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Free media and digital literacy – antidote to disinformation, says UN expert

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GENEVA, 1 July 2021 – Responses by States and companies to disinformation have been problematic, inadequate and detrimental to human rights, a UN expert warned today, calling on States to uphold the right to freedom of expression as the primary means by which to fight disinformation.

“Diverse and reliable information, digital literacy, smart social media regulation and free, independent and diverse media are the obvious antidote to disinformation,” Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, told the Human Rights Council.

“Disinformation – responses to it – are undermining freedom of expression, polarizing public debates, fueling public distrust and endangering human rights, democratic institutions, public health and sustainable development,” said Khan.

“States have resorted to disproportionate measures such as Internet shutdowns and vague and overly broad laws to criminalize, block, censor and chill online speech and shrink civic space, and to compel social media platforms to remove lawful content without judicial process.”

In her report, the Special Rapporteur warned that these measures are incompatible with international law and are being used against journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders with impunity.

She said algorithms, targeted advertising and the data harvesting practices of the largest social media companies are largely credited with driving users towards “extremist” content and conspiracy theories, undermining the right of individuals to form an opinion and to freely develop beliefs and ideas.

“Company responses to disinformation have been largely reactive, insufficient and opaque,” said Khan.

“Social media companies should review their business models and ensure that their business operations, data collection and data processing practices are compliant with international human rights standards,” said the Special Rapporteur.

Khan also expressed concerns about inconsistent content moderation, opaque policies and processes and inadequate transparency and redress mechanisms of social media platforms, and called for urgent and effective action by companies.

She warned that “old ingrained sexist attitudes with the anonymity and reach of social media” were being used to launch gendered disinformation campaigns against women journalists, politicians and human rights defenders to push them out of public life. She called on States and companies to ensure the safety of women online and offline.

Calling for the proactive engagement of States, companies, international organizations, civil society and the media, Irene Khan concluded, “Tackling disinformation requires multidimensional multi-stakeholder responses that are well-grounded in the full range of human rights.”

SafeJournalists Network sent a letter of concern to the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament and international organisation

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SafeJournalists Network sent a letter of concern on 1. July 2021 to the Speaker of the Albanian Parliament Gramoz Ruçi and international organisations in Albania (OSCE, Delegation of EU and Council of Europe), regarding its concern about the election of the Head of Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) and its board members that might hinder media freedom in Albania.

Dear Mr Gramoz Ruçi,

I am writing on behalf of the SafeJournalists Network, that gathers more than 8,200 members in the Western Balkans, including journalists from Albania, we act upon violations of journalists’ rights, endangering their safety and limitation of media freedoms.

SafeJournalists Network expresses its concern about the election of the Head of Audiovisual Media Authority (AMA) and its board members that might hinder media freedom in Albania. We are concerned about the independence and professionalism of the two candidates for the Head of AMA, both criteria are essential for media freedom and for the democratic processes in Albania. Also, we express our concern about the shortcomings in the procedure for their selection, considering that the process is formal with no meaningful competition and done in a haste within the current Parliament whose mandate expires soon, and without actual opposition.

We remind you that the Head of AMA and its board members must be legally non-partisan and politically independent, while the legal formulas for their selection have given parliamentary majorities and oppositions the right to propose or reject candidate which guarantees diversity in the composition of the AMA board with representatives of various parliamentary parties. With the current Parliament, without actual opposition this cannot be guaranteed.

Also, we are concerned about amendments to the Audiovisual Media Law (referred to as the ‘online media law’) which were opposed by the civil society, media organizations, and regional and international media networks and associations, and were rejected by the President of Albania and the Venice Commission in June 2020. The changes envisaged extensive power to regulate media content to AMA, whose independence and professionalism could not be assured as stated also by the Venice Commission. One year after the Venice Commission issued its opinion on the matter, the above-mentioned legislation still has not been amended to meet the required standards and still is listed as in process in the Albanian Parliament registry while the Government claims it has been withdrawn.

SafeJournalists Network urges the Albanian Parliament to conduct a genuine race for the Head of AMA that will ensure full independence and professionalism of the next Head of this vital authority for media freedom and its members, and to postpone the filling in of the vacancies until the new parliament starts its work in September 2021. Also, we urge the Parliament according to amendments to the Audiovisual Media Law to respect European standards and to amend it in accordance with the opinion and standards of the Venice Commission. In that manner to ensure safeguarding the non-partisan and independence of key institutions such as Audiovisual Media Authority.

Signed:

BH Journalists Association

Trade Union of Media of Montenegro

Croatian Journalists Association

Association of Journalists of Kosovo

Association of Journalists of Macedonia

Independent Journalists Association of Serbia

Amendment on Free Access to Information Law: Fines for submitting incorrect data

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PODGORICA, July 1, 2021 – NGO MANS suggested that the Law on Free Access to Information include fines for authorities that inform inaccurate data.

MANS reports that some members of the European Union also have this practice.

“Having in mind that the decisions of the Agency for Personal Data Protection and Free Access to Information (AZLP) often depend on the submitted acts and data by the authorities, we consider it necessary that the misdemeanor provision, except in cases of non-submission of requested acts and data, be prescribed for submission of incorrect data. Submission of incorrect data is the basis of misdemeanor liability under the Law on the Right to Access Information of the Republic of Croatia”, it is stated in their suggestions. Fines in this part are prescribed in the range of 500 to 20,000 euros.

This is just one of 19 remarks and suggestions that this NGO has officially sent to the innovated draft of the STI Law.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society, and Media sent an innovated draft law for public discussion in early June.

The Law was passed less than 10 years ago and was last amended in mid-2017 by a decision of the then parliamentary majority.

Several NGOs, including MANS, submitted their proposals to amend the STI Law in mid-December.

JUFREX training: The reaction of domestic and international organizations is significant

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BUDVA, June 28th, 2021 – The training on the protection of journalists’ safety, organized by the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) and the Program Office of the Council of Europe in Montenegro, was held on June 26 and 27 in Budva.

The training gathered about 15 participants, predominantly members of the Main Board of the SMCG and journalists who will be able to apply the acquired knowledge in practice.

The local expert, lawyer Dalibor Tomović, presented to the participants the legislative framework in the field of protection of journalists. In addition to the case study, Tomović also showed examples of the (in) efficiency of investigations into attacks on journalists and/or the media. Council of Europe consultant Frutula Kusari spoke about the importance of timely response from domestic and international organizations, different types of attacks on journalists, and how to recognize them, but also about the growing number of SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuits aimed at intimidation).

The participants were particularly interested in the specific institutional experience of the victim of the attack, which was presented by journalist Tufik Softić.

This training is the second conducted by the Media Union of Montenegro, in cooperation with the Program Office of the Council of Europe in Montenegro, within the JUFREX 2 program.

AEM’s new aid to the media in the amount of 100,000 euros

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PODGORICA, June 25, 2021 – The Agency for Electronic Media invited broadcasters to submit requests for state aid through the exemption from the obligation to pay part of the annual fee for broadcasting radio or TV programs for 2021.

“The Council of the Agency for Electronic Media, at its session held on April 23, 2021, passed a Decision on giving consent to reduce the obligations of broadcasters for 2021 by about 100,000 euros, in a way that public and commercial broadcasters will be released from the obligation to pay the second quarter installments of the broadcasting fee for 2021 and commercial and public TV broadcasters that broadcast program content within the project “Learn at Home” to be released from the obligation to pay the first and second quarterly installments of the broadcasting fee for 2021″, reads the invitation of the Agency.

Broadcasters are required to submit a request for state aid to the Electronic Media Agency by Wednesday, June 30 at the latest.

During the last year, the Agency reduced the obligations to broadcasters by EUR 178,379.65, so that all commercial and public broadcasters were exempted from paying two quarterly installments of the broadcasting fee for 2020 (second and fourth) and broadcasters that broadcast program content within the project “Learn home” exempt from paying the full annual fee for 2020.

Can we save the local media?

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Photo: Drew Bae / Unsplash.com

PODGORICA, June 17th, 2021 – Irregularly paid and low wages, high political influence, and poor technical and technological working conditions are the main problems that employees in local public broadcasters face with. Some of them hope that the Law on Audiovisual Media Services, which, if adopted in the form of the current Draft, could increase budgets for local media.

Employees of the Radio-Television Herceg Novi (RTHN) have been trying for years to sign a collective agreement, however without success. Frequent changes of directors further complicate the working conditions. The number of employees has increased to 29 in Television, and 11 in Radio, out of whom six are portal employees. However, the portal is not mentioned in employment contracts, as a separate category. The work of employees on the portal is, therefore, not considered as added value, while at the same time, they are expected to possess all the skills needed to work on the portal. The payment of taxes and contributions on employees’ salaries are seven months behind, says RTHN journalist Dragana Vlaovic.

“At first, there was only radio, and then when it came to launching television we tried to prove that the project was unsustainable,” Vlaovic points out.

She believes that the advantage of working in a local public broadcaster is that employees have the security that they will not lose their jobs if they go on sick leave, but that it is difficult in every other sense.

As she says, regardless of the fact that there is always a certain amount foreseen in the municipal budget if the money is not paid it is not possible to do anything, “They give you what they give you,” Vlaovic says.

In Radio-Television Rozaje (RTR), salaries are late and have not been paid for several years. This local broadcaster has two debt rescheduling programs – one for 20 years, which is paid regularly, and one amounting to 30,000, which is not paid regularly, as RTR employees claim. The editor of RTR Rozaje, Enes Gusinjac, says that no contributions have been paid since April 2018 and that they are not included in the debt rescheduling, and the amount in question is about 260 thousand euros. In addition, this medium is obliged to return funds from the EDO project. This project aimed to employ people with disabilities, and over 100 thousand euros were allocated for it. These employees, however, were fired before the end of the project.

The total debt of RT Rozaje (RTR) is around 580 thousand euros. The allocated budget for last year was 185 thousand. Employees fear of bankruptcy.

Gusinjac, just like a colleague from Herceg Novi, believes that it is a big mistake that television was formed on the radio budget, and the number of employees increased. They currently have 28 employees and two people work on the portal.

“The problem of local public broadcasters goes beyond the capacity of local government to solve it. Therefore, the Government should get involved,” Gusinjac added.

RTR also asked the Turkish agency TIKA for help. “We should have got new premises, but even that has been called into question. In addition, employees’ lawsuits due to reduced salaries and coefficients are also a problem. Many employees have already won court cases”, says Gusinjac.

He assesses that the overall situation is a result of great political influence. “Employees are often fighters for political parties who have nothing to do with the media,” Gusinjac said.

He concludes that the Law on Audiovisual Media Services, if adopted, could help local media.

Employees of Radio Ulcinj did not receive a single salary in the first five months of this year. The bank account of that media has been blocked since January, and telephone lines were suspended in May. After a series of meetings with local leaders in June, the bank account was unblocked and employees were paid two net salaries. However, 15 salaries remain unpaid. Taxes and contributions have not been paid regularly since 2010. Until 2015, this obligation was taken over by the local government through debt rescheduling. The next debt rescheduling is concluded for the period until 2017, and it should be paid for by the company itself, which, of course, the company is not able to do.

Working in this Radio is very difficult and ungrateful, says Esat Mehmeti, the only journalist employed in the Albanian-language newsroom. “Apart from the music program, we only manage to fill in the terms provided for the news. We persistently try to explain the importance and purpose of local radio, the need to refresh newsrooms with new staff and the need for new equipment and better audibility, but for now it does not reach the current leadership of the Municipality, i.e. the Municipal Assembly that is our founder”, Mehmeti concludes.

Anyway, the debts of the Radio increased to about 295 thousand Euros.

Politics is a special story. Local political actors have their favorites among the private media. Except declaratively, they have no other interest in the local public service, which is at disposal for everyone.

The situation is also difficult in Radio-Television Pljevlja. Employees are owed two salaries, and debts for taxes and contributions amount around 400 thousand Euros. Since the beginning of the year, the bank account of that media has been blocked twice. Employees of this medium are in fear of bankruptcy as well.

Amendments to the law may help

There are 16 local public broadcasters registered in Montenegro, of which 11 are radio and five are radio and television (RTV). The functioning of local public broadcasters in Montenegro is regulated by the Law on Media and the Law on Electronic Media. The Law on Audiovisual Media Services is prepared in draft version, which, if adopted, will replace the Law on Electronic Media.

The Law on Media regulates the basic principles of freedom of the media, freedom of expression, free establishment of the media, publicity of media ownership, transparency of media advertising, protection of media pluralism, rights, obligations and responsibilities in information, protection of special rights, right of reply and correction, protection and right of insights into the media record and other issues of importance for the work of the media.

Article 75 of the same Law stipulates that local public broadcasters are established by a decision of the assembly of a local self-government unit.

The governing bodies in public broadcasters are the board and the director.

The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, with the Draft Law on Audiovisual Media Services, envisaged solutions, in accordance with the proposal of the Association of Local Public Broadcasters, which will precisely define the financing of local public broadcasters.

“We remind you that the Draft on Audiovisual Media Services is currently under the expert monitoring of the Council of Europe and the European Commission, and that its adoption is expected by the end of 2021. We expect that the provisions of the Draft Law related to the financing of local public broadcasters will not be the subject of negative comments by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, as well as negative comments in the process of regular inter-ministerial procedure of harmonization of laws, and will be contained in the new Law which, we hope, will solve the long-standing financial problems that local public broadcasters face, with”, as they say from the Ministry.

The draft law on audiovisual media services envisages that the funds of public broadcasters be provided on an annual basis in the amount determined depending on the annual budget of the local self-government. That amount, as envisaged, cannot be less than: three percent of the total municipal budget if it is up to three million euros; 2.7 percent of the total municipal budget if it is from three to six million euros; 2.5 percent of the total municipal budget if it is from six to 10 million euros; 2 percent of the total municipal budget if it is from 10 to 15 million euros; 1.7 percent of the total municipal budget if it is from 15 to 20 million, and 1.5 percent of the total municipal budget if it is above 20 million euros.

From the Trade Union of Montenegro (SMCG) they point out that the current Law on Electronic Media provides for the financing of public broadcasters from the state budget and local government budgets, but does not establish the obligation to determine the minimum amount of the general budget that should be provided by law and establishment decisions (within local public broadcaster).

“If the financing of local public broadcasters were regulated and depended only on the contract between the local self-government and the public broadcaster, that would be a great uncertainty for those media because the amount of funds would change from situation to situation and would depend exclusively on the will of local authorities,” as they assess from SMCG.

They point out that, if the local self-government assesses that it is necessary to establish a local public broadcaster, then it is necessary to ensure that it is financed in a way that the greatest possible degree of independence in its work is ensured.

“Only the funds known in advance provided in the minimum amount for the realization of the mission of a public broadcaster can ensure a high degree of independence of local broadcasters and respect for professional standards. It is important to note that the introduction of a minimum amount (percentage) of the general annual budget of local self-government is only a guarantee that the local broadcaster will be able to function smoothly, and that if circumstances allow, additional funds can be provided through the contract of public broadcaster and local self-government to contribute in a better way to the realization of the public interest “, stated the SMCG.

They estimate that employees in local public broadcasters are in the worst position when it comes to socio-economic status, with the lowest salaries and longest salary delays (even 15 months).

“Also, the independence of the management of the public broadcaster depends on the structure of the members of the highest governing body and the procedure for their election. If the members of the public broadcaster’s council are appointed by organizations or institutions that are under the influence of political parties, executive bodies or economic centers of power, the space for influencing the editorial policy of the public broadcaster is very pronounced. As a rule, the Council of the public broadcaster, which is influenced by the political centers of power, for a director will elect a person who will actually be the transmission of their political interests”, it was pointed out in the proposals of the SMCG for the Media Strategy.

It is also stated that the law should prescribe which organizations can nominate members of the Council, using the practice from the Law on National Public Broadcaster (RTCG), whose members are mostly nominated by civil society organizations.

“It is necessary to additionally prescribe by law the possibility that civil society organizations that are not predominantly financed from the state budget or local government budget (over 50 percent of the annual budget in the previous three years) propose members of the councils of local public broadcasters. Organizations that meet this most important criterion (NGOs, unions, sports organizations, employers’ organizations, etc.) are more likely to nominate candidates who will pursue the interests of the public rather than political or economic centers of power. In the councils of local public broadcasters, it is desirable that one member comes from the trade unions that participate in the work of the Social Council”, as stated from the SMCG.

Regional and European practice

“Analysis of the position of local public broadcasters and the rights of journalists in the media laws of Montenegro” by prof. Dr. Sandra Basic Hrvatin and Goran Djurovic from 2017, provides a good overview of examples of regional and European practice. The authors here cite the case of Slovenia where more than a third of all registered working journalists are self-employed; and Croatia – in which the media face an “alarming drop” in the number of employees.

France has about 700 local radio communities, but they are defined as non-commercial broadcasters, which qualifies them for financial support provided by the Fund for Local Radio Stations. Netherlands finances local media from three funds, and broadcasting licenses are usually granted for five years. The mentioned Analysis also cites the example of Great Britain, whose local and regional broadcasters are formally and legally privately owned, with the provision that a certain percentage of programs must be intended to satisfy the public interest. The authors of the Analysis estimate that in the EU “there are as many models as there are member states”.

The question remains – which model is best for Montenegro, that is – can we save the local media?

The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media plans to organize another public debate on the Draft Law on Audiovisual Services. This can be an opportunity to further improve solutions for local broadcasters.

 Suzana Mujic

 

The article was created as part of the project “Improving Dialogue between Journalists’ Associations and Parliaments in the Western Balkans for a Stronger Civil Sector”, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN).

The content of this article, as well as the information and views presented, do not represent the official views and opinions of Sida and BCSDN. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this text is entirely copyrighted.

Joint Initiative of nine organizations for the Change of Criminal Code

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PODGORICA, 07.06.2021. – Civil society organizations dealing with the work of the media sent a joint initiative to the Government, Ministry of Justice, Human and Minority Rights, Parliament and parliamentary clubs for urgent amendments to the Criminal Code, in order to better protect journalists.

In the first half of this year, 10 cases of verbal and physical attacks, threats, insults and disparagement of journalists and media workers were recorded, and in most cases this happened while they were on their usual work assignments. Having in mind the frequent attacks on journalists in Montenegro and the tensions that have arisen in the socio-political life, we believe that steps should be taken in order to achieve increased criminal protection of journalists and media workers. Attacks and obstructions of the media in reporting should be prevented and a social environment in which freedom of expression is guaranteed should be provided.

We believe that the introduction of new criminal offenses in the Criminal Code – Preventing Journalists from Performing Professional Tasks and Attacking Journalists in Performing Professional Tasks, ie supplementing the existing criminal offenses of Aggravated Murder and Serious Bodily Injury, could help deter potential perpetrators of such attacks in the future. Such protection would be in line with both international and European standards.

We note that the non-governmental organization Action for Human Rights has been advocating for the mentioned changes for years. Considering that they were not accepted, and having in mind the worsening of the environment in which the media work, other organizations dealing with the work of the media and the protection of journalists are joining the Action for Human Rights. We would like to point out that there is a broad consensus in the professional community on the urgent need to amend the Criminal Code, in order to toughen penalties for attacks on journalists.

Human Rights Action

Trade Union of Media of Montenegro

Montenegro Media Institute

Civic Alliance

Association of Journalists of Montenegro

Society of Professional Journalists

Center for Civic Education

Media center

35mm

Joint initiative – toughen penalties for attacks on journalists

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Photo: SMCG

PODGORICA, May 28th, 2021 – Organizations dealing with media in Montenegro must cooperate more in solving common problems and it is necessary for the media community to start a continuous dialogue on that, it was assessed at the round table organized today by the Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG). It was announced at the meeting that a joint initiative would be proposed to the Government and the Parliament for urgent amendments to the Criminal Code in order to toughen the penalties for attacks on journalists.

Beside members of the SMCG, representatives of the Montenegro Media Institute, Media Center, Association of Journalists of Montenegro and the Civic Alliance participated in the discussion “Improvement of Media Legislation in Montenegro”.

Media Institute has proposed working together on a media literacy strategy, and strengthening capacity in the digital environment and the new technological conditions in which journalists work.

Representative of the Media Center pointed out that ethics must be a key topic of the media community. Journalistic and marketing texts must be clearly separated, in order to improve the credibility and level of trust in the media, it was pointed out from this organization.

The proposal of the Association of Journalists of Montenegro was that professional associations form a single, independent journalism club, which would have a common position on the definition of journalists and the basic postulates of impartial work. They also suggested that discussions similar to today’s be held in several municipalities, in order to strengthen cooperation with local journalists who, for the most part, work in difficult economic conditions.

Civic Alliance suggested that professional associations work more on educational programs for journalists. The representative of this organization also pointed out the necessity of providing free legal and psychological assistance in cases of violations of the rights of journalists and other media workers.

The round table is one in a series of activities organized by SMCG in order to strengthen cooperation between professional associations and media workers, and to change the legislation in order to improve the media environment.

Round table is part of the project “Improving Dialogue between Journalists’ Associations and Parliaments in the Western Balkans for a Stronger Civil Sector” funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and implemented by the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN).

17 years from murder of journalist Dusko Jovanovic

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PODGORICA, May 27th, 2021 – The murder of the director and editor-in-chief of the “Dan” newspaper, Dusko Jovanovic, is a dark stain on the face of the state of Montenegro and competent institutions, which even after 17 years failed to fully shed light on the most serious crime in the history of Montenegrin journalism.

The perpetrators of the murder of Jovanović remain unknown, and there is a weakening hope that they will ever be discovered. Despite numerous omissions acknowledged by the authorities themselves, there were no professional sanctions for those who failed to investigate a case that simply could not remain unresolved due to its gravity and brutality. Although both the old government claimed, and the new one claims, that there is a political will to shed light on the case, the passage of time does not give the right to expect such a thing.

We call on the Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office and the new management of the Police Administration to put this case again at the top of their work, ie to work on discovering the perpetrators and murderers, as if the crime happened yesterday. It is especially important to fully investigate the information that, as the sister of the murdered Jovanovic, Danijela Pavicevic, announced last year, was presented by the former director of the Police Administration Veselin Veljovic – that the police know who was in the car from which Jovanovic was shot but has no material evidence. Also, it is necessary to fully investigate who made all the omissions that led to the unresolved crimes, which was announced last year by the then Minister of Justice Zoran Pazin. We also believe that it would be effective for the new government to hire a foreign expert to see what has been done in the murder investigation. This was proposed by the Commission for Investigation of Attacks on Journalists 3 years ago, but despite the promises of the former government, it was not done.

It is clear that until Jovanovic’s murder is fully resolved, media freedom in Montenegro will never be achieved in its entirety or justice will be served, and it is questionable whether a state with a heavy ballast of unsolved murder of journalists can hope to be admitted to the European Union in the near future.