Pernicious threats against journalists hamper political and investigative reporting
On 13th September 2017, freedom of speech advocates were outraged by a death threat sent to a journalist from the brother of Montenegro's Prime Minister. The incident occurred after Velizar Markovic, brother of Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, threatened a journalist with the opposition media outlet Dan. The journalist, Vladimir Otasevic, recieved a call from an unknown individual, who responded positively when asked if he was Velizar Markovic. The individual, allegedly Markovic, then made reference to the murder of Dan's former editor, Dusko Jovanovic, who was murdered in Podgorica in 2004. A recording of the telephone exchange can be heard in the video below:
While the Markovic family later dismissed the implication of Velizar Markovic in the call, many have called on the Montenegrin authorities to end impunity for threats against journalists. Montenegro's Trade Union of Journalists commented on the attack, stating that:
“The death threat to our colleague Otasevic is the most serious incident that has occurred in the Montenegrin journalist community in almost two years. At the same time, it is also an indicator that the situation has not changed, and that all that is needed is a small incentive for those who feel powerful enough in a country that does not condemn attacks on journalists, to give themselves a freedom to threaten and curse people who are doing their job”.
Regional media monitoring groups claim that this is the seventh incident of a journalist being threatened 2017; therefore, human rights groups and media unions alike have called upon authorities to be more proactive in protecting journalists in Montenegro.
Access to information law
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, civil society groups in Montenegro repeatedly called for an overhaul of access to information legislation in Montenegro. Despite these pleas from freedom of speech groups, who claim the lack of transparency is detrimental to the efficacy of investigative journalism, Montenegrin authorities have shown no sign opening up access to government information. In a recent example, the Ministry of Education ignored CSOs’ requests for information, after a coalition of civil society groups asked for information about potential candidates who applied for the directorate of a local educational project. Receiving no response after the stipulated fifteen days, the CSOs consider the incident illustrative of a lack of political will from Montenegrin authorities to collaborate meaningfully with civil society on shared areas of expertise. A complaint was later submitted to the Ministry of Education.
Finally, on 1st September 2017, amendments to the Law on Electronic Media entered into force. The amendments aim to improve the regulation of public services and also oversee the financing of broadcasters in a transparent manner by enhancing the legal framework under the purview of the Agency for Electronic Media.
A number of recent protests on a variety of social issues took place peacefully in Montenegro. Reports from the ground note that there are no examples of any protests being unjustifiably denied or unlawfully disrupted. Below are some examples of protests from recent months:
- LGBT activists and their supporters held a Pride Parade;
- Bukovica residents protested against the potential construction of two hydropower plants on Durmitor river;
- Budva residents protested against the potential adoption of the Draft Law on Spatial Planning and Construction of Facilities that illegally strips powers from municipalities;
- Mothers from Rozalje continued to protest over benefits, demanding that the government refund a percentage of their average net salary; and
- Kotor residents protested to draw the authorities' attention to the alarming security situation in the city.
Civil society concerned over proposed changes to NGO-related laws #montenegro #CIVICUSmonitor https://t.co/TJEjX1tOMR pic.twitter.com/E8sbPSmP6i— CIVICUS Alliance (@CIVICUSalliance) July 10, 2017
The legal framework governing the operation of non-governmental organisations in Montenegro has changed in recent months as amendments to the Law on NGOs were adopted. The measures have provoked a mixed reaction from civil society groups, as they greatly reduce the state financial support NGOs and give the Ministry of Public Affairs the power to reject the formation of new organisations if their objectives are against the constitution and the legal framework of Montenegro. As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, despite push back from civil society, the controversial measures were passed on 6th September 2017. The Draft Law on Amendments to the Law on Games of Chance are still in procedure and CIVICUS Monitor's research partner will be following both of these legislative developments over the coming months.
Civic Space Developments