The proposal on committee establishment is an attack on the professional autonomy of journalists

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PODGORICA, 12.06.2016. – The draft decision on establishing an interim committee for supervising investigations on jeopardising safety of journalists and media outlets, which would deal with the “analysis of the autonomy degree in the work of journalists and their independence, including media owners” – precisely represents an attack on our professional autonomy.

If a committee with these powers was formed, we fear that it would only further jeopardise media freedom in Montenegro because it is inconceivable in a democracy that politicians are engaged in controlling journalists’ work. The situation in the developed world is reversed – journalists are the ones whose principal job is to control the work of politicians, who are paid by all taxpayers, whereas politicians do not deal with how autonomous each journalist is. After all, it is also unclear how such a thing can be determined. And since we often refer to the rules of the democratic states, we would like this initiative proponents to tell us whether there is a parliamentary or any other competent authority with such powers elsewhere.

We agree that it is necessary to ensure the autonomy of journalists in the sense that the owners and editors must not publish an article or a video with the journalist’s signature, if their content is substantially modified or if it opposes the journalist’s moral principles. In this case, the article or the video report can only be released without the journalist’s signature. We also agree that journalist should be free to work and deal with topics of social importance in a professional, objective and critical way…

Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (SMCG) will propose similar norms in the media branch collective agreement and we will insist that such activities of editorial staff are treated as a serious violation of work duties. This is a measure known in contemporary journalism. However, “analysis of journalists’ autonomy degree” would certainly represent a new, revolutionary (in the negative sense) achievement in this regard.

SMCG appreciates concern of the initiative proposer from the ruling parties who believe that the job security of journalists would be ensured in this way but it can be done much more efficiently by other means. MPs should insist more actively that the media owners obey the labour related laws. Also, the lawmakers should continuously analyse the possibility of improving these laws, in order to improve the gloomy financial situation of media employees, instead of making confusing laws such as the Law on Public Sector Salaries. This law is the reason why colleagues working in the RTCG public broadcaster and local public broadcasters do not know when they will receive their salaries and how much they will be paid.

Also, we cannot help feeling that this issue is used for a new political dispute. The committee establishing was proposed along with the initiative for setting up the new commission for monitoring the activities of the competent authorities in the investigation of old and recent cases of threats and violence against journalists. While it is good that several competent bodies are dealing with such a great problem in order to finally solve the cases of the attacks on journalists, the experience in Montenegro shows that establishing several bodies for the same thing often leads to reducing strength of the basic initiative and obstruction coming from one side. The experience of the previous commission confirms it.

Finally, SMCG says that our members are always ready to have their work checked and their respect for professional standards analysed. However, politicians cannot do that, but only independent regulators and citizens, who the media exist for and who the politicians should be accountable to.

SMCG Main Board.