The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights except for some restrictions.
The law criminalizes the incitement of hatred and intolerance on national, racial, and religious grounds and prescribes punishment of six months to 10 years in prison.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media generally expressed a wide variety of political and social views, including through articles and programs critical of the authorities. The NGO Center for Civic Education warned in each of its annual reports since 2012, however, that selective and nontransparent public funding through the purchase of advertising was exerting an undue influence on the media market. According to the NGO, such funding was provided to reward media outlets favorable to the government and withheld from media that questioned official policies or practices. On June 9, the center reported that the government placed 61 percent of its 2016 newspaper financing in the previously government-owned, low-circulation newspaper Pobjeda. In their respective categories, the following outlets received the most funds for advertising and other support from government agencies: the government-funded public broadcaster Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) (with 41 percent of its advertising and other support funds coming from government agencies); the progovernment Radio Antena M (with 32 percent); and the privately owned but progovernment news website Portal Analitika (with 46 percent). Representatives of the most awarded media outlets confirmed the accuracy of the center’s figures but criticized the NGO for using inconsistent methodology.
In 2015 the Montenegro Media Institute issued a report which found that opaque ownership continued to be a problem. The report also warned that measures to prevent illegal media monopolies were ineffective and that transparency in how public institutions advertise in media outlets was lacking. The institute described these shortcomings as serious threats to the functioning and integrity of the entire media sector.
Despite the adoption of a journalistic code of ethics by major media groups/outlets, deep divisions between progovernment and pro-opposition media prevented the establishment of a functional and unified self-regulation mechanism for journalists. In its 2016 Montenegro Report published in November 2016, the European Commission (EC) found no further progress during the year in freedom of expression. “The effectiveness of media self-regulation is hampered by the fact that it is split into different forms, reflecting divisions within the media community,” the report noted.
The independent station TV Vijesti continued to blame unfair media conditions, government economic pressure, and selective prosecution for its difficulties in making regular tax payments to the government budget. In 2014 Vijesti’s publishing company, Daily Press, sued Pink M Television and the formerly government-owned newspaper Pobjeda for 660,000 euros ($790,000) to compensate for losses it allegedly incurred because of their efforts to discredit Vijesti. Following a jurisdictional ruling by the Supreme Court on April 19, the country’s Commercial Court started new hearings of the case on September 5.
Violence and Harassment: There were no physical assaults on journalists during the year, although media reported alleged threats and attacks on the property of media representatives, especially journalists working for pro-opposition or independent media outlets. Following a June meeting with police, the Montenegro Media Trade Union noted there have been 33 attacks on journalists and the media since 2014. The union also reported that police completed their investigations in 19 cases and had forwarded their findings to other state institutions. Many attacks from previous years remained unsolved or lacked court decisions. In addition, the independent and pro-opposition media reportedly experienced political and economic pressure.
In October 2016 the Podgorica High Court began the trial against investigative journalist Jovo Martinovic and 13 other persons indicted for allegedly participating in a drug trafficking ring. Martinovic pled not guilty, insisting that his contacts with the other defendants were purely linked to his work as a journalist. Numerous local and international human rights and media freedom organizations criticized the duration of Martinovic’s pretrial detention and urged that authorities ensure a fair trial. On January 4, following 15 months spent in a detention unit, Martinovic was released pending his trial, which was underway at year’s end.
On September 11, the pro-opposition daily Dan reported that Prime Minister Dusko Markovic’s brother, Velizar Markovic, threatened Dan reporter Vladimir Otasevic over the telephone. Markovic reportedly alluded to the 2004 killing of Dan editor Dusko Jovanovic during their conversation. In response, on September 13, Prime Minister Markovic stated that reporters should do their jobs as they wish but to leave his family out of politics. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, condemned the threat and called for a swift investigation. The Committee to Protect Journalists as well as several local journalists’ associations, NGOs, and opposition parties also condemned the incident and called on authorities to ensure a safe environment for the press.
On October 20, the Basic Court of Podgorica ordered the state to pay 7,000 euros ($8,400) in compensation to journalist Tufik Softic because of the state’s inadequate investigation into a 2007 murder attempt against Softic. The NGO Human Rights Action stated this case was the first time the state was fined for an inadequate investigation. In addition, on November 30, the Constitutional Court ruled that Softic’s right to life was violated due to the state’s ineffective investigation of the murder attempt and upheld the lower court’s judgment. Softic was brutally beaten in 2007, and an explosive device was thrown in front of his home in 2013. The perpetrators of the attacks remained unknown.
In a November 22 interview with the progovernment tabloid television station Pink M, the president of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Milo Djukanovic, asserted that NGOs and certain media outlets were conspiring as a “media mafia” to overturn the government. Several NGO and media representatives condemned Djukanovic’s comments as attacks on media freedom.
A commission reestablished by the government in 2016 to follow investigations into attacks and threats against journalists and the media met several times during the year. Like its predecessor commission, which existed between 2013 and 2015, the commission failed to influence the law enforcement and the judicial institutions to advance these investigations. Nikola Markovic, the commission’s chairman and deputy editor in chief of Dan, alleged that authorities obstructed the commission’s work by restricting access to relevant data.
Media also continued to note that perpetrators remained at large in the case of the 2004 murder of Dusko Jovanovic, editor in chief of the newspaper Dan. In April 2016 the country’s Appellate Court again upheld the High Court of Podgorica’s sentencing of Damir Mandic to 19 years in prison as an accomplice in the case.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent and pro-opposition media complained about unfair treatment and economic pressure from government ministries and agencies. The Center for Civic Education claimed that selective and nontransparent distribution of public funds to media outlets created an unfair media environment and constituted “soft censorship.”
On March 21, the public broadcaster, Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG), appointed an experienced RTCG journalist as the organization’s new director general. The decision followed months of political party disagreements, editorial and managerial staff replacements, and allegations of political pressure on RTCG decision makers. Observers viewed the appointment of a professional journalist with no political party background for the top RTCG managerial position as a significant step forward in its transformation towards an independent public broadcasting service.
The ruling political party and progovernment tabloids criticized RTCG’s new leadership and programming as pro-opposition. On November 23, the parliament voted to dismiss film director Nikola Vukcevic from his position on the RTCG Council. The vote followed a previous ruling by the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (ASK) that Vukcevic had a conflict of interest because he received an honorarium from a private production company for directing a documentary film. Vukcevic denied the accusations, noting his appeal of the ASK decision was pending a higher court’s ruling.
Opposition parties, NGOs, and independent media criticized Vukcevic’s replacement as part of a broader attempt by the ruling DPS to regain control over the public broadcaster before the 2018 presidential and municipal elections.
In its 2016 Country Report on Montenegro, the EC underscored the importance of the financial and editorial independence of RTCG. Specifically, the EC noted that “(t)he editorial independence of RTCG needs to be made a priority, since a well-functioning and truly independent public service broadcaster represents a key aspect of media pluralism.”
Some media outlets demonstrated a willingness to criticize the government. Lack of training and unprofessional journalistic behavior, combined with political and economic interference and low salaries for journalists, contributed at times to biased coverage.
Libel/Slander Laws: There is no criminal libel law, but media outlets faced libel charges in civil proceedings. For example, on April 21, the Podgorica Basic Court Podgorica fined the daily Dan 5,000 euros ($6,000) in a defamation case initiated by former prime minister Milo Djukanovic’s sister, Ana Kolarevic. In 2015 Kolarevic sued Dan for defamation because of the daily’s repeated reporting about her alleged involvement in a bribery scheme related to the privatization of the government-owned telecommunications company. Kolarevic had previously won three similar cases against Dan, Vijesti, and Monitor, and each outlet was fined 5,000 euros ($6,000) in damages.
Progovernment tabloids continued to wage campaigns against individuals and organizations critical of the government. In one such case, Tea Gorjanc Prelevic, the executive director of the HRA, sued Pink M Television for defamation. In May 2016 Podgorica’s basic court ruled in her favor and fined Pink M 1,000 euros ($1,200). During the year the Agency for Electronic Media (AEM) issued nine warnings to Pink M for “violating program principles and standards.” Some civil society representatives urged the AEM to take more severe disciplinary measures against the broadcaster.
There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
The Agency for Electronic Communications and Postal Services estimated internet penetration during the year to be approximately 70 percent.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.