Montenegro's constitution and laws guarantee freedom of speech and expression, but press freedom continues to be threatened by political interference, unpunished attacks on journalists and economic pressures.
Despite its small population (620,000 inhabitants), Montenegro has more than 150 registered media outlets, including three dailies, four TV broadcasters with national frequencies – including the public one, RTCG – and one press agency. Three of the four television networks with national coverage are partly or wholly foreign-owned, mostly by companies from the neighboring Serbia.
Montenegro, a candidate country for EU membership, has been ruled for three decades, with a few interruptions, by the DPS (former Communist Party) whose politicians have waged a strong campaign against independent media and journalists. After DPS’s first loss of power in 2020, government pressure and attacks on journalists have somewhat weakened. However, there is a fear that foreign owners of certain channels will influence the editorial policies in the interest of other governments or their local political favorites.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed and defamation is decriminalised. Despite having undergone several changes in recent years, the legal framework preserves gaps in terms of free access to public information and protection of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, which leads to media’s independence being insufficiently protected against political and economic influences. The same is true for the RTCG which is not spared of political pressures despite the adoption of a new legal framework in 2020.
As the main advertiser, the state has, in recent decades, distributed most of its funds to the “loyal” media. While RTCG and local public broadcasters are predominantly financed by the state budget, the private media are largely subject to the influence of advertisers and market volatility. Following the dire economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on the media, the government has provided them with financial support that has proven to be insufficient to ensure their sustainability.
Montenegro is a society deeply divided along ethnic, religious and political grounds in addition to the authoritarian political culture inherited from the past. In such an environment, the media are often accused of working for foreign interests and betraying the nation or the church. Campaigns against professional journalists are often led by politicians from both ruling and opposition parties.
Almost all attacks on journalists that took place over the last year have been resolved, but most of the old cases remain unpunished including the assassination of the editor Dusko Jovanovic and the attempt to murder the investigative journalist Olivera Lakić. The government that came to power in 2020 promised to deliver progress in resolving past cases, but it has done little in this regard. The journalist Jovo Martinović was condemned to a one year prison sentence despite a lack of evidence.