Ministry of Culture and Media to stop ignoring Disinformation

The Center for Democratic Transition (CDT) urges the Ministry of Culture and Media, which recently submitted a set of media laws (Draft Law on Media, Draft Law on Audiovisual Media Services, and Draft Law on Public Broadcaster of Montenegro) to public discussion, to stop ignoring the problem of disinformation that evidently exists in Montenegro. Not a single article of said regulations makes a mention of the term “disinformation”, nor do they offer legal solutions to address this issue.

While the European Union and democratic countries have been intensively dealing with the problem of the spread of disinformation for years in order to maintain the protection of democratic values ​​and systems, Montenegro is neither willing to acknowledge this threat in its official documents nor able to fight against it.

Years of ignoring this problem have led, among other things, to the fact that Montenegro has been consistently occupying the positions at the bottom of the rankings in relevant research studies when it comes to media literacy while occupying top positions when it comes to the share of citizens who believe in misinformation and conspiracy theories.

We have yet to face the public harm caused by misinformation aimed at undermining democratic processes and trust in institutions, as well as threats to public goods such as health, education or security of citizens.

Interestingly, the laws were offered for public discussion before the adoption of the Media Strategy that was supposed to be ready in the third quarter of 2021, which is against the basic principles and logic of planning. The draft of this strategy, which was a subject of public discussion in March/April 2022, features an extensive part devoted to analysing the problem of disinformation. Nevertheless, it fails to offer a sufficient number of effective measures to solve it.

The CDT, together with the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro (DPNCG), proposed the establishment of a Disinformation Countering Fund whose beneficiaries would be the media, i.e., the establishment of a special line of financial support aimed at solving this particular problem. Although the report from the public discussion was not published, we can conclude from the proposed Draft Law on Media that there was no will to translate this proposal into a legal mechanism that would strengthen the forces for countering disinformation and the fight for journalism which serves the public interest.

This, however, is not our only proposal that the competent institutions ignore. Since March 2021, the Parliament of Montenegro has not responded to our proposal related to establishing a committee that would deal with the monitoring of foreign influences and disinformation, although publicly expressed views of the political parties guarantee that there is more than enough support for its adoption.

The fight against disinformation in Montenegro remains an empty rhetoric in politicians’ speeches or a convenient label that can be attached to the media or political opponents. In reality, there is no will to counter disinformation, and everyone stands to protect propagandists close to them or the private financial interests of the media instead of protecting the public interest journalism as a public good that needs public support.

Milica Kovacević, program director of the CDT