, but the motives, master-minders and organizers of these attacks are still unknown.

The case of Vijesti premises: Stones have been thrown twice on Vijesti's premises. This happened during the Pride Parade, on 20 October 2013 and a month later. Although there is a video record of the second attack, no one has been held responsible for the same.

Police authorities have still not found the arsonists who torched four vehicle of Vijesti during summer 2011. Although representatives of the police and government claim that they are diligently working on these cases, no progress can be reported in their resolving to date.

The case of Milena Perovic: President of the Assembly of the Municipality of Kolasin, Mr. Mile Sukovic conveyed threats to Monitor's journalist Ms Perovic in a telephone conversation with a representative of the weekly's editorial board. This happened during summer, after Ms Perovic wrote an article describing business deals and the political career of Mr Sukovic. The Prosecutor's Office initiated a case against Mr Sukovic in this regard. The case is now under consideration by the Basic court of Kolasin.

The case of Milka Tadic Mijovic: Executive Director of Monitor has received a threatening and vulgar SMS message on 16 November that she reported to the police. Although the message was sent from an unprotected telephone number, police authorities have still not disclosed the identity of the author of these threats.

The case of Marko Milacic: Monitor's journalist was physically attacked in a restaurant by Veselin Barovic, a Montenegrin businessman and his bodyguards. Mr Barovic is a close friend of Prime Minister Djukanovic. The first level court concluded that Mr Barovic was not guilty, but the second level court has returned the case for reconsideration by the first level court.

The case of Aleksandar Vuckovic: Vijesti's journalist has been verbally attacked on 11 December by Dragan Djurickovic, the coach of the Montenegrin boxing team and member of the Montenegrin Special Police Force. A court case was launched against Mr Djurickovic, who has been punished in the meantime by his superiors and removed to another unit in the Police.

The case of bomb explosion in front of Vijesti's premises: On 26 December, shortly before midnight, a strong bomb explosion shook the offices of the daily Vijesti. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the blast, which appeared to target a room used by Editor-in-Chief Mihailo Jovovic, shattering windows and damaging the facade of the Vijesti building. Jovovic was in his office and another 15 people were in the building at the time of bombing. Police authorities have not found who was involved in this terroristic act.

Montenegrin police and judiciary did not manage to solve numerous previous cases of physical attacks on journalists and editors in Montenegro, starting with the 2004 murder of publisher and editor of daily Dan, Mr Dusko Jovanovic, the 2008 murder of Srdjan Vojicic in 2008, a guard of Montenegrin poet Jevrem Brkovic, followed by the attacks on Tufik Softic, Jevrem Brkovic, Zeljko Ivanovic, Mladen Stojovic, Olivera Lakic and others. Minister of Internal Affairs Rasko Konjevic has announced that an independent commission will be formed to investigate the unsolved attacks on journalists and that the same will include representatives of independent media and civil society organizations.

Treatment of the independent media representatives as criminals and enemies: 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.

In numerous public appearances over the past year, Prime Minister and leader of the ruling political party DPS Milo Djukanovic continued campaigning against the independent media. Public verbal attacks on independent media by the Prime Minister and other senior state officials are highly inflammatory. For example, in an October 2013 public radio interview, Mr. Djukanovic referred to a co-founder of Vijesti and Monitor as "the leader of the Montenegrin media mafia" and predicted the imminent closure of these media outlets. In November 2013, he also attended an exhibition of the state-funded conference "Words, Pictures and the Enemy", whose key purpose was to portray the independent media as "the enemy" of the state.

Prime Minister Djukanovic depicted the representatives of independent media as rats that need to be deratized. On more than one occasion, Djukanovic has repeated that media and civil activists represent a major barrier on the Montenegrin road towards Europe, that they chase away foreign investors by writing about corruption and organized crime, and that they want to bring down the current administration by all possible means.

Mr Djukanovic falsely accused the independent media for coordinating the opposition parties, and for founding parties. Last year, he announced the arrest of Miodrag Perovic, co-founder of the daily Vijesti and the weekly Monitor.

This propaganda is coordinated by top DPS officials, with advisory support by the Public Policy Institute, and is implemented by the daily Pobjeda, TV Pink and TV 777. Pobjeda has published several serials about the independent media and its representatives, using hate language and grossly distorting facts. In them, female journalists and civil activists are called prostitutes, while owners and male journalists are presented as fools, animals and national traitors.

Damaging false claims by Pobjeda and PINK TV in October and November have included allegations that Vijesti's and Monitor's founders are corrupt and involved in criminal gangs and statements that TV Vijesti's audience is falling (an attempt to deter advertisers). In 2010, Pobjeda published a series of 43 articles, whose excerpts are occasionally reprinted. They contain, among others, false claims that Vijesti's owners had engaged in tax evasion and had links with the organised crime.

On the other hand, only in the independent media one can find serious investigative pieces on corruption, non-transparent privatizations, links between the political elite and criminals, etc. The aim is clear – 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. A recent research conducted by the Center for Civic Education, has concluded that the state-controlled daily Pobjeda, albeit with the smallest circulation, benefits from the greatest number of advertisings by the state institutions and enterprises.

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

The ownership structure: Media controlled by the ruling DPS officials are financed in a non-transparent way and it remains unclear who really owns them. Most of them are bankrupt; some have multi-million losses but still keep functioning. Government covers losses of Pobjeda by means of unlawful state aid, while the Radio Television of Montenegro is directly funded by the budget. Behind other media, publicly or secretly, stand tycoons and their companies who support government's propaganda and interests. This distorts competition on the media market and degrades professional standards.

Indicative is the case of daily Pobjeda which remains in state ownership, even though the Media Law of 2002 foresaw its privatization by 2004. Two ill-prepared tenders launched in the meantime have predictably failed, so the Government is continuing to finance the newspaper in violation of the laws on competition and state aid. The state subsidy to Pobjeda accumulated since 2004 totaled 24 million Euros by the end of 2012. Besides domestic laws, this continuous illegal practice infringes directly on the country's Stabilisation and Association Agreement that prohibit unlawful state aid and threatens to squeeze the private print media out the market. Several appeals made by EU representatives on the Montenegrin government to relinquish ownership control and stop subsidizing the daily have been ignored.

Court cases: In the last few years dailies Vijesti and Dan and weekly Monitor have paid over 300 000 Euros for alleged libel and for pain and suffering of the plaintiffs, Prime Minister Djukanovic and his close representatives of business elite included. In a majority of these cases penalties imposed in the Montenegrin courts have not been in accordance with the practice of HRC and have jeopardized the economic survival of these media, and thus the freedom of speech and expression.

Lawsuit by Ana Kolarevic: The sister of PM Milo Djukanovic, lawyer Ana Kolarevic filed a lawsuit against independent papers Vijesti, Monitor and Dan, seeking compensation of 100,000 Euros from each of these papers. The pretext is the alleged mental pain that she has suffered as a result of the medias' reporting on the Telecom affair. Earlier, the US court authorities in New York opened high-level corruption case related to the Telecom privatisation in 2005. In New York Court documents, Prime Minister Djukanovic's sister is brought in connection with this affair and its dubious contracts, which were highlighted by the media that she is now suing. Ms Kolarevic has decided to file a lawsuit only ten months after the first articles, when it was clear that her brother will return to the post of Prime Minister.

Kolarevic lost the cases against Dan and Monitor, but won the case against Vijesti, although this lawsuit was identical to those against Dan and Vijesti.

Public radio and television: The editorial board of RTV Montenegro insists on entertainment and sport, which get lots of funds that are set aside (for example airing the Champions League). At the same time educational, scientific and informative program, which are the foundations of every public service broadcast productions that are below professional standards. In the news programs, the primacy is still given to the ruling parties and leading government officials, while the activities and views of the opposition and civil society representatives are under-represented.

RTV Montenegro is accused by some members of its Board for non-transparent allocation of funds in previous years, as well as for closing suspicious contracts worth millions with the off shore company Fiesta. This company has been for more than ten years an agent for leasing of satellite services for RTV Montenegro. Interestingly, the company"Fiesta" was in the middle of corruption scandal during the privatization of the Montenegrin Telecom company.

Self regulatory body: Media Self-Regulation Council (Medijski savjet za samoregulaciju -MSS) which brought together 19 print and electronic media was formed in March 2012. A significant number of these media is financed from state and local budgets, while the majority does not keep distance from the ruling structures. This body focuses its activity on regulation of media that are not its members, as are Vijest and Dan and fails to notice the obvious breaches of ethical standards by its own founders. The well known NGO Human Rights Action has made this observation in its recent monitoring report on the activities of self-regulatory bodies which also confirmed suspicions that media who are members of MSS are the most frequent violators of the Journalistic Codex and ethical norms..

On the other hand, daily Vijesti founded its own self -regulatory body, media ombudsman as well as TV Vijesti.

Milka Tadić Mijović, CEO Weekly Monitor,
Željko Ivanović, CEO Daily Vijesti

 

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