by Daliborka Uljarević
Shaping functional rule of law is a process that requires synergetic effect of both major political-decision makers and institutions, on one side, and civil society at large, on the other side. Media, as part of the civil society, can be one of the most powerful motors in that endeavours, but only if they have adequate conditions to work freely and without any form of pressures, as well as a sense of responsibility towards the profession.
Media in Montenegro remain deeply divided and widely politicized, with several main issues that have a negative impact on the overall trust in media in the country that is undergoing the political crisis for some time already.
Censorship which comes in three forms (hard, soft and self-censorship) additionally amplified by editorial policies that see media more as a participant, or at least an aspiring actor within social and, especially, political processes rather than being an objective watchdog, is limiting media in their professional work and development to a great extent. In addition to this, the regulation is either missing or is ineffective, while public broadcaster RTCG continues to be in service of those with political power and not making progress in its transformation into a genuine public broadcasting service.
More specifically, most of the cases of attacks against journalists and media in Montenegro, from 2004 to the mid-2021, did not have an adequate resolution. Consequently, this led to already 14 different attacks on journalists from the beginning of 2021, noting that the police actions in that respect are now swifter and more effective than before, but that no considerable progress has been made regarding the prosecution of these cases by courts.
When it comes to the soft-censorship, the former Government used to extend patronage to those media who reported favourably on its work and put pressure on those who were more critical. At the end of its term of office, a significant progress has been made in the advancement of the legislative framework, as the new Media Law, which came into force in the beginning of August 2020, has precisely and well-regulated procedures and transparency mechanisms regarding state-funded advertising and other contracts of the state bodies with the media. Still, this is not fully implemented, due to the established legal deadlines for certain activities and due to the delay in the implementation of these legal deadlines by the new governmental structures.
As the consequence of both hard and soft censorship, there is also widespread self-censorship as the journalists are burdened with a lack of institutional mechanisms for their protection and different interests of the media owners or managerial structures.
This all affects the perception of the citizens who believe that media to the great extent take care of the interest of citizens and protect democracy, but at the same time, almost half of them, assess that media are not objective and, also, that they do not put truth at the first place. In that respect, the vast majority of citizens (87.2%) consider that the media in Montenegro are willing or somewhat willing to publish sensational information that are not verified at all or insufficiently verified to increase circulation and ratings. At the same time, almost half of them consider that media in Montenegro are biased, and almost half of them think that media also mix facts with rumours. Furthermore, 57% of citizens do not trust any newspapers, almost a half of them do not trust radio stations, while a quarter of them do not trust any TV. Even though the news portals are becoming increasingly popular, they still do not have the trust of more than a third of citizens. Taking into account that citizens claim to have a major interest in news and political programmes, which is understandable due to the complex political situation, it can be concluded that these programmes are not sufficiently professional in order to build wider trust within the public.
A finding that only 13.7% of interviewed citizens consider that media put into focus interest of citizens should be a red flag that should motivate them to change their approach.
Apart from the rather challenging environment in which the media are operating, there is a lot that depends on themselves, having in mind the fact that a majority of them are currently choosing to go with the flow rather than to invest serious efforts in strengthening their professionalism and to play a healthy role in democratisation and Europeanisation of the society. By making this choice, the media has unintentionally put themselves in a rather passive role. And that is neither strengthening their perspective nor perspectives for the functional rule of law in Montenegro.
 Media in Montenegro from the perspective of citizens and journalists, Centre for Civic Education (CCE/CGO) 2021, available at http://media.cgo-cce.org/2021/07/Mediji-u-CG-u-ocima-gradjana-i-novinara-ENG.pdf
This text has been prepared within the project “Strengthening the Rule of Law in the Western Balkans: Old Tools for New Rules” implemented by Politikon Network, in cooperation with Centre for Contemporary Politics, and with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Daliborka Uljarević graduated at the Faculty of Political Sciences, Department of International Relations at the University of Belgrade, attended postgraduate studies in European and East European Studies at the University of Montenegro and currently pursues her MA at the Law Faculty. She specialised Local Government and Civic Society at the Theodor Heuss Academy (Germany), Comparative Media Law and Policies at the University of Oxford (UK), Regional Cooperation and European Integration at the University of Split (COIMBRA programme), Political and Economic Systems in the organisation of Charles University and Georgetown University (Czech Republic), and Democracy, Human Rights and Conflict Management at the Nansen Academy (Norway).