Montenegro: Media Reform in Trouble

Disagreements are emerging over the composition of a council set up to oversee the country’s new public service broadcasting service.

Montenegro: Media Reform in Trouble

Disagreements are emerging over the composition of a council set up to oversee the country’s new public service broadcasting service.

Montenegro's parliament last week passed legislation converting government-owned electronic media into an unbiased public service broadcaster.

But a law obliging more than 400 non-governmental organisations, NGOs, to select from amongst their ranks an 11-member authority - dubbed the Council for Radio and TV Montenegro - to determine editorial policy seems likely to lead to chaos. Given the divisions within society, it is hard to imagine them arriving at a consensus over the appointments.

The decision to transform the media was taken on November 12, just weeks after the coalition of Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic, uniting the Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and Social Democratic Party, SDP, romped home in October's early parliamentary elections.

Moves to transform the state press started a year ago, when the authorities began drafting three laws on the radio and TV and media in general. Communications experts were brought in to advise, and the whole process was monitored by the Council of Europe, Article 19, the European Institute for Media and domestic NGOs.

After 11 months of work and continual revision, the laws received the approval of the Council of Europe and were presented to the government for adoption. But the process then stalled after the pro-Yugoslav opposition parties took control of parliament in March, with the support of the previously pro-government Liberal Alliance LS.

The new media laws were adopted, but their implementation was postponed for six months during which time the new majority in parliament appointed its own editors to the state media, hoping this would help secure them victory in the October elections.

Instead, Djukanovic emerged with an absolute majority and the media laws were put into immediate operation. This has meant the prompt formation of the Council for Radio and TV Montenegro that will run the broadcasters as a public service, elect a management board and approve the appointment of a director.

Each of the NGO fields – which include education, culture, journalism, human rights, sports, tourism, ecology and the protection of children's rights and ethnic minorities – has to select its own representative to the council.

Council members must not be elected politicians, local councillors, government officials, or anyone whose membership might represent a conflict of interest with his or her job.

But the NGOs are unlikely to reach a consensus over appointments. Already, two of three bodies representing journalists, the Association of Journalists and the Association of Professional Journalists, have said they want delegates drawn from their own ranks.

The independent workers union has also signalled its unwillingness to cooperate with its pro-government counterpart. The leader of the former, Vesna Pejovic, told a round table on the new media laws on November 4 that her members would have great difficulty agreeing on a joint representative.

In situations where no consensus is reached, parliament is empowered to select the candidate with the most support.

As the law gives the NGOs only 30 days to choose their representatives to the council, little time remains for all these differences to be resolved.

Anticipating selection problems, Stevo Muk, director of the Centre for the Development of NGOs, may launch its own initiative to reach an agreement between the groups over the election of representatives.

The state has said it will not interfere. Abaz Dzafic, coordinator of the parliamentary committee for drafting new laws and assistant information secretary, said this was now the task of the non-government sector.

"Now the civilian sector has to agree," he said. "If they can do this, good luck to them. The council will start functioning as soon as two-thirds of the members have been selected."

Boris Darmanovic is the IWPR coordinating editor in Podgorica.

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