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Journalist safety index: Montenegro is third in the region yet again

Yet again, Montenegro is in third place in the region when it comes to the Journalists’ Safety Index, with a score of 3.40, after North Macedonia (3.95), and Croatia (3.73). Compared to the previous year, the rating for Montenegro is significantly lower (down from 3.59 to 3.40), primarily due to the record number of attacks on journalists.

This was assessed at the presentation of the Journalist Safety Index of Montenegro for 2021, which was held at the European House as part of the panel “The Role of Independent Media in a Democratic Society” organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Podgorica.

One of the authors of the survey Bojana Lakovic Konatar said that, in general, the index of the SafeJournalists network for the year 2021 recorded a stagnation or a decline compared to the previous year, 2020.

The Western Balkan Journalist Safety Index is a mechanism that measures and monitors changes in the respective social and political environments that have a direct or indirect impact on the safety of journalists and media professionals while performing their profession and consists of four separate units that reflect the overall picture of journalist safety.

As expected, Montenegro received the worst ratings in the Real Security category, which also recorded the biggest drop in rating from 3.58 to 3.20 for 2021. The record number of attacks, threats, and pressures on journalists contributed the most to this.

“Journalists are threatened and intimidated both at work and in the virtual world (online), and female journalists are increasingly threatened. Reporting from public gatherings is particularly risky for media workers. It turned out that the names of journalists who receive life threats are repeated year after year, which is particularly dangerous,” Lakovic Konatar concluded.

The President of the Media Union of Montenegro Radomir Krackovic said that journalists are often the only ones who promote the demands and interests of numerous social or marginalised groups, while, on the other hand, their rights are being violated every day.

He said that in the past two years, the number of attacks, threats to endanger security, and interference with journalists and media workers on their work tasks has increased, adding that, according to the Union’s data, there were almost 50 such cases. As he stated, those attacks were not as drastic as in the past, but the growth of online threats and intimidation is worrying.

Czech Ambassador to Montenegro Janina Hrebickova said that media freedom remains a long-term priority, not only of the Czech foreign policy, but also one of the highest priorities of the Czech EU presidency. She recalled the recommendation of the Council of Europe to criminalise the denial of war crimes committed in the 1990s in the countries of the Western Balkans.

According to Hrebickova, an adequate investigation and the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against media freedom should go hand in hand with the state’s positive obligations to promote a safe environment for the media, civil activists, and human rights defenders.

Acting Director General of the Directorate for Media in the Ministry of Culture and Media Nedjeljko Rudovic said that free and independent media are pillars of the development of every democratic society upon which democracy rests, especially that of Montenegro as a candidate for an EU membership.

According to Rudovic, the specificity for Montenegro is that the established media managed to impose themselves as the main source of information, which is important since it goes unnoticed that hate speech and misinformation is spread through such media.

The Adviser to the Director of the Public Broadcaster Radio Television of Montenegro, Aleksandra Sekulic Vojvodic, said that a prerequisite for a sustainable public service is the regulation of the media market in such a way as to recognise the position of the RTCG as the only media with a national frequency owned by the state.

Adviser for Human Rights in the United Nations (UN) System in Montenegro, Annette Lanting, said that in Montenegro, but also globally, there are problems of biased reporting, narratives that divide citizens, and hate speech. As she announced, there are good standards and international bodies in the EU and the UN.

“We have good standards. The EU and the UN, together with international organisations in Montenegro, are looking for ways to monitor and implement these standards. A lot of work is needed, and the UN is willing to continue with you in this,” said Lanting.