Montenegro: State Media Sackings

The dismissal of pro-Djukanovic state media editors is unlikely to trouble the president as he prepares for upcoming elections.

Montenegro: State Media Sackings

The dismissal of pro-Djukanovic state media editors is unlikely to trouble the president as he prepares for upcoming elections.

Tuesday, 24 September, 2002

The opposition-dominated state media board's decision last week to sack editors loyal to President Milo Djukanovic in the run-up to the October 20 parliamentary ballot is not expected to harm his electoral prospects, analysts believe.

Members of the pro-Yugoslav opposition gained a majority on the executive board of the state media - previously dominated by politicians backing Montenegrin separatism - following a political somersault by Djukanovic earlier this year.

Under strong international pressure, Djukanovic backtracked on his long-standing support for independence in March when he opted for Montenegro to join a new union with Serbia. This infuriated many of his political supporters, driving them into an unlikely alliance with pro-Belgrade opposition parties.

The defection in July of Djukanovic's former ally, the Liberal Alliance, LS, gave the opposition control over the media board, which controls the editorial policy of the state-owned national radio and television broadcaster and the daily newspaper Pobjeda.

On Monday, September 23, the board appointed the LS member, Natasa Novovic, as head of State TV, while Together for Yugoslavia coalition representatives, Milutin Tomasevic and Milorad Rasovic, were selected to run state radio and Pobijeda.

They replaced Velibor Covic, Radovan Miljanic and Slobodan Vukovic respectively. The three resigned on September 17 when they heard that they were about to be sacked.

Analysts say the purge is unlikely to bolster the opposition's prospects in the October 20 parliamentary poll, as Djukanovic retains the overwhelming support of privately-owned newspapers and broadcasters, which have grown significantly over the last few months.

The new digital channel TV IN, for example, covers the whole of Montenegro and has better reception in most towns than state TV. In Podgorica, where a third of Montenegrins live, TV IN and NTV Montena have considerably higher viewing figures than their official counterpart, according to a survey by the polling agency Damar.

Pro-Yugoslavia parties control a small number of media, whose quality, professionalism and circulation lag well behind their opponents.

Analysts also argue that the media board has little time to institute significant editorial changes and that even if they did its debatable whether they could sway the public. Over the last two years, trust in the official press has dropped because of its obvious bias.

Miodrag Vlahovic, director of the Centre for Regional and Security Studies, said, "The position of state-owned media is known - they are a secondary source of information and constantly loosing credibility because of political control."

Djukanovic has been criticised at home and abroad for not following the example set elsewhere in the Balkans where state-owned media have become public service enterprises free of political control.

Last year, the president had sought to reform the official press, but pressure from the opposition - which wanted to retain control of it for the October elections and a presidential poll later in the year - led to the changes being postponed until next May.

Boris Darmanovic is IWPR coordinating editor in Montenegro.

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