Nataša Ružić: Without a single self-regulation, alternative media will take over the role of mainstream media

Fakultet političkih nauka

PODGORICA, 11.09.2018. – From the ethical point of view, most problematic area in the Montenegrin media is reporting on crime news, where the most violated principles of the Ethical Code for journalists are right to privacy (Principle 7), the interests of children (Principle 8) and the presumption of innocence (Principle 9), considers professor at the Faculty of political science, Natasa Ružić.

Pointing out that by establishing some form of self-regulation, the media in Montenegro showed that they take care of ethics, Ružić said that these bodies are invisible and that they should act on their own initiative.

How do you assess the level of self-regulation in the Montenegrin media?

Bearing in mind the existence of two media self-regulatory bodies and the engagement of the ombudsman in the newsrooms of Vijesti, Monitor and Dan, we can say that the Montenegrin media take care of respecting professional and ethical standards. Naturally, compared to the European countries that adopted the first codes since 1918, we started relatively late to take care of ethical standards. I think the media has progressed in certain areas. For example, we can no longer see in the media the bodies of victims of car accidents in close-ups or headlines with shocking photographs from the scene of the crime. However, numerous ethical problems remain. Media self-regulatory bodies do not notify too often the violations of the Code of Ethics, but only in some extreme situations. I think that self-regulatory bodies are “too quiet and almost invisible” and shouldn’t react only in cases of citizens’ complaints. This is somewhat understandable when it comes to the Local Press Council because local media generally respect the code of ethics, but they are obliged to monitor the situation on the market.

Which principles of Ethical Code for journalists Montenegrin media most often violate? What are the most common mistakes journalists in Montenegro make?

The media continue to be sensationalist about crime news and do not respect the presumption of innocence in courtroom reporting, but also the privacy of victims or family members in cases of car accidents or some tragedies, crimes, etc. The media most often violate principles 7, 8 and 9. Often we can read in the journalist’s text a police statement stating the initials of the participants of a tragedy, and the journalist in the same text reveals the identity of the victims or the perpetrator. The media also published parts of farewell letters in reporting on suicide and photographs of the funeral of a little girl, whose mother was trying to cure her from lice. Let’s just recall the sensationalist headlines in reporting on suspects for the murder of a 15-month-old boy, “Look what the monster who killed the baby with beatings looks like”. In this case, the address of the dwelling was disclosed, which is a violation of the Code of Ethics. I think reporting on crime news is the most problematic area from the ethical point of view. Our media, as well as others, continue to live by the principle of “good news is bad news about someone or bad news for someone,” and often “play on the map of children”. And of course, thanks to the Internet, copy-paste journalism has dominated.

How can the situation be corrected? Would a single self-regulatory body be a good solution? Do you think such a solution would be sustainable, having in mind the polarization of the Montenegrin media scene?

In order to repair the situation it is necessary that the journalists themselves wish to fight for their profession. A unique self-regulatory body would be an ideal solution, but given the polarization of the modern market, it is clear that this is impossible. In large markets there are several self-regulatory bodies, but in a small media market and in a small country it is completely unnecessary. Journalists, regardless of the editorial policy of the media, should understand that they are on the same side as self-regulation because they are struggling exclusively for quality journalism and professional and ethical standards. Otherwise, alternative media will take over the role of the mainstream media.

Trade Union of Media of Montenegro, with the help of the Faculty of Political Science, conducted a research on expectations of journalism students, which showed that students mostly do not want to deal with this profession in the future. What is your experience? Is journalism attractive to students?

It is difficult to choose a future profession at the age of 18, especially if you have not had any touch with practice. We had a couple of cases where young people decided to be journalists after attending Media Literacy in High School. These are rare cases. Eighteen-year-olds idealize the profession they have chosen, so they are disappointed or given their confirmation of their thinking. Already in the first year, students point to the advantages and disadvantages of the journalistic profession, or we are trying to bring them closer to the profession they chose. Of course, there is no ideal profession, but each has its own good and bad, but the most important thing is to choose what they like, as well as to have predispositions for dealing with journalism.

It would be a big mistake if students could only deal with journalism at the end of the studies, but the possibilities for choosing their profession are much wider. They can also work as PR managers in different companies / institutions and as researchers, media analysts in the non-governmental sector. So the choice is on them, while the Faculty as an educational institution monitors changes in the market by auditing the program. By 2017 the Public Relations Department existed only at the level of master studies, and according to the new program, already in the third year of basic studies, in the sixth semester, they can specialize in public relations or acquire additional practical knowledge in the field of journalism. In my experience, I can say that students of the first generation are more interested in journalism, and today’s generations are more interesting profession of PR managers. Thanks to the knowledge they have gained at the Faculty they are aware that the media have been in a difficult economic crisis since 2008 and that they no longer live by advertising, but they are also familiar with the socio-economic situation of journalists, and for this reason the profession PR- managers more interesting. However, even those who choose to work PR managers are aware that they have to start working as journalists in order to acquire their network of contacts and easier to “push” the company’s press releases in which they work.

SMCG, Podgorica, 11/09/2018