Soft Censorship Eroding Media Freedom in Montenegro

Montenegro cover

‘Soft’ censorship is quickening an already serious decline in media independence in Montenegro. This is the conclusion of a new report published today by WAN-IFRA, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and the Montenegrin Centre for Civic Education (CCE).

“Eroding Freedoms: Media and Soft Censorship in Montenegro” [http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/144107/] outlines a selective approach to public funding that is misused to reward positive coverage of the work of authorities and otherwise withheld to punish media outlets that question official policies or practices. Media coverage is therefore polarised and encourages poor-quality journalism that is of little service to public discussion. As a result, media credibility has been severely diminished in the country.

Official soft censorship, or indirect censorship, is defined as “an array of official actions intended to influence media output, short of legal or extra-legal bans, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on media outlets or media practitioners.”

“Once again the research in Montenegro shows that soft censorship is one of the least talked about, but most effective ways of influencing media content,” said WAN-IFRA Press Freedom director, Andrew Heslop, “The influence of mismanaged public funds in a small media market filled with many outlets is simply huge.”

Tragic examples of ‘hard censorship’, such as the unresolved May 2004 murder of Dan daily editor-in-chief, Duško Jovanović, and other reported attacks on journalists and media property show a violent recent past for the Montenegrin press. Latterly, however, soft censorship has drastically increased and now has far-reaching negative effects throughout country’s media. Indirect, often financial pressures intended to weaken the capacity and even threaten the viability of targeted media outlets that criticize the government have become commonplace.

Through extensive research and numerous interviews with editors and media experts, research conducted by the Centre for Civic Education in Montenegro catalogues the forms and maps the extent of soft censorship in the country’s state and public institutions. While public spending across media remains unregulated, political actors exercise control or significant pressure on both media content and viability by distributing these funds.

The report’s recommendations urge action to reverse the erosion of media freedom in Montenegro and improve prospects for the development of free, independent and pluralistic media. A lack of accurate, impartial reporting on the activities of government, political parties and other institutions has significantly slowed the democratisation of Montenegrin society and its governance structures.

Full implementation of laws and regulations that prevent state interference in media business operations and media outlets’ reporting, while ensuring fair opportunities for all media to obtain public funding and advertising is sorely needed – and required – in order to meet European Union standards, the report says.

“The entire process of democratisation and European integration of Montenegro is losing by limitations imposed on the free development of independent media whose survival is endangered by unfair competition and state interference,” said Daliborka Uljarević, Executive Director at the Centre for Civic Education in Montenegro.

In addition, transparency of ownership structures should be mandatory and possible conflicts of interest publicly aired. Strict adherence to the journalists’ code of conduct and appropriate mechanisms of accountability for violations overseen by a credible self-regulating body should be the norm, according to the research.

“If Montenegro’s spending of public funds for advertising remains unregulated and the practices opaque, it will be very difficult to solve the problem of soft censorship there,” said Don Podesta, Manager and Editor at CIMA.

The full report can be downloaded for free from http://www.wan-ifra.org/node/144107/

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