On 27 July 2020, the Montenegrin Parliament enacted a new Media Law (the “Law“), so as to harmonize the legal framework with European Union standards. The new rules introduced in the Law aim to improve transparency of the local media landscape, while trying to keep up with a rapidly evolving world.
The main novelties of the Law include rules designed to contribute to transparency of public financing of media and media ownership, introduction of a state fund for financing of media projects, media self-regulation bodies, steps to regulate online media; and new provisions concerning confidentiality of sources of information. Transparency of public media financing is ensured through a newly established official record on financial resources granted to the media from public revenues, as well as tightened rules on financial notification, while ownership visibility is enhanced by an obligation to publish an imprint containing data on all shareholders owning more than 5% share in a specific media.
The Law also introduces the Fund for Encouraging Media Pluralism and Diversity, through which the state will finance projects in the media sector, especially those important for promotion of cultural diversity, preservation of tradition and identity of Montenegro, EU accession, current social, political and economic topics, science, culture, art, education etc. According to the relevant stakeholders, the idea behind the Fund is to protect media pluralism, allow non-discriminatory access to funds, independence of funding, and achieve a clear, precise, objective and transparent criteria for grants. The resources from the Fund are also supposed to cover the newly introduced self-regulation bodies which should monitor compliance with professional and ethical standards contained in the Media Code.
In contrast to the previous Media Law which did not address online media at all, the new Law sets up the basic rules for online regulations, including introducing liability of the Internet portal founders for publishing of third-party comments. There is an obligation for an internet portal founder to take down an evidently illegal comment within 60 minutes as of the comment being reported.
Finally, the Law introduces a new restriction with regards to confidentiality of sources, actually loosening up the guarantees for journalistic integrity by stipulating that a journalist must disclose his source of information at the request of the public prosecutor if it is deemed necessary for the protection of interests of national security, territorial integrity and health protection. This rule could potentially affect journalists’ independence and might affect the public interest (access to information) in its implementation. On the other hand, the Law does not provide for penalties for journalists who refuse to disclose a source at the request of the prosecutor – resulting in the application of Criminal Code in such cases, which could be a worrying sign.
The European Commission commended the new Media Law, while underlining that the protection of journalistic sources is crucial for the freedom of the press, meaning that the disclosure of journalistic sources represents serious interference in the freedom of expression which should be limited to strictly exceptional circumstances only. Taking into account the recent elections in Montenegro, it remains to be seen whether the new Government would be looking to make further changes to the new framework.