In Montenegro Small Media compete with Large Foreign Groups
Source: Freepik

Foreign media groups now hold the reins of the four commercial television stations with national frequencies in Montenegro

While foreign groups hold the most influential commercial media in Montenegro, local media struggle to keep up in the small media market.

According to official data, more than 182 media outlets operate in Montenegro, while most influential media are owned by foreign companies.

Foreign media groups now hold the reins of the four commercial television stations with national frequencies in Montenegro. The only other station to broadcast nationally is the public broadcaster, RTCG.

Luxembourg-based United Media S.A.R.L. became a majority shareholder in TV Vijesti d.o.o. by acquiring 51 percent shares from the previous owners. Television Nova M is owned by Direct Media d.o.o. from the Serbian capital Belgrade, a subsidiary of United Media S.A.R.L. De facto Vijesti and TV Nova M are owned by the same parent company, United Group.

According to the Central Register of Business Entities, television Prva is 100 percent owned by the Kopernikus Corporation LTD from Cyprus, while television ADRIA founded by Adria management services d.o.o. and A Media Invest d.o.o.

Luxembourg based United Media is the majority shareholder in Daily Press d.o.o.., which publishes the daily newspaper and portal Vijesti. The daily and portal Pobjeda is owned by Media-Nea d.o.o., which is owned by First Financial Holdings whose only stockholder is Petros Stathis. Through his companies, Stathis also owns the portals CDM and Analitika. The third Montenegrin daily newspaper, Dan, is published by Jumedia Mont d.o.o. which has three Montenegrin citizens as shareholders.

The Montenegrin Agency for Electronic Media said that the strong presence of foreign media owners could have a negative impact on smaller media, stressing that the Montenegrin media market is small and fragmented.

“The financial interest of large advertisers and capital owners in a market of 600,000 inhabitants is very questionable. But all media with national coverage are owned by foreign companies. It is easy to conclude that it is not an economic issue, but rather the creation of public opinion is the key interest of foreign owners and people associated with them”, the Agency said.

To prevent the creation of monopolies, the Electronic Media Law from 2020 prohibits broadcasters with national coverage to hold more than 25 percent stake in another national broadcaster or more than 10 percent stake in a news agency or daily print media with a circulation of more than 3.000 copies.

But, as the law covers primarily the electronic media, a provision that would limit simultaneous ownership of two or more print media has never been introduced in legislation. The unregulated market of online media leaves additional room for concentration of media power.

In the media strategy adopted on October 19, 2023, the government warned that the small Montenegrin media market is affected by strong competition from neighboring countries. The government pointed out that in Montenegro, the total estimated marketing budget is 11 million €, with more than 182 media outlets operating.

“An additional challenge is the limitation in the possibility of competitive production content, as there are several media providers of these services that have a significant market share. It is an additional challenge for local public and commercial broadcasters”, it was said in the strategy.

“It is hard to expect media will improve production due to limited financial opportunities, caused by financial instability”, it was added.

According to Montenegrin Media Trade Union report from December 2021, there are 88 media companies registered in the Central Register of Business Entities (CRPS) with around 1,000 employees. The Media Trade Union said that only half of registered media made profits in 2020, while 40 percent were loss-making.

Hard to increase in-house production without state funds

In this year’s progress report the European Commission warned that the growing interest of big regional media companies in the national media market creates increasingly intense competition and limits the revenues for small local media outlets.

“Deep political polarization of the media scene persisted, while growing competition from big regional media placed additional strain on the local media market”, it was said in the report.

According to the Agency for Electronic Media report from July 12, 2023. television Vijesti d.o.o.. had the highest in-house production of content compared to other commercial broadcasters in Montenegro. Television Vijesti d.o.o. had 38 percent in-house production, Prva TV 26 percent, Adria TV 24 percent while television Nova M had 12 percent.

The same report showed that in-house production in smaller commercial televisions is on average 23 percent. These figures are low because in-house production is expensive. However, larger commercial televisions have smaller production costs as they get programs and content from their parent companies.

Head of Montenegrin Media Directorate Nedeljko Rudovic said that authorities will insist on a higher share of in-house production of TV and radio stations, stressing that 10 to 20 percent should be the minimum.

“This guarantees that the program will be largely produced in Montenegro and that it will deal with topics that are important to Montenegro. As we know, lack of money means that there is not enough production. Our task is to maintain the current media pluralism model and the media in all legally permitted ways”, Rudovic said.

According to media legislation, the Montenegrin government provides at least 17 million € in funding to the National Public Broadcaster RTCG and almost one million € for commercial media through the Media Diversity and Pluralism Fund. At the same time, municipalities provide funding for the local public broadcasters, but the practice shows that the distribution is uneven.

The Agency for Electronic Media said that most of the media in the country depend on some kind of financial support from the state.

“However, the model of help has to support broadcasters that respect professional standards, produce significant amounts of their own programming, broadcast content of importance to local communities, and reduce regional differences in program availability. Creating such a model will be a serious challenge”, the Agency said.