Montenegrin Media needs State Help to provide pluralism
While Montenegrin authorities provide funds for state and local public broadcasters, but also commercial media, country’s commercial and local media warned that state help should be increased to ensure media pluralism.
Montenegrin commercial and local media warned that authorities should increase its media funding to ensure media pluralism in the country. According to media legislation, Montenegrin government provides at least 17 million funding to the National Public Broadcaster RTCG and almost a million for commercial media, through Media Diversity and Pluralism Fund. At the same time, municipalities provide funding for the local public broadcasters, but the practice is uneven. However, most of the media claim that current state help is insufficient.
Media in Montenegro are funded by advertising revenues, the sale of own productions and other sources, but the state is also providing them financial help to produce educational, cultural, human rights, or minority-related content. According to the media legislative, the Montenegrin government finances media through the Media Diversity and Pluralism Fund or directly from the budget.
Montenegrin media market is small and very exposed to the largest regional markets with whom we share the same languages. According to the Media Sustainability Index 2019. report estimated total marketing budget in the small Adriatic country is around 11 million euros, while the country has more than 150 media. Data on the media market, after the COVID-19 pandemic, which severely impacted media landscape, are not available.
Commercial media claim they cannot earn sufficient funds on the market to ensure pluralism without significant support from the state.
Commercial television, daily, and portal Vijesti CEO Marijana Kadić Bojanić said Montenegro is a specific media market, challenging even for media with the most public trust.
“In Montenegro, advertisers spend only five million euros annually on TV commercials. Montenegro has five TVs that share a large part of the marketing intended for TV stations. Can a serious TV station live on a million euros of annual income and have professional news and quality entertainment programs? We all know that is impossible”, Kadić Bojanić said.
“Due to the fact that the state has been collapsing the media market for decades and favoring pro-government media, commercial media can hardly survive on the market independently. Therefore, the state must find a way to significantly help credible commercial media”, she added.
In this year’s progress report, the European Commission warned that advertising market size is limited because of the relatively small size of Montenegro’s economy.
“This affects the economic sustainability of media outlets, leaving them particularly exposed to political and corporate interests, both from within the country and from abroad… The authorities continued to provide state funding for content of public interest in broadcast, print, and online media”, it was said in the report.
In March 2019, Montenegro established the Media Diversity and Pluralism Fund, envisaging 0,09 percent of the current budget for distribution to various media formats. According to the law, the Media Diversity and Pluralism Fund distributes approximately 900 thousand euros annually, giving it to two sub-fonds.
The law envisages that 90 percent is dedicated to media, 5 percent is for financing the self-regulation of media, and the remaining 5 percent is envisaged to cover operational costs for the distribution of funds.
According to the Law, 60 percent of the total amount goes for TVs and Radios distributed by the Agency for Electronic Media, while 40 percent goes for Print and Portals distributed by the Ministry of Culture and Media. The fund can finance the media project related to topics such as EU integrations, cultural diversity, economy, science, education, environment protection, sport, human and national minority rights, the fight against corruption, civil organizations, agriculture, and tourism.
If the media uses Fund donations contrary to the confirmed project, the Fund can order the return of illegally spent funds. According to last year’s report, the Fund distributed a total of 346 853 euros to televisions and radios, while the Ministry of Culture and Media funded printed media and news portals with a total of 400 thousand euros.
“Fund should be significantly larger but also have clearer rules for financing to reduce the possibility that money is allocated to those who do not work in the public interest or whose reach is not significant. It is important to determine the rules so that taxpayers' money is returned to citizens through verified and relevant information”, Kadić Bojanić said.
In its media strategy adopted on October 19, the Government said that the state has a significant role in developing media pluralism.
“That role is particularly important in an underdeveloped and limited media market such as Montenegrin, where private media are often focused on producting entertainment programs and formats that attract the audience. Prerequisites for media pluralism are transparent media ownership and sources of economic influence on the media, with positive state actions through direct or indirect subsidies”, it was said in government strategy.
Uneven state help to public broadcasters
Montenegrin authorities also provide state funds to public broadcaster Radio Television Montenegro, RTCG. According to the Law on National Public Broadcaster, RTCG gets a flat rate from the state budget, which is 0,3 percent of the GDP based on the calculations from the previous year.
The government paid 17, 2 million euros to the public broadcaster for the state budget, while RTCG also had 1,2 million euros in additional revenues from commercials and technical services. According to RTCG’s financial plan for 2023, around 60 percent of total revenues is for staff salaries, while 40 percent is for production.
Public service media in Montenegro is considered a large media organization with substantial budgets, particularly compared to other media in the country. According to annual financial reports state funds represent the principal and by far the largest source of income for Montenegrin public broadcaster.
“At the moment, RTCG receives almost 20 times more funds from the budget than all commercial media together through the Fund for Media Pluralism. This enables the public broadcaster to take over the program and employees of commercial media without any control even though they themselves have a lot of redundant people on the payroll. This creates huge unfair competition”, Kadić Bojanić said.
The Law on Electronic Media also provides state budget help to local public broadcasters which are financed by municipalities. However, practices are uneven as the Law doesn’t determine the minimum amount of the general budget that should be provided to local broadcasters.
There are 16 local public broadcasters registered in Montenegro, of which 11 are radio and five are radio and television. Only a few of them are financially stable, such as television Nikšić and Gradska television in the capital, Podgorica.
Executive director of television Niksić, Nikola Marković, said that financial stability should be secured to local public broadcasters.
"It’s very important that Montenegro have financially stable and professional public broadcasters. It is important to empower local broadcasters, as their audience trust is continuously increasing. Montenegrin authorities should understand their importance and provide them financial help such as in the case of RTCG”, Marković said.
The draft Law on Audiovisual Media Services, which should be proposed to the state Parliament, envisages that the funds of public broadcasters be provided on an annual basis in the amount determined depending on the annual budget of the local self-government. That amount, as envisaged, cannot be less than three percent of the total municipal budget if it is up to three million euros to 1, 5 percent of the total municipal budget if it is above 20 million euros.