Montenegro officially started negotiations with the European Union (EU) on June 29, 2012. On its path to integration, like the rest of Europe and the world, it was not and is not resistant to the power of propaganda, disinformation, and fake news.
Montenegro, as a country that is in the process of negotiations with the EU, aligns its foreign policy with the EU. And since the war in Ukraine started, the frequency of disinformation has increased, as shown by the disinformation shared by the portal of the Radio and Television of Montenegro (RTCG) that Montenegro expelled the Russian ambassador and not a Russian diplomat, which was actually true news. The news story was subsequently revised. The same news story was published on the Mojkovčaki fantom Facebook page, and it was met with harsh reactions from the public.
One of the last news stories that stirred the public was the information that the EU is reinstating the visa regime for Montenegrin citizens. That information was misinterpreted during the visit of EU official Tanja Fajon to Montenegro in January. Information from the Voice of Montenegro portal about the EU's alleged decision to introduce a visa regime for Montenegro prompted sharp comments from citizens on social media and many negative reactions. The EU office in Montenegro then denied that information.
Referring to the harmonization of the national safety policy and the foreign policy of Montenegro in light of EU accessions, the portal Dan published a text in which it refers to an alleged statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that Montenegro should be fully harmonized with the decisions of the EU, including the suspension of the EU Agreement on visa facilitation with Russia. This would mean that the process of Russians arriving in Montenegro would be more complicated but not prohibited.
The headline of an article of the Srbin info portal read: Shameless ghouls: Montenegro wants to ban Russians from entering the country
To clarify, the suspension of the Agreement means that Russian citizens will no longer enjoy privileged access to the EU, for example, for tourism and recreational purposes. They will face, i.e., they are facing a longer, more costly (ranging from €35 to €80) and more difficult visa application process, as well as more restrictions on multiple-entry visas.
Two of the key chapters that Montenegro struggles with when it comes to the EU accession process are 23 and 24, i.e., advancing in the fight against crime and corruption. The government recently published the Bill on Confiscation of Property, which was widely commented and criticized by the professional and general public. The Borba portal published a text with the headline: "Yesterday the European Commission (EC) supported the Law on the Origin of Property, and today it demands that it be reconsidered: "Public consultations should be organized."
The text states that the EC first supported the Law and then, as the headline suggests, changed its mind and ordered a re-examination.
Despite the aforementioned claims, there is no evidence to suggest that the EC has changed its mind regarding the Law on Confiscation of Property.
The law does not recognize fake news
Countries in the Balkans and Southeast Europe are the most vulnerable when it comes to fake news and disinformation, according to the 2022 Media Literacy Index. This can be seen on the index of the Balkan Initiative for Free Media, where Montenegro is ranked 35th.
The legal framework of Montenegro does not provide a definition for fake news, while the Criminal Code prescribes the offense of "causing panic and disorder". The Media Council for Self-Regulation also functions in the state - an independent self-regulatory body that monitors the work of print, electronic, and online media.
Several private, most widely read media outlets have their own ombudsman. The role of the ombudsman is to protect the rights of citizens and act on their complaints and objections. The opinion also contains a recommendation on what should be done to eliminate the injury, as well as a deadline for its elimination. The option that each media outlet has its own ombudsman is, in principle, not bad. However, a part of the public can always question the ombudsman’s independence from the management, depending on the handling of a certain complaint.
Media strategy pending
For the first time, Montenegro addresses these problems in more detail in the document "Media Strategy" 2022 - 2026, the draft of which was published in March last year. However, there are no specific proposals or precise mechanisms for combating contestable media content.
"The best European practice indicates that it is not possible to prevent this problem only with repression or regulation, what is required is a minimum consensus in the journalistic community," states the government document, which is yet to be adopted. The media strategy, which has been a long time coming, is still "on hold". Not even the current government, which got a vote of no-confidence in Parliament in August last year, does not seem too committed to drafting that document.
On the topic of the drafting of the Law on Media, the director of the Directorate for Media in the Ministry of Culture, Neđeljko Rudović, said that the new Law envisages newspapers in the fight against disinformation by encouraging self-regulation.
According to Rudović, self-regulation is the first and most important instance that deals with the problem of disinformation, by deconstructing it and pointing out the media outlets and journalists who abuse the journalistic profession, act unethically and spread fake news.
A high percentage of agreement on joining the EU
For years now, all polls indicate a high level of agreement in Montenegrin society - otherwise a rather polarized society - when it comes to the country's accession to the EU. The joining of Montenegro to the EU is one of the main goals of almost all political parliamentary parties, and the only point that unites both the left and the right. After the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, disinformation has never been more prevalent in the public, especially since it spreads even faster and easier thanks to social media.
From year to year, the EU is raising more and more flags about the emergence of disinformation and is helping member and candidate states to combat it through various strategies and projects.
As of this year, media literacy has been an optional subject in primary schools in Montenegro, which represents a solid basis for generations to filter media content from an early age properly.
Whoever is in power in the country would have to prioritize the fight against disinformation and fake news. Disinformation erodes trust in the media but also in institutions. Without strong institutions, there is no rule of law; ultimately, without the rule of law, there is no entry into the EU.
The blog was created as part of the “Tales from the Region” initiative led by Res Publica and Institute of Communication Studies, in cooperation with partners from Montenegro (PCNEN), Kosovo (Sbunker), Serbia (Autonomija), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Analiziraj.ba), and Albania (Exit), within the project "Use of facts-based journalism to raise awareness of and counteract disinformation in the North Macedonia media space (Use Facts)" with the support of the British Embassy in Skopje.
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