IFJ Warns Over "Political Games With Media" As Montenegro Prepares for Elections

The International Federation of Journalists today expressed concern about attempts by Montenegrin politicians to manipulate media through a series of changes to law that may threaten editorial independence in the run up to elections in October.

"Politicians must not play political games with media", said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White, "Elections are the crucial test of democracy and journalists must be able to work without interference. The public has the right to be informed without censorship or political tinkering with their news media".

Montenegro is preparing parliamentary elections on 6 October and presidential elections in November. A parliamentary coalition has introduced amendments to the existing media law that will shorten the pre-election media blackout, increase the ability of the Management Board of state television to dismiss editors, and limit the space the media may give to coverage of the activities of high state officials.

The proposed changes led to protests yesterday when private broadcasters cut programming for half an hour.

In the meantime, media laws on broadcasting and transformation of the State broadcaster into a public broadcaster, which have been prepared in collaboration with international experts, have still not been put into effect.

The Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe are trying to resolve the crisis. The IFJ is urging Montenegrin politicians to reach agreement with these two organisations in order to ensure media can function freely.

"It's time for political leaders to suppress their desire to massage the media message," said Aidan White. "We need a clear signal that Montenegro is committed to media policies that guarantee the citizen's right to know, that support ethical and independent journalism and that are in line with European standards."