Montenegro | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Montenegro

Freedom of the Press 2016
Press Freedom Status: 
PF
Political Environment: 
18 / 40
(0=BEST, 40=WORST)
Economic Environment: 
12 / 30 (↓1)
(0=BEST, 30=WORST)
Press Freedom Score: 
41 / 100 (↓2)
(0=BEST, 100=WORST)

Quick Facts

Population: 
622,421
Freedom in the World Status: 
Partly Free
Internet Penetration Rate: 
64.6%

Overview

The media landscape in Montenegro is heavily polarized along political lines. Journalists critical of Prime Minister Milo Đukanović and his family often find themselves the targets of defamation suits. Ineffective media self-regulation contributes to a widespread lack of professionalism among journalists. Reporters covering sensitive topics risk threats and physical attacks. Media ownership is often difficult to determine.

 

Key Developments

  • In March 2015, Đukanović’s sister won a defamation suit against a newspaper that published information implicating her in a bribery scheme.
  • Amid ongoing concerns about media professionalism, a working group backed by the Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) adopted a new code of ethics for journalists in November.
  • Two journalists were arrested and several more were physically attacked while covering antigovernment demonstrations in October.
  • Freelance journalist Jovo Martinović was detained in October and accused of involvement with a drug smuggling operation he had been investigating, and was being held without charge at the year’s end.

 

Legal Environment: 11 / 30 (↓1)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution, and laws protecting press freedom are robust. In practice, these legal protections are not always respected, and many crimes committed against journalists go unpunished.

Courts can ban outlets from distributing material deemed offensive, and violations of laws banning hate speech can result in fines of between €3,000 and €10,000 ($3,400 and $11,100). In 2015, several lawmakers proposed draft amendments to media legislation that would have let courts ban media outlets that violated the constitution, despite preexisting legal mechanisms designed to address such issues. The proposal failed to gain enough support to advance.

Defamation was decriminalized in 2011. In recent years, the independent dailies Vijesti and Dan and the weekly Monitor have been fined hundreds of thousands of euros in damages for insulting Đukanović or his family members. In March 2015, the Bijelo Polje High Court ruled that the Monitor must pay €5,000 ($5,500) in damages to Ana Kolarević, Đukanović’s sister, in connection with a story implicating her in a bribery scheme; the Monitor is seeking an appeal. Kolarević has won a similar case against Vijesti, and an appeal of that case was also pending at the year’s end.

The right to access information is guaranteed in the constitution, and journalists can request public information via a 2005 freedom of information law. However, the government does not always adhere to this law, particularly when journalists request information that could reveal corruption. According to the European Union (EU), in 2014, 1,007 of 4,058 initial requests for access to public information were denied, amounting to a noncompliance rate of 25 percent. Complaints to the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information about noncompliance were often met with assertions that the information in question was confidential, thus requiring the petitioner to seek an Administrative Court decision.

The country’s media regulators are not financially independent and have inadequate monitoring capacity. The Media Self-Regulatory Council is generally ineffective. In November 2015, amid widespread concerns about low professionalism in the media sector, a Working Group on Self-Regulation in Montenegro backed by the Council of Europe and the OSCE adopted an amended code of ethics for journalists. The group is expected to continue meeting throughout 2016.

 

Political Environment: 18 / 40

The media landscape is heavily polarized along political lines, and media outlets frequently run attack pieces against one another. Journalists face pressure from business leaders and government officials. Public media outlets favor the government. Among privately held outlets, Montenegrin editions of the Serbian-owned outlets TV Pink and the Informer daily express progovernment views, while Vijesti, Dan, and the Monitor oppose the Đukanović administration. The Informer has published personal, and at times, vulgar attacks against opposition politicians and civil society activists.

Economic and political pressure on journalists often results in self-censorship. A number of journalists encountered interference while covering antigovernment protests that took place in October 2015. Dan reporter Dražen Živković and Gojko Raičević, editor of the IN4S news portal, were detained while covering one such demonstration; both face misdemeanor charges. Several journalists experienced verbal abuse and physical attacks by the demonstrators. Firecrackers were thrown at reporters from the progovernment Pobjeda, while demonstrators attacked a photographer for the Informer and damaged his equipment.

Journalists face threats, physical assault, and vandalism of their property. While new violations are reported each year, the rate of such incidents decreased in 2015. In October, rocks were thrown at the Podgorica offices of TV Pink, reportedly by antigovernment demonstrators. The attack injured editor Ivana Drobnjak and caused property damage; one suspect was arrested, but no further developments were apparent at the year’s end. Vehicles owned by four journalists from three separate newspapers were damaged by vandals in 2015, including a vehicle belonging to the wife of the late Dan editor in chief Dusko Jovanović, who was murdered in 2004.

While Montenegrin authorities have made some efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists, serious cases remain unsolved. The government in 2014 reopened Jovanović’s murder case, but there has been little progress in the investigation. In May 2015, two men accused of setting off explosives at Vijesti’s Podgorica offices two years earlier were released, with authorities citing a lack of evidence. In November, prosecutors closed an investigation into the 2007 attack on journalist Tufic Softić—who reported on organized crime—without indicting anyone.

Separately, the prominent freelance journalist Jovo Martinović, known for his coverage of organized crime, was detained in October and accused of involvement with a drug smuggling operation he had been investigating. He was being held without charge at the year’s end.

 

Economic Environment: 12 / 30 (↓1)

The media environment is diverse, with about 19 television stations, 53 radio stations, 5 daily print outlets, 3 weeklies, and 30 monthlies serving a population of about 620,000. The national public service broadcaster operates 2 national television stations and several radio stations. It is officially independent, but in practice demonstrates bias toward the Đukanović administration. Online media are expanding rapidly. Access to the internet is not restricted, and approximately 65 percent of the population had access in 2015.

Foreign-owned media outlets are numerous and tend to support the ruling party. In 2014, the government sold its stake in Pobjeda, fulfilling privatization obligations outlined in a 2002 media law. The paper was acquired by the Greek businessman Petros Stathos, who is heavily invested in Montenegro’s tourism industry and controls several other Montenegrin media outlets; Pobjeda has maintained a progovernment stance since the sale. Media content at private outlets is significantly influenced by the business and political interests of owners. Official ownership structures are accessible in public records, but the available information is widely believed to mask the true power forces involved.

The Agency for Electronic Media on several occasions has intervened to enforce media concentration laws affecting the broadcasting sector. A lack of enforceable regulations for print and online media has permitted significant concentration in those sectors. There are no oversight mechanisms for state advertising, and government and government-run organizations and businesses generally direct advertising revenue to progovernment or public media.

Journalists make an average of €400 per month, lower than the average national income of €480. Low pay, combined with poor training and political and business influence, often leads to biased coverage.