Media laws and journalists: No rights and obligations are stipulated

Source/Author: SMCG/Predrag Nikolić
Source/Photo: EU Info centar

PODGORICA, 21.01.2018 – Media laws in Montenegro, unlike those in the region, do not specifically regulate the position of journalists and their rights and obligations, nor do they provide any legal protection from the management structure and advertisers.

“Analysis of the position of local public broadcasters and journalists in media laws of Montenegro”, prepared by Prof. Sandra Bašić-Hrvatin, PhD and Goran Đurović, contains analysis of these rights, an overview of good practice in the countries of the European Union, and recommendations for improvement of regulations regarding protection of journalists’ rights.

The exception from this practice in national legislation presents only Article 14 of the Law on National Public Broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) which stipulates that: “Journalists employed in RTCG are independent in their work and act in the public interest. A journalist cannot be cancelled employment, reduced salary, or his/her status in the newsroom can be changed, or responsibility established for an attitude or opinion expressed in accordance with professional standards and program regulations.”

In addition to failure to stipulate basic rights and obligations, the regulations do not include mechanisms for protecting journalists/editors from the influence of media owners. So there is no obligation to sign an appropriate act by owner(s) and a journalist to ensure that owner(s) will not interfere with media content editing.

“This is combined with an uncertain financial position, low salaries, limited career advancements, so journalists and editors often accept influence of an ownership structure on media content editing. Generally, they are not willing to talk about their position and working conditions, and they decide to take this step only when they get fired”, states the Analysis.

Salaries of journalists are below the average salary on the state level, which, according to Monstat data, amounted to 510 Euros in June 2017, and those low salaries are in some cases late, which most often happens to employees in local public broadcasters and private media.

Non-payment of contributions, illegal employment, overtime and work during holidays are just some of the problems that media employees face. In addition to economic ones, journalists also face problems when dealing with their professional status in a newsroom. They are increasingly being overburdened, especially because of demands from a journalist to cover several areas. They are often tasked to do something that is not part of their job description, such as editing, lay-outing, taking photos, photo processing, etc.

“Journalists do not speak openly about pressures they face with in their daily work, but those ready to speak point out that each editorial board has a “list of desirable” interlocutors, and that journalists face self-censorship in terms of knowing which topics they can cover depending on the editorial media policy. Imposed interlocutors and topics limit journalists in their work, and interviewed journalists explain that “self-censorship exists when you have to choose a topic within the frameworks of the media where you work or – just do not “rock the boat” and you will not have major problems”, states the Analysis.

Examples of good practice include two former members of Yugoslavia, now members of the EU, – Croatia and Slovenia. Both countries recognise in their legislation the minimum standard of media statute which ensures certain level of journalistic autonomy in relation to an employer through participation in an election or dismissal of an editor-in-chief and through “conscience clause” which gives a journalist the possibility to reject, under certain conditions, editor’s or owner’s order without any material consequences.

Thus, the Statute, as a mechanism of protection of journalist autonomy, and a clause of conscience, as a mechanism for protecting those who warn of censorship, should be defined in the Law on Media along with mechanisms that guarantee their implementation. The minimum Statute standards and the clause to be defined within the Law also need to be aligned with the Labour Law in order to avoid legal uncertainties and arbitrary interpretations.

The Analysis notes that Slovenia and Croatia are among rare states that provide to their journalists such legal autonomy. International journalists associations consider these practices as the highest standards that need to be introduced into national legislations in order to protect media integrity. What is lacking in both legislations is the clear definition of effective measures for the implementation of these legal norms.

The Analysis provides remarks from the EU, which are well recognized in the media scenes of Montenegro and the region, that journalists are under increasing pressure from the so-called “soft censorship”, based on an invisible (at least for the public) links between the interests of media owners and politics (political instrumentalization of media), which result in limiting journalists in their work.

“When journalists have an uncertain labour-legal relations, when their economic and social security depends on the interests of advertisers and various formal and informal centers of power, it is hard to expect that they will be able to perform their work in the public interest. It is therefore, of high importance that professional journalists’ associations and journalists’ trade unions develop an efficient network of mechanisms for assistance and public warning to the problems that exist in journalism and to direct their activities to defining journalists work, within legislation, as the public interest. Media integrity (professional and personal commitment of journalists to the public interest) is the basic guarantor of freedom of expression”, states the Analysis.

In order to improve the legislation regarding protection of the rights of journalists, Bašić-Hrvatin and Đurović recommended that within Law on Media mechanisms for protecting the professional interests of journalists and editors in creating/editing media content should be prescribed, as well as to specify the right of the journalist to reject editor’s order under certain conditions.

It is also recommended that amendments to the Law on Media should be used to prescribe the obligation for media founders to cover the costs of court proceedings related to journalistic work (based on compliance with professional standards) and contributions made within his/her duties and based on the editor’s decision – lawsuits or civil lawsuits for journalistic work.