Study by Swedish and NYC Bar Associations Raises Concerns on Press Freedom in Montenegro

A report on a February research visit to Montenegro by a four-member team from the Swedish and New York City Bar Associations has found that while the laws governing the press are generally satisfactory, “the relationships between the independent press and the government and between the independent press and pro-government press are permeated by polarization and antagonism.”

In addition, the report found, “The government continues to influence the marketplace for news through its ownership of a daily paper and its placement of a high volume of advertising in favored media. Certain incidents of violence against journalists have not been adequately investigated, and the number of libel suits remains a concern. In addition, independent observers repeatedly noted that the lack of clear ethical standards or a generally accepted self-regulatory body undermines the quality of journalism in Montenegro.”

The objective of the research was to assess the extent to which Montenegro’s legislation and enforcement comply with international and regional standards on freedom of the press, in particular in view of Montenegro’s pending application for accession to the European Union. The report, titled “Independent Legal Mission to Study Press Freedom in Montenegro,” was based on interviews and meetings with publishers, journalists, government officials, lawyers, and representatives of the international community and civil society. The research team was comprised of David Cook and David McCraw from the New York City Bar Association and Christian Ahlund and Lars Viklund from the Swedish Bar.

As detailed in the report, the assessment led to these conclusions and recommendations:

I. A lack of transparency has undermined trust and created an environment that makes it difficult for a free press to function.

1. Greater transparency is needed as to how acts of violence against journalists and other media representatives are being investigated and prosecuted.

2. Greater transparency is needed concerning the operation of the court system in its handling of libel cases.

3. Greater transparency is needed into government financial support of Pobjeda [the government-owned newspaper].

II. Libel litigation remains a concern, and close public monitoring of the court system is needed to ensure that European Court of Human Rights decisions are implemented to discourage frivolous and politically-motivated lawsuits and to identify areas where further law reform is needed.

III. While a voice in support of the dominant political party is an important element in the marketplace of ideas, government financing of a newspaper (whether directly or through inordinate amounts of advertising) creates conditions for the abuse of power and the further entrenchment of the government.

IV. The failure of the news industry to create a true self-regulatory body underscores the need for both an accepted code of ethics and independent private-sector monitoring institutions to promote ethics, address citizen complaints, and use the power of publicity to spotlight ethical misconduct and elevate standards.

The study was sponsored by the City Bar’s Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice and Committee on Communications and Media Law, in conjunction with the Swedish Bar Association.

The report can be read here: