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SMCG: Enable media workers to report on important events

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PHOTO: pixabay.com

PODGORICA, 08.09.2021. – The Trade Union of Media of Montenegro once again appeals to the representatives of state bodies and public officials to respect the importance of the work performed by media workers, whose basic task is reporting in the interest of the public. Recent examples, unfortunately, show that misunderstanding still exists.

Namely, censored photos were sent to the media yesterday after the meeting of Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapić in the villa “Gorica” ​​with the representatives of security sector. This would not have been possible if photojournalists and cameramen had been allowed to attend the event. This practice has existed for years, not only at the state level, but also local governments often use the opportunity to report on their activities through press releases and promotional photos, which are sent from their offices to newsrooms.

SMCG points out that this is unacceptable because media workers are not only transmitters of messages from public officials, nor their marketing services, but their goal is to report professionally on their work. Doing so directly increases the level of censorship and restricts media freedom, but also deprives the public of important information.

The presence of our colleagues, photo reporters, cameramen, journalists and other media workers is necessary at all important events, especially if it is about meetings for which there is a special interest of the public.

We would like to remind you that SMCG has been advocating for years, primarily through amendments to the law, to strengthen the autonomy of employees in newsrooms, but also when performing daily work tasks. We are witnessing that the social environment makes the work of the media more difficult, but the state authorities should show by their example that they understand the role of the seventh force in a democratic society.

Pertaining to working on the new Law on Public Information and Media

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Foto: Pixabay

Media Association, Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), Association of Online Media (AOM), Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (IJAV), Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (IJAS), business association – Association of Local and Independent Media “Local Press”, Transparency Serbia and Journalists’ Association of Serbia (JAS), have announced today that they have sent letters to the Government of the Republic of Serbia and Ministry of Culture and Information to express their concern by former work of the Working Group of Ministry of Culture and Information in drawing up the Draft Law amending the Law on Public Information and Media.

Media Association, ANEM, AOM, IJAV, IJAS, Local Press, Transparency Serbia and JAS have accepted the goals defined in the Strategy for the Development of Public Information System, adopted by the Government of Republic of Serbia in January 2020, including the activities related to its implementation from the Action Plan for implementing Strategy from December last year, firmly believing that the baseline for drawing up the Draft will be precisely the one defined in the Strategy and Action Plan. Motivated by this belief, they have accepted the nominations of their representatives for the Working Group in charge of drawing up the Draft. Still, now the same representatives are witnessing the attempts of introducing the amendments into the Draft law amending the Law on Public Information and Media as an alternative or even as an only solution, leaving the direction of realising the goals defined in the Strategy, as such amendments were not at all listed in the activities on implementation of Strategy in the adopted Action Plan.

Some of the examples considered by the Working Group, derogate not only the Media Strategy, but also the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, in particular the rights of freedom of expression, or even collide with applicable international standards in this area, such as follows:

1) Prescribing preliminary ban of spreading false news, in a manner not meeting the criteria developed within the practice of the European Court of Human Rights, since the ban is not clear enough nor it has been evident which goals it shall fulfil, nor how it will ensure the proportionality of limitations introduced in such way. Moreover, the existing legal mechanisms in this area have been already aligned with international standards. It is only necessary to insist on the proper application of the law instead of artificially creating the concept of false news.
2) Introducing direct subsidies and/or state aid for publishers of media informing persons with disabilities. Direct subsidy is a concept abandoned in earlier strategic documents related to media. Public money circulating in the media market, as specified in the findings of the Media Strategy, is already creating significant disturbances in the market. For informing the persons with disabilities it is necessary to improve the existing framework for project co-financing and public broadcasting services programmes. Instead of placing emphasis on producing high-quality media content for persons with disabilities, by means of introducing direct subsidies for the publishers of media informing the persons with disabilities, the focus is moved towards the unacceptable establishing of new public media.
3) As one of the problems in project co-financing, the Media Strategy refers to the “unclearly defined purpose of the competition, which does not originate from previously defined needs of the population for the specific media content”. Therefore, the Strategy provides for that “amendments of the regulations (laws governing public information and media) will improve the system of project co-financing, in particular through providing for the obligation to carry out a needs analysis for the non-existing media content, which would result in publishing call for proposals precisely for the rare media content. Some members are now opposing the introduction of needs analysis for the non-existing media content in the Draft, justifying that with statements that analysis has not been done so far, that it has not been the part of the practice, and that requires the time that we allegedly do not have;
4) Although Media Strategy provides for recognising jurisdiction of the Press Council as a prerequisite for participation in competitions for project co-financing for printed and online media, including giving preferences to the media with less or without any measures imposed by the Press Council for project financing, this solution is being questioned again in the Working Group, with the attempts to exclude it from the Draft;
5) Alternative solutions are being used to relativize the ban on media publishers being publicly owned. It contradicts the basic perspective of both previous and current Media Strategy, and the applicable Law on Public Information and Media, which prescribes exclusion of public authorities from media ownership structure. Although the Working Group has not accepted the proposal, it remains uncertain if this solution will remain to be an alternative or not.
6) Insisting on legal definition of the term journalist. Instead of accepting the fact that the sphere of media actors has changed and expanded in relation to the traditional context and understanding of a journalist, some members of the Working Group still insist on legal definition of the journalist. The Media Strategy has not provided for the introduction of this definition, and if this narrow definition is inserted in the law, it threatens to leave the entire group of persons whose work is unquestionably significant for informing the public excluded from the legal protection.
7) Restrict freedom of reception and retransmission of cross border media channels and legal obligation of free transmission of terrestrial channels in all telecommunication platforms. Such solutions repeating in the work of the Working Group, in addition to being generally problematic, have not been provided for by the Media Strategy and do not represent the subject matter for the Law on Public Information and Media.

In the letters sent to the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Ministry of Culture and Information, it has been indicated that alternative solutions in the draft of such a critical law are not and cannot be an acceptable practice in the legislative work. It has been requested from the Ministry of Culture and Information to prevent the attempts of discussing solutions rejected as unacceptable even in the phase of drawing up the Strategy and Action Plan, and, in particular, it has been requested to prevent allowing such solutions to be introduced into the Law through the back door. This would upset the creation of a legal framework that should guarantee freedom of expression, media freedom, journalists’ safety, media pluralism, and development of media market, empowerment of journalist profession, educated citizens and institutions capable of applying the regulations, which the Government of the Republic of Serbia has supported by adopting the Strategy.

In their letter, the organisations had, first of all, indicated that their primary goal was to ascertain full respect of deadlines provided for in the Action Plan, and in particular, in the context of the expected calling of the elections, to avoid any further delay in realisation of the Strategy goals. In that respect, from the President of the Working Group, Slavica Trifunovic, Assistant Minister of Culture and Information, it has been requested to entirely remove from the agenda of the Working Group the proposals contradicting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and in particular, the right of freedom of expression, and/or the proposals conflicting the applicable international standards in this area and the adopted Media Strategy.

In the letter, it has been further noted that in the event of the Ministry of Culture and Information and the President of the Working group ignoring these requests, the representatives of the Working Group from Media Association, ANEM, AOM, IJAV, IJAS, Local Press, Transparency Serbia and JAS, will refuse, by their signature and reputation, to stand behind the amended solutions and proposals that in any way whatsoever deviate from the goals of the Strategy and the measures, and/or the activities and its implementation provided for in the Action Plan.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and Information Maja Gojkovic reacted to the latest events by scheduling a meeting with representatives of associations, signatories of the statement, on Tuesday, September 14.

SMCG: Police to ensure safety for journalists in Cetinje

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PODGORICA, 03.09.2021 – Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) calls on the Ministry of Interior and the Police Directorate to pay special attention to journalists and media workers during the upcoming weekend events in Cetinje and to quickly and efficiently protect them from possible inconveniences.

The Ministry of the Interior and the Police said that they could not guarantee security for citizens and journalists for the weekend in the Old Royal Capital, which we consider a very discouraging message. Therefore, we invite them to put a special focus on journalists and media workers, who will report in large numbers on these events, which means that they should provide police protection as much as possible, unhindered movement, as well as monitoring and recording all relevant events that are important for the public.

We call on journalists and media workers to be extremely careful during the weekend, as well as to wear the vests that their newsrooms received earlier from the Ministry of the Interior. In this way, we believe that the possibility of any problems will be reduced. We also call on the media to be professional and objective in their reporting, so that neither side could interpret their behavior as a provocation or bias.

Journalists’ union and better education on media rights and freedoms are necessary

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Sarajevo, September 2, 2021 – Formation of a single union of media professionals at the state level, better education on journalistic rights and media freedoms, work on improving the economic position of journalists and developing intergenerational understanding within media outlets are necessary to improve the environment for journalists and media in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was concluded during an online debate with journalists and media editors in BiH, which was organized by the BH Journalists Association.

The results of the latest research on media freedoms and safety of journalists in BiH, conducted by BH Journalists within the regional network of journalists’ associations of the Western Balkans SafeJournalists and with the support of the European Union, show that 2020 was one of the most difficult for BH media and journalists in economic terms. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many journalists and freelancers have been left without employment contracts, and the income of most media outlets has been drastically reduced.

“The poor economic situation makes journalists susceptible to political influences and does not motivate them to take a professional approach to work. Many have below-average wages and irregular incomes, are not paid regular pension and health insurance contributions, and sign contracts with employers on a monthly basis or for a slightly longer period. All this creates a feeling of constant economic insecurity and concern for existence, and in many newsrooms it directly leads to (self) censorship, selective publication of information and various types of pressure and mobbing “, said the author of the research Maja Radević from BH Journalists.

In the past year, the most numerous were cases of threats and intimidation of journalists, as well as various forms of pressure, which often came from representatives of government institutions. When it comes to threats and harassment, the number of cases of threats to journalists via social networks, ie hate speech and online violence, has increased. Also, almost 80 percent of lawsuits against journalists and the media come from politicians and other public officials, and lately the so-called SLAPP lawsuits which, through high compensation claims, aim to endanger the financial survival of the media.

The moment we stop encouraging journalists to talk about their rights, we will have even greater pressure, emphasizes journalist Andrijana Pisarević.

“They burden us with low salaries, reduce the number of people, overwhelm us with work and we don’t have time to think about ourselves or our health, and usually only when we need to go to the doctor do we find out that we haven’t paid contributions. Journalists tend to fight for other people’s rights, but not for their own. This does not happen in other industries that have strong unions. That is why we must not stop insisting on that”, says Pisarević.

The coordinator of the Free Media Help Line (FMHL), Vildana Dzekman, said that the pandemic had worsened the position of journalists and the media, especially when it comes to violations of labor rights.

“Many journalists do not have the opportunity to retire with dignity due to unrelated length of service, there is a large number of dismissals during the pandemic… Establishment of a single union that would protect the rights of the media in BiH is necessary. From January to the end of July, 8 defamation lawsuits were reported to the FMHL. The question is how much money we will have to cover the growing number of these lawsuits, “said Dzekman.

According to journalist Esad Sabanagic, the media picture in the USC area is worse than in the rest of BiH.

“Journalists have learned to suffer and we are persistent in that. We are used to operating under economic pressures, independent media live from projects, we do not stand well in terms of marketing. Changes can take place, but we must also be more supportive to each other, “said Sabanagic.

Zorana Petkovic from Zvornik says that it is positive that the international community has realized that the media in BiH are under great pressure.

“That economic, quiet pressure on the media is continuous and if it weren’t for some projects, our radio really wouldn’t be able to survive. Monthly income decreases from month to month. We really need a union, one that will fight for journalists, but also for the independence of the media, especially in smaller local communities”, Petkovic emphasized.

The editor of the Capital portal, Sinisa Vukelic from Banja Luka, said that this media outlet has faced several lawsuits in the last six months, which are completely unfounded, but the motive is obviously to financially exhaust the media and create self-censorship among journalists.

“Large newsrooms are under political pressure, not only public services, but also commercial media, while small media for a reason remain ‘small’ because they do not want to make such compromises. We need to work on changing legal solutions and lobbying. We have laws that do not apply or we do not have any laws. We have to work on it together with associations from the region. The problem is the decreasing number of people in the media who really want to work and do this job. The pressures on the media will grow more and more, and the outflow of labor will increase, which means that there will be less and less money for advertisements “, says Vukelic.

Journalist Aida Štilić from Bihać also emphasizes that a single union of journalists in BiH is necessary.

“The union would give us the opportunity to speak together in front of those we write about every day and who we have to show through the media. When it comes to mobbing, it is also a big problem and many media directors do not recognize that they are doing mobbing at all”, says Štilić.

Journalist Brankica Smiljanic pointed out that journalists of the younger generation have a hard time getting opportunities to work full time, to have a decent salary, to be able to take out a bank loan…

“Many work as freelancers or on the black market and receive money in an envelope. I think that economic moment is very important for young journalists. In addition, they are more careful when reporting and there is a lot of self-censorship. The problem of mobbing is also very pronounced when it comes to the attitude of older colleagues towards young journalists and the borders are often crossed, “said Smiljanic.

The executive director of the USK Radio program, Gorica Bukic, says that the media that are financed from the budget are often considered to be subservient, to work according to dictates and as politics imposes on them.

“Journalism in BiH today, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, has been extremely difficult. The fact that there are more and more people who believe that if they have a political or other function, they also have the right to humiliate a journalist, not to give him a statement, to be arrogant, speaks volumes about how much pressure they have. BH Journalists Association manages to a good extent to solve many cases in favor of journalists and that is really good, because it is different when you know that someone is behind you and that they will stand up for your rights”, states Bukic.

Amila Husić, coordinator of the project implemented by the BH Journalists in cooperation with the organization Free Press Unlimited, spoke about the relationship between the media community and judicial institutions.

“Through our research so far, we have noticed that there is a mutual misunderstanding – the judiciary often does not understand the way journalists do their job, but there are misunderstandings on the other side as well when it comes to laws and obligations prescribed to prosecutors, judges… However, lately we have an increasing number of cases that have been completed in the courts in favor of journalists, and that is positive,” said Husic.

According to BH Journalists Secretary General Borka Rudic, today’s online debate is the first in a series that BH Journalists will organize with journalists, editors and media owners from all over BiH, with the primary goal of detecting the most important problems in the work of journalists and media and solving them through cooperation with representatives of the legislative and executive power and judicial institutions.

 

Free rapid antigen tests available for media workers in Montenegro

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PODGORICA, 02.09.2021 – The Ministry of Health will provide free rapid antigen tests for all media representatives who report from gatherings for the presence of which the National Digital COVID certificate is required, and who, although they belong to the priority group for immunization, have not been vaccinated so far.

This was announced by the minister, Jelena Borovinić Bojović.

“The media in Montenegro, despite all the differences, without exception, have so far shown and proved that they are absolute allies of medicine, which is why the Ministry of Health is grateful for their contribution to the process of immunization against coronavirus,” said Borovinic Bojovic.

Free rapid antigen tests, as she explained, will be done in Podgorica at the Institute of Public Health, and in other cities the testing will be done in the local hygienic and epidemiological services.

“Testing must be announced from the official e-mail address of the media in which employees work. Aware of the fact that, unfortunately, it is still rarely said publicly that journalists, cameramen, photojournalists and presenters are constantly exposed to an increased risk of coronavirus, the Ministry Health of Montenegro in this way also wants to draw attention to this group, which has been in the focus of our attention since day one, which is why we are obliged, on behalf of all citizens, to pay additional respect to them. The Ministry of Health encourages all media in Montenegro to persevere in their tasks with gratitude on all pages and articles dedicated to health professionals and public health” said the Minister of Health.

AJK CONDEMNS THE BOYCOTT AND LYNCHING VOCABULARY TOWARD THE PORTAL “JEPI ZË” BY LËVIZJA VETËVENDOSJE IN MITROVICA

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The Association of Journalists of Kosovo harshly condemns the statement of the branch of the political party Lëvizja Vetëvendosje in Mitrovica through which certain journalists and media are lynched, starting from the local portal “Jepi Zë”.

The accusations of the governing party that this portal is working for another political party are unacceptable.

The call for boycott of the local portal and the language used towards some journalists is lynching that seriously endangers their safety.

We call upon this political party to distance itself from the denigrating language towards journalists and media, used by its branch in Mitrovica.

SMCG and HRA: Parliament must urgently vote on amendments to the Criminal Code

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YouTube (printscreen)

PODGORICA, 31.08.2021. – Human Rights Action (HRA) and Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) indicate that, if the proposal of nine non-governmental organizations, journalists’ associations and unions, for stronger criminal protection of journalists was adopted so far, the attack on the team of Vijesti Television on August 22 in Cetinje would have to be qualified as criminal act of preventing journalists from performing professional tasks and punishable by imprisonment from six months to five years, as the act was committed in a group.

Such an act will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor and its perpetrators can only be fined or imprisoned for up to 60 days. If the man who threatened TV Vijesti cameraman Drago Matovic is identified and held accountable for the crime of Endangering Security, he will again be able to receive a much milder punishment than the one proposed by the NGO for the above-mentioned crime.

Once again, unfortunately, the bad examples show that the proposals of the Human Rights Action from 2010 should have been adopted a long time ago, which would prescribe new criminal acts and toughen the penalties for attacks on journalists. We believe that at least part of the attack that has taken place in the meantime would have been prevented if a clear message had been sent in time that journalists should not be disturbed and physically attacked just because they are doing their job. Therefore, it is necessary for the Parliament to urgently initiate the procedure and as soon as possible to vote on the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, which were sent to all deputies three months ago, and which Prava Crna Gora put in the parliamentary procedure more than a month ago.

Only urgent, serious and systematic action by the authorities can prevent new attacks, which unfortunately can be expected given the increased tensions in society.

THE AJK’S BOARD HELD ITS SECOND MEETING

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Today, the AJK’s Board held its second meeting, where 8 out of 9 members of the Board participated.

Xhemajl Rexha – Chairman of the Board, informed the other members about the meetings that he has held with local and international partners regarding the protection of freedom of speech, the rights of journalists and the promotion of their work.

They also discussed about the projects that will be implemented from the beginning of September, the Award Ceremony for Poverty Eradication, as well as new ideas and projects to promote the work of journalists, cameramen, photojournalists and the improvement of the climate of doing journalism.

PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENTS AGAINST COVID-19 DELIVERED TO LOCAL MEDIA

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Association of Journalists of Kosovo – AJK has provided protective equipments against Covid-19 to several local media throughout Kosovo, as part of a donation from first half of this year. The local media from Prizren, Ferizaj, Klina, Istog, Peja, North Mitrovica and Kamencia were sent following items: jackets, vests, protective clothing, gloves, face shields, face masks and disinfectants.

AJK would like to thank all of our local and international partners who helped our community in providing protective equipments facilitating their work facing Covid-19 pandemic.