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Raicevic met with the director of the Police Directorate

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PODGORICA, 22.10.2021. – The editor-in-chief of the IN4S portal, Gojko Raicevic, met with the director of the Police Directorate, Zoran Brdjanin. According to IN4S, Brdjanin pointed out that the safety of journalists and the uninterrupted work of newsrooms will be high on the list of priorities of this institution.

“The police will intensify their work when it comes to attacks on journalists, which will be contributed to by the formation of a special unit in the Police, whose job will be just that,” Brdjanin said.

Raicevic, as it is stated, referred to his own case of obstruction in performing journalistic tasks.

“Every step you make in relation to your predecessors will certainly contribute to the timely and truthful informing of our citizens, which is ultimately the task of responsible media and journalists,” said Raicevic.

EC: Limited progress for freedom of expression in Montenegro

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PODGORICA, 21.10.2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated the already difficult economic situation of journalists and media workers, including job insecurity and low salaries. Journalists are generally economically highly dependent on media owners, regardless of whether private individuals, national or local authorities, which ultimately results in biased reporting and creates risks of self-censorship, political pressure and owners’ interference in editorial policy. 

This is stated in the European Commission’s Progress Report on Montenegro for 2021.

“Montenegro has achieved some level of preparation in the area of freedom of expression. Overall, it made limited progress during the reporting period and only partially addressed last year’s recommendations. There were some new developments on investigation into the 2018 shooting of an investigative journalist, but full and effective judicial follow-up both to this case and to other important old cases, remains to be ensured”, it is stated in the document.

In April 2021, as stated, the government established a new ad hoc commission for monitoring violence against the media, but it has not yet fully or effectively addressed the significant recommendations made by the previous commission.

“A revision of the legal framework is ongoing, to address the additional issues identified in the 2020 law on media and the law on public broadcaster RTCG, to complete it with a new law on audio-visual media, and ensure their full alignment with the EU acquis and European standards. More efforts are required to limit the effects of disinformation and on-line harassment and hate speech, while ensuring that such measures do not limit disproportionately freedom of expression”.

EC states that the Parliament appointed the new RTCG Council in June 2021 without broad cross-party support.

“Following this change and the subsequent changes of RTCG management, the public broadcaster started to feature politically more diverse content. The media scene remains overall highly polarised, often marked by politically biased and unbalanced reporting, including extensive involvement of foreign media from the region, which was particularly notable during election periods. Self-regulatory mechanisms remain weak”, it is stated in the document.

As stated, also there is an uneven application of the journalistic code of ethics across the media community, self-regulatory mechanisms are weak and the frequency of journalists and media filing defamation lawsuits against other journalists is high.

European Commission Report: Serious concern over political pressure and intimidation of journalists in BiH

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Sarajevo, October 20, 2021 – Bosnia and Herzegovina made no progress on addressing the Opinion key priority 12 on guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the media and the protection of journalists by ensuring the appropriate judicial follow-up to cases of threats and violence against journalists and media workers, and ensuring the financial sustainability of the public broadcasting system – it was pointed out in the report of the European Commission for BiH for 2021.

The Report states that the political influence over public broadcasters persists, and their financial sustainability has not been secured. The law on the public broadcasting system remains unimplemented and entity-level legislation is still not harmonised with this Law.

Political pressure, intimidation and harassment towards journalists, including physical and verbal attacks continued during the reporting period, without appropriate institutional follow-up:

– Serious concerns continue to persist over political pressure, intimidation and threats against journalists. High-level politicians have resorted to public attacks and disparaging remarks against journalists, analysts and media workers, particularly women. The authorities continue to downplay the issue and there is no data collection by public institutions on threats and attacks against journalists and media workers.

The Report adds that BH Novinari association recorded 69 cases of violation of journalists’ rights in 2020, up from 56 in 2019. The Ombudsman received 11 complaints, compared to 18 in 2019 and 9 in 2018.

– Authorities are expected to act swiftly and demonstrate zero tolerance for threats or attacks against the media, including by ensuring effective police investigations and judicial prosecution leading to final convictions of perpetrators – says the Report.

It is stated that despite the decriminalisation of defamation since 2002, politicians continue to use civil suits to intimidate journalists. Courts should step up their efforts to ensure an expedient processing of defamation cases and consistency of case law on damage awards, to prevent any chilling effect that would force journalists into self-censorship. The legislation on freedom of access to information and on on hate speech remains fragmented and not in line with international and European standards. The legal provisions on data protection and on access to information are still interpreted in a way that protects private rather than public interests.

The Communications Regulatory Agency (CRA) still lacks full political and financial independence. The procedure to appoint the CRA management needs to be revised to improve its public perception as a neutral and independent body. The former head of the Republika Srpska’s public television, RTRS, was appointed as new CRA director in July 2020; the CRA had sanctioned RTRS multiple times during his mandate for non-respect of editorial standards, including for historical revisionist statements as regards the May 1995 massacre in Tuzla:

– The 2003 law on the public broadcasting system continues to be only partially enforced, and entity laws on broadcasting are still not aligned with it. Therefore, the three public broadcasting services continue to be exposed to political influence, in particular through politically controlled steering boards, with a worrying trend of self-censorship. The country continues not to have an appropriate model for collecting fees, as provided for by the law. The substantial unpaid debts of entity broadcasters towards the state-level broadcaster are subject to lengthy litigation. Such issues continue to pose a threat to the financial independence and sustainability of the public broadcasting system.

The European Commission emphasizes that Bosnia and Herzegovina also needs to proceed with the digital switchover, which is now overdue. With analogue transmission licenses expiring by end 2021, several local private and public stations risks seeing their broadcasts restricted, affecting access to information for the poorest residents in rural areas.

No steps were taken to adopt legislation on media ownership transparency, to ensure transparency and prevent hidden media concentration, nor legislation on advertising or criteria for the distribution of subsidies. The advertising practices of publicly owned enterprises, such as telecom companies, and advertising agencies linked to political parties continue to harm media integrity. Local broadcasters which receive funds from local authorities remain subject to political pressure and influence.

Self-regulation of online media is of limited effect, and online platforms continue to be used to spread hate speech and disinformation. Criminal prosecution is limited to the offence of inciting religious and ethnic hatred through the internet or social networks.

Journalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a precarious profession, with low wages and little job security, further deteriorating even more during the pandemic. Labour rights are hardly respected, unionisation is low, and there are no branch collective agreements for media workers, concludes the Report.

In the coming year, Bosnia and Herzegovina should in particular: ensure the protection of journalists and a systematic institutional follow-up on threats and violence against them; ensure the financial sustainability and political independence of public broadcasters, and harmonise entity legislation with the state-level law on the public broadcasting system; adopt legislation on media ownership transparency and criteria on public advertising.

Sukovic sentenced for 10 months for attacking Kocan

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Photo: Pixabay.com

PODGORICA, 19.10.2021. – Dragutin Sukovic was sentenced to 10 months in prison yesterday for attacking journalist Esad Kocan.

In the Podgorica Basic Court, he was simultaneously banned from approaching the editor-in-chief of the weekly “Monitor” at a distance of fewer than 100 meters, as well as mandatory treatment in a psychiatric institution.

The defendant practically claimed from the arrest that he did not know the injured party, and at the hearing, before the verdict was pronounced, he stated that he “knew him for almost 10 years”.

At the beginning of the trial, Kocan said that he has been living like a hunted beast since the founding of Monitor and that he is deeply convinced that the motive of the attacker is not personal or some current anger, but that he was attacked because of his work.

The journalist was attacked at the end of March in front of the building where he lives after he returned from the usual afternoon walk.

Organized training on creating and implementing video campaigns

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Photo: SMCG

BUDVA, 16.10.2021 – Director and professor at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Cetinje, Nikola Vukcevic, led the training on creating and implementing video campaigns for the needs of journalistic organizations in the region.

Participants were representatives of regional partner organizations, members of the Safe Journalists network: the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, the Association of Journalists of Kosovo, the “BH Journalists” Association, the Croatian Journalists’ Association, the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia, and the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro.

During the two-day training, Vukcevic introduced the participants to different types of approaches to making video campaigns, ways of making scripts and analyzed in detail the already placed commercials on the market. He presented to the participants the process of making a video campaign, as well as the financial construction needed for the realization of a certain idea.

He stressed the importance of making a brief by the client, which served to develop the ideas of the participants. As a result of the training, a campaign aimed at media workers will be created in the coming period.

AJK condemns an attack against RFE/RL team

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A team of journalists from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was among those attacked by local protesters in north of Kosovo.
AJK is alarmed that a group of 50 people surrounded the vehicle in which the team was traveling, and demanded them to stop filming. In trying to take the camera away, they damaged it and the taxi as well. Fortunately, the team members managed to escape unhurt.
AJK once again asks all relevant authorities to ensure a safe environment for journalists reporting from the north of the country.

Tamara Filipovic: Media are discriminated against in access to public advertising

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Amid growing state media capture and decreased journalistic freedom in the Western Balkans, a former chief of the BBC World Service said on Tuesday (12 October) he regrets the closure of the world’s largest international broadcaster in the region.

Speaking at a hybrid conference in the Brussels Press Club, organised by the Balkan Free Media Initiative, Peter Horrocks, who is now a board member of Ofcom, said with self-irony:

“I have probably closed down more journalism in Eastern Europe than the most ambitious authoritarian. I was responsible for closing a number of services, including Bulgaria and Romania, Albania”.

He said this was a “bittersweet decision”.

In 2011 the BBC closed its service in the Balkans after earlier closures of the Croatian, Bulgarian, and Slovenian language services.

In hindsight, this decision appears controversial, if not mistaken.

“And I ask myself now what has gone wrong,” Horrocks told the conference. The deteriorating media situation in the Balkans was the conference’s theme, with BFMI unveiling its first report, focusing on the media situation in Bulgaria, Serbia, and North Macedonia.

Antoinette Nikolova, a Bulgarian journalist and the founder and director of BFMI, explained why these three countries were chosen.

Bulgaria is the lowest-ranking EU country on World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. Serbia is conducting EU accession talks with the entire state machine working for President Alexander Vucic, Nikolova said. She added that North Macedonia, which aspires to start EU membership negotiations but faces a Bulgarian veto, also suffers from state media capture.

In the three countries, Nikolova said, the same techniques were identified: controlling the public and private media via funding, sometimes including EU money, making sure the regulators are weak and dependant on government-disbursed funding, and preserving opacity of media ownership.

 

No real media market in Serbia

According to Tamara Filipovic from the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia (NUNS), the biggest problem with Serbian media is the absence of a real media market due to significant state interference.

“Media are discriminated against in access to public advertising. The institutions and the public enterprises do not want to declare how much they pay for advertising in the media,” Filipovic said.

She mentioned the 2014 adoption of new media laws concerning the privatisation of some 80 media that were state-controlled and owned. State-owned media was bought by proxies close to the ruling SNS party and were later compensated with public money through advertising, Filipovic said.

She added that the law was misused even though it was adopted after consulting the EU and getting the green light from Brussels.

Filipovic also talked about the fragmented media market in Serbia, where there are 2,600 media outlets but only a handful of independent media. Serbs usually get their information from the television, and most of the TV channels are paying lip service to Vucic, she added.

 

No ideological restrains in North Macedonia

Naser Selmani, former president of the Association of Journalists in North Macedonia (AJM), describes how media owners close to the establishment became millionaires overnight.

His example concerned Sitel TV, the most prominent national TV channel. It was established by a politician and businessman who was the leader of the socialist party and a close friend of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

“They have no ideological restraints. They serve as propaganda machines of the government. All the time they are with those in power,” Selmani added.

He said there was little difference between the former nationalist government of Nikola Gruevski and the present cabinet of Zoran Zaev.

Selmani added that during his 11 years in power, Gruevski spent €30 million on media, while the present government has disbursed €8 million in three years. It’s impossible, he said, to receive information about what exactly the money was spent on.

Selmani added that the government’s aim was not to help the media become more professional but to control editorial policy and prevent criticism.

 

The worsening situation in Bulgaria 

Radan Kanev, a Bulgarian MEP from Democrats for Strong Bulgaria, offered a grim description of the media situation in his country. His party is affiliated with the European People’s Party but critical of fellow EPP member GERB, the party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov,

Kanev said we should question why media freedom deteriorated after EU accession and continues to do so. He did not believe that the end of Borissov’s 11-year rule in Bulgaria would necessarily end media censorship.

“Once we have a stable government again, many things will become the same,” he said. Bulgarians will vote for the third time this year to elect a parliament on 14 November.

The MEP argued that the EU needs to stop letting governments decide which media get the EU funding for advertising the EU’s programmes, policies and tenders. He stressed that the Commission should allocate those funds.

Albania which was not covered in the event, but that has also lost a BBC outpost, ranks at 84 on the World Press Freedom Index. Issues over ownership plurality, censorship, and pressure from the government, have caused it to fall eight places since 2018.

 

The shade of Berlusconi

Peter Whitehead from the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) said the malpractices described are not limited to the examined countries, which are merely “great examples” of what is happening elsewhere in the EU and the accession countries.

“We have seen many examples of regulators being controlled by the state, public broadcasters being captured by the state, soft censorship – allegation of state funding and EU funding to media that are friendly towards the authorities and taken away from independent ones”, he said.

Andrea Bonnani, an editorialist at La Repubblica and a correspondent for Italian media in Brussels for 30 years, told the audience about the damage for the media from Silvio Berlusconi’s era, which has also contaminated the media landscape in other countries.

Today, he argued, the Berlusconi media model, which nurtures a vulgar subculture, is used by populists in Italy and other countries.

Many media in the Balkan countries have been widely inspired by the Berlusconi model, which among other things, transformed information into infotainment, replacing serious journalism with a tabloid version that relies on click baits and even fake news.

Attacks continue against Kosovo journalists in north

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The Association of Journalists of Kosovo – AJK, is alarmed that journalists reporting from north of Kosovo are still in risk for doing their job.

Our colleagues are being attacked continuously by local protesters, who are throwing different explosive devices towards them.

Once again, we call on relevant authorities to ensure a safe environment for journalists while on duty.

The first verdict for publishing the names of people in self-isolation

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Foto: Pixabay.com

PODGORICA, 13.10.2021 – The state of Montenegro will have to pay 500 euros with interest to J.L. from Podgorica, because her name, among others, was publicly announced on the list of people who were placed in self-isolation, at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic.

This is the first instance verdict of the judge of the Basic Court in Podgorica, Dijana Radulovic.

Due to the fact that some citizens violated self-isolation, on March 21 last year, the Government of Montenegro published a list of all those in self-isolation, including the majority who respected that measure. The lists contained the name and surname of the person in self-isolation, as well as the residential address.
The then Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said that he understood the reasons for the criticism, but also claimed that the health of citizens was more important than human rights.

“The claim is partially accepted, so the defendant (State of Montenegro) is obliged to pay the plaintiff, based on compensation for non-pecuniary damage due to violation of personal rights – the right to protection of private life, caused by publishing data on self-isolation, the total amount of 500 euros, with statutory default interest, beginning
from 30.09.2021, as the day of judgment until the final payment”, it is stated in the judgment of the Basic Court.

By the same decision, the state is obliged to pay the costs of the litigation in the amount of 272.25 euros.

If this verdict is confirmed, the state, ie the citizens, will pay dearly for the controversial decision of the National Coordination Body from March 2020 on publishing the list of persons in self-isolation. The Constitutional Court stated in June that the decision was not in accordance with the highest legal act, after which numerous lawsuits were initiated due to the violation of the right to privacy.

The media previously published data from the competent services – that from March 15th to April 24th, 2020, 8,221 decisions on self-isolation and 1,795 decisions on placing persons in quarantine were issued. That is a total of 10,016 people.

The legal representative of  J. L., lawyer Dalibor Kavaric, said that all other cases on the same grounds were suspended until the verdict on J. L.’s lawsuit became final.
“We are waiting for the finality of this case, and then this verdict will be case law
in other cases and a benchmark for future cases. There can be deviations if someone is a public figure”, said Kavaric.