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With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the political landscape in Middle and Eastern Europe changed dramatically - and so did the media environment. A brief look at the changes in the former German Democratic Republic and in former Yugoslavia may provide some useful experiences and lessons.
On 3 October 1990, the two parts of Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany (commonly known as West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic, were officially `reunited'. Legally and de facto, the GDR as a whole joined the Federal Republic and adopted its constitution, statute books and - consequently - media system.
The media in the GDR had been characterised by strict and direct control through the all-powerful communist party SED. The state broadcasters now needed to be transformed into public broadcasters, and the state-run news agency ADN as well as regional and country-wide newspapers - owned by the SED and other state-controlled organisations - had to be privatised.
In the case of broadcasting, the system was decentralised in 1991 by establishing two new corporations (in addition to the existing nine) in line with the federal model according to which public radio and television are the responsibility of the federal states ("Laender").
Like in former West Germany, parliaments in the founding states elected boards made up of nominees of civil society groups, governments and political parties respectively. These boards appointed Director Generals imported from West Germany, because there were no appropriate candidates without baggage from the past in the East.
The perception among the existing broadcasting staff and the broader public - not surprisingly - was that of a complete take-over by the West. Employees in particular were most concerned. It was obvious that large scale retrenchments were unavoidable: the old GDR radio and televisions stations were hopelessly overstaffed (state radio alone had 14.000, the news agency 1400 staff members) and many employees, especially those in the upper echelons of management, had a political past unsuitable for a public broadcaster serving a democratic pluralist society.
To facilitate the restructuring, the existing legal entities were disbanded, and new ones established simultaneously. In practical terms this meant that contracts of staff in the old structures were terminated with the offer to apply for
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posts in the new organisations. Employees with a high party political profile or those formerly in the service of state secret security structures were not reemployed, many of the others found new jobs in the new organisation. Heads of departments were recruited from outside the old establishment - to enhance a new spirit of independence and professional responsibility, as against the old habit of strictly following the party line.
The major challenge for both the new management (mainly from the West) and the existing staff was the building of mutual trust. As in the broader society, this was not an easy process, given the often widely divergent views on the role of the media.
By and large, though, more than a decade after this radical surgery the new broadcasting corporations are well established. Every now and then an old spy may be uncovered, but basically the stations function in the same way as their West German counterparts. Like them they maintain a special flavour of regional culture and life style and thus help to enrich the overall broadcasting landscape.
The news agency and the newspapers were privatised by an agency set up by the federal government after re-unification with the task of facilitating the privatisation of the entire state-owned industry in the former GDR ("Treuhandanstalt"). Newspapers were sold to the highest bidder - usually West German publishing houses.
The news agency ADN had begun to transform itself even before this process started. In 1989, staff members elected a new management which changed the legal status of ADN from a state-owned to a private limited company. The "Treuhandanstalt" became its only shareholder. The new management undertook the difficult task of reducing staff from 1,400 to as few as 220 employees. At the same time it radically reorganised the structure of the agency to change it into a news company able to compete with established West German agencies on a free market. In 1992 the "Treuhandanstalt" sold the ADN shares to one of its West German competitors and thus stopped a management-buy-out process which seemed well on track. This marked the end of what might have been a promising project to create a news agency owned and run by journalists themselves.
From 1990, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia disintegrated amidst political turmoil, civil war, genocide, NATO sanctions and military attacks against the Milosovic regime. By now the former Yugoslavia has split up into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro (a loose federation of two republics), and Kosovo (status still unresolved).
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In Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo3 on the one hand and in Montenegro on the other, two different approaches to media reform were applied. First, there were those who believed that to eliminate war and hate propaganda in post-conflict situations, international governmental organisations (IGO) needed to create alternative media outlets that would be, at least initially, under IGO control. These operations were meant to counter those media directly associated with the belligerents or opposing ethnic factions. Proponents of this strategy argue that broadcasters in situations of this nature must produce programmes which are neutral and peace-oriented, and that this requires a structure which is also neutral and peace-oriented.
A second approach, fostered and encouraged by NGOs rather than IGOs, focuses more on strengthening local, indigenous media outlets, particularly those that strike a new voice, in the hope of building from within a public sphere, a civil society, and a long-term infrastructure for peace, reconstruction and pluralism. The provision of diverse but non-partisan information, it is argued, will lead to the emergence of an informed electorate.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, as elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, the media were a major tool of spreading terror and fanning the flames of war. The small territory, wedged between Croatia and Serbia, came `under fire' from the airwaves of both its bigger neighbours. In 1992, Slobodan Milosevic sent paramilitary troops and technicians to take over television transmitters in the northern and eastern parts of Bosnia with a mainly Serbian population in order to broadcast propaganda from Serbia. On the other side, Croatian television started to air nationalist broadcasts, urging Croats in the territory to arm themselves. The stage was set for a fierce propaganda battle that preceded the actual fighting.
The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina ended with the 1995 Dayton Accords. These tasked the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to set up a Provisional Election Commission to oversee elections. Among other things, the PEC was to ensure that "open and fair electoral campaigns" could take place.
In the run-up to elections the different groups in the country - Croats, Serbs and Muslims - all prepared for a renewed propaganda war by stepping up their television facilities. Without a strong multi-ethnic voice, the population in the territory was going to be exposed to a barrage of jingoistic television programmes and the same nationalist leaders who had waged the war and still controlled the airwaves were likely to be voted back into power.
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The OSCE established a Media Experts Commission which issued a set of rules and regulations the media were expected to follow. These included "providing true and accurate information," and "refraining from broadcasting incendiary programming". The commission also ordered the three television systems controlled by the respective ruling parties to provide opposition political parties with an equal amount of advertising time. A monitoring group was set up to supervise compliance.
In addition, the OSCE helped finance a special broadcast network, the Free Elections Radio Network ("FERN"), to provide "objective and timely information on the elections" to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Due to resistance from the Serbian section of the territory, FERN was not able to cover that region and had no impact on a population which was most in need of alternative sources of information. It effectiveness in the other sectors was limited because FERN went on air only two months before the elections.
Despite the negligible impact of FERN and other efforts (even NATO started its own radio station), OSCE went ahead with the September 1996 national elections. Not surprisingly, the same nationalist leaders who had led their peoples into four years of war were re-elected.
After the elections the international community tried to set up an Open Broadcast Network, to be financed by American and European funders. Other agencies also came in and set up more media outlets. The USAID backed Office of Transition Initiatives alone handed out US $4 million in media grants to 19 newspapers, 27 radio stations and 8 television stations - all of them supporting moderate politicians.
Despite all these efforts, the party-controlled television stations remained the most influential media outlets and the main source of news for each of Bosnia's ethnic groups. In May 1997, therefore, the Peace Implementation Council - responsible for the implementation of the Dayton Accords - concluded that more needed to be done to "encourage independent publishers and broadcasters", and that the High Representative (the de facto administrator installed by NATO) had "the right to curtail or suspend any media network or programme whose output is in persistent and blatant contravention of either the spirit or letter of the Peace Agreement." This led to NATO forces controlling transmitters, seizing them from time to time and even interrupting transmission.
It took a while for the `peacekeepers' to realise that such military actions were not going to produce the desired result. Therefore, from December 1997 the High Representative embarked on a comprehensive reform of the entire regulatory media regime in Bosnia with the aim of a media system no longer "ethnically based and directly or indirectly associated to the main mono-ethnic political parties." An "Independent Media Commission" was set up which required all broadcasters to meet a set of internationally recognised standards
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of broadcasting in order to obtain a license. The idea was to staff the commission with members from Bosnia-Herzegovina and the international community.
From the start the commission faced great difficulties in getting cooperation from Bosniaks to nominate their delegates. Stations were shut down for refusing to obtain temporary licenses, and the IMC has been accused of strong-arm tactics inconsistent with its ultimate goals.
The approach of imposing an elaborate legal structure to regulate media and expecting that it would in time be supported by the community and thus gain legitimacy was bound to fail.
In October 1999 the IMC reported that the large number of stations funded by municipalities were still under partisan political control, and that the private broadcasting sector was also controlled by political groupings through direct or indirect funding.
This dependency on municipal or political support could only be overcome with the emergence of a market economy and the resulting generation of advertising revenue. Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, attracts essentially no foreign investment in any sector which could stimulate the economy. The few more professional television stations depend on a diminishing flow of donations from international donors with all the implications attached.
Despite all this the number of media outlets rose steadily. By the year 2000, the IMC had given temporary licenses to no less than 272 broadcast organisations using more than 750 radio and television transmitters, or one for every 4,700 people. Numbers however do not reflect chances for economic survival or their contribution to pluralism.
The achievement of real pluralism was hampered by conflicting interests of international governmental and non-governmental institutions. NATO, OSCE and the High Representative wanted to engage in "peace broadcasting", i.e. the promotion of a unified public space to overcome ethnical divisions. Their requirements, however, conflicted with the interest of radio and TV stations to demonstrate independence and gain audience loyalty. This might mean emphasising genres not related to news, or recognising the value of sharp points of view to secure a loyal following - a school of thought followed by NGOs.
Both approaches were not always in line with the overall aim to facilitate an indigenous media sector that would maintain itself in the long run, that could make itself, ultimately, independent of the international community, and that would contribute to a renewed civil society.
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In contrast to Bosnia-Herzegovina where administrations survived the war largely intact and could interact with the international community, in Kosovo there were virtually no functioning institutions left after the war of 1999. Close to a million Albanians, roughly half of Kosovo's population, had either fled or been expelled from the province and those who remained in Kosovo during the NATO bombing had gone into hiding. Two-thirds of the province lay in ruins, and there was essentially no existing media in the territory.
The United Nations and NATO created what was essentially an international protectorate, and the UN became the de facto government. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was mandated to organise elections and build democratic institutions. Media reform fell under the OSCE's mandate, and the foremost objective was to avoid mistakes made in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The OSCE almost immediately developed a plan that would enable it to take temporary responsibility for licensing of television and radio stations. It announced that state broadcasting previously controlled by Belgrade would be transformed into a public service broadcaster.
The OSCE's plan to regulate the media included the creation of a Media Regulatory Commission. This commission was supposed to draw up and administer a "Broadcasting Code of Practice" and a "Temporary Press Code" for print journalists, as well as to monitor compliance and instigate enforcement mechanisms. The Regulatory Commission would have the power to censor material judged dangerous or incendiary, fine stations and/or newspapers for violations, and order certain journalists or stations off the air.
This plan drew the ire of international media watchdog groups who claimed that the organisation's plan to regulate the Kosovar press was a violation of press freedom. The World Press Freedom Committee issued a strong protest to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and urged him to revoke the OSCE's mandate.
UN headquarters agreed that the organisation should not have so explicit and punitive a mandate to regulate Kosovo's media. The OSCE was vested with the authority only to "encourage journalists to voluntarily establish an ethical code." This did not yield results, and almost all of the newspapers in Kosovo continued to have a nationalistic bent and to print incendiary and misleading reports.
Faced with the prospect of the nationalistic and sometimes hostile media undermining its mission, the UN promulgated a regulation prohibiting hate speech in February 2000. The regulation allows the possibility of a multi-year prison sentence or a fine for anyone who publicly incites or spreads hatred, discord or intolerance between national, racial, religious, ethnic or other such groups in Kosovo.
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Most media establishments in Kosovo condemned the new hate speech regulation. Kosovar journalists formed a professional association in which most news outlets have a representative and which developed its own code of conduct.
The creation of a public broadcasting service (Radio Television Kosovo) proved to be even more difficult. There were problems with staff. Almost all the Albanians who had worked at the station prior to 1989 (when the Serbs took over the province) wanted their jobs back. At the time the station had been a large state bureaucracy employing some 1,700 people. Many former employees -journalists, technicians, camera operators - had not worked in radio and television in the intervening decade and were unfamiliar with processes and facilities in a modern, European broadcasting network. OSCE employed a Swiss national and internationally-recognised broadcaster as interim General Director and tasked him with hiring a staff of competent journalists from among Kosovar Albanians who had gone into exile before 1989 and had had training in the West. The appointment of internationals as managers and exiles as journalists created tremendous resentment in Kosovo.
Long before the international administration could get RTK on air, local radio stations began broadcasting. They are not under effective regulation by the international community or any other official body. In Kosovo's post-war atmosphere, where relations between the region's Serbs and Albanians are still tense, these unregulated radio and television broadcasts have at times fuelled inter-ethnic tensions. By early 2003, there was still no effective regulator in place.
Progress has been hampered by an ideological conflict and turf fights between Americans and Europeans in the international administration. The Americans prefer a strong private broadcasting sector with only a small public broadcaster, the Europeans argue for a more balanced system. As long as this conflict is not solved, anarchy on the airwaves will continue.
3.2.3 Montenegro 4
In contrast to the attempts at media reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, Montenegro can boast a success story - and certainly not because historical conditions there were any easier. The former independent Kingdom was annexed to the Serb kingdom after the First World War, partitioned between Italy and Albania during the Second World War, before becoming part of the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. The Balkan Wars in the 1990s divided the population of Montenegro sharply into those who preferred an independent Republic and those who wanted to remain united with Serbia. Since 2003, the
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two unequal territories (Montenegro has a population of 650.000 against Serbia's 8 million) are bound together in a loose Union of Serbia and Montenegro, a status which is to be reexamined in three years time.
The question uppermost in the minds of rulers and ruled alike and hotly debated in the past few years has been the overarching matter of future statehood. Little energy was left for tackling urgently needed reforms in a systematic manner.
In the field of media, as in many others, developments came about in fits and starts and without much of a plan or public involvement. Its main purpose, the government claimed, was to act in defence against almighty "Belgrade". In 1996/97, the Montenegrin government felt threatened by the Yugoslavian state monopoly on the media under then-President Milosevic, and encouraged the launch of private newspapers and broadcasting services. By 2000, Montenegro had 15 private radio stations (plus 12 government and municipality stations) and 4 private TV services (plus 4 government and municipality channels, and a TV station run by the Yugoslav army). In addition, scores of dailies, weeklies and monthlies competed for readers.
The 1998 Public Information Law provided a legal base for the new information order which had developed, allowing for private sector operators but at the same time keeping the licencing procedure for independent broadcasting services, the state run TV and radio stations as well as a number of print media under government control. A 2000 Telecommunications Act provided for a - government-appointed - agency to allocate and assign broadcasting frequencies and licences.
It was an alliance of private broadcasters, the Association of Independent Broadcast Media in Montenegro (UNEM), set up at the end of 1999, that tried to turn the tide of government-imposed ad hoc regulations. Obviously, its members had a vital interest in not being subject to haphazard decisions by state authorities in the granting of frequencies and licences for their operations (or having them withdrawn). They demanded a democratic dispensation for the broadcasting sector, without knowing precisely what such an animal should look like.
UNEM asked for international assistance, and with the help of a professional broadcaster and consultant in transitional societies for media legislation and strategic planning a process got under way which astounded not only the government but the initiators as well. For the first time in the history of Montenegro, citizens themselves took their fate in their own hands, rather than waiting for the authorities to think and act for them. Democracy was being practised.
In February 2001, UNEM members debated various options for the democratic regulation of broadcasting, taking into account international experience and their own specific circumstances. Having had strong indications that the
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government was planning to retain for itself and political parties in general a major role in broadcasting, they quickly reached consensus on keeping those very players out of the game. It was not the state's task to run or control any media - it had done so for far too long in the country's history. And political parties, with their legitimate goal being to remain in or gain power, should not have any influence on the core vehicle for the realisation of free expression and speech, the media.
Consequently UNEM, in a first policy paper, demanded an Independent Broadcasting Council for the regulation of the industry and the transformation of state broadcasters into truly public broadcasters without any influence from government or political parties. Members also agreed that they would need the support of the broad interested public for their aims if they were to succeed against a government still thinking along old fashioned lines of control.
When the organisation invited the public to a Round Table to discuss the principles of a broadcasting reform, the government reacted nervously and summoned leading private broadcasters with the obvious aim to regain the upper hand: the Round Table was to be cancelled or at least limited to a small select group. Government preferred to discuss matters in a Working Group it had set up a few months earlier with - as it turned out - token participation from non-government interests.
Nevertheless, the Round Table with participants from all interested sectors (including government) took place as planned in March 2001. Representatives from UNEM and a number of other civil society organisations fiercely criticised the Telecommunications Act, both its content and the secretive manner in which it had been passed, forcing state representatives to defend themselves. Such an encounter had never happened before. As a subtext, relationships between state authorities and civil society in general were debated, the overwhelming power of political parties ("partitocracy") was attacked, and the way in which different interests in a democracy can play themselves out and be accommodated came under scrutiny.
Within just three weeks - from the first tentative debates around different options for broadcasting legislation up to the Round Table - a process unfolded which is a necessary step in every transitional society on its way to democracy: Civil society - empowered by professional expertise - became aware of its potential strength, and government of its limits.
To maintain momentum and its role as the driving force, UNEM developed a Zero Draft Broadcasting Bill which met with immediate general approval from international media institutes and legal experts. The Bill was not and was not meant to be perfect, many details still remained unsolved, but it was used as an advocacy tool and as proof that UNEM meant business.
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While this Bill was being drafted, parliamentary elections took place at the end of April 2001. The results had a major impact on future developments. No political party won an outright majority, forcing the government to seek broader consensus, and thus giving civil society groups a chance to gain more influence. Even more importantly, the results proved that neither the pro- nor the anti-independence forces in Montenegro were going to gain the upper hand in the near future, putting the question of statehood on the back burner. Policymakers started to prepare themselves for a future within a looser federation with Serbia, with the right of member states to legislate on issues such as media independently. Thus, the situation became more conducive to rational debate and to putting more effort into reforming the political environment.
As a result, UNEM was able to broaden the basis of support for its struggle. The Association, at that stage comprising mainly pro-independence broadcasters, managed to bring stations with a unitarian stance on board. For the first time, entrepeneurs from both sides of the deep political divide united on one specific issue of vital importance to all - their professional and business interest.
This newly found unity was demonstrated during a Round Table held at the end of May 2001, when representatives from nearly all private broadcasters in the Republic, municipal radios, university faculties, human rights groups, government, and the international community gathered to discuss UNEM's draft bill on broadcasting (which had been published earlier in a mass circulation paper).
During the debate a new - and useful - line of argument took centre stage: "European standards". Montenegro, like the entire South-East European region, sees its long term future within the European community as a member of the European Union (EU). As a first step, membership of the Council of Europe was to be gained. This council had issued ministerial recommendations on independent bodies to regulate broadcasting in December 2000, a timely and handy yardstick for the reform process in Montenegro.
The recommendations include, among other things, the setting up of "specially appointed independent regulatory authorities for the broadcasting sector" whose members "may not receive any mandate or take any instructions from any person or body", and are "protected against any interference, in particular by political forces or economic interests". (Ironically, there is hardly any country in Europe which really fulfills these criteria at present. Nevertheless, in Montenegro they were used to good effect by UNEM to make their points.)
The Round Table agreed on the need for an independent regulator, a public and transparent licencing procedure, and the transformation of the state broadcaster. Government, however, still tried to mount a rearguard defence. It insisted, among many other things, on the Telecommunications Agency being in charge of licencing, and on political party representation in the supervising
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council for the public broadcaster. As a sign of good will, it later described UNEM's draft as "a basis" for further work. Government promised to present a draft of its own soon.
Months later, the UNEM draft was still the only one on the table. It was time then to broaden the debate beyond the borders of the Republic and to include neighbours from the region in a similar situation to exchange experiences and learn from them, as well as to further raise the government of Montenegro's awareness of democratic broadcasting principles. With this aim in mind, UNEM initiated a Conference on Broadcasting in South East Europe, held in October 2001 in the coastal town of Budva with some 70 participants from all over the region, broadly representative in geographical and institutional terms. Delegates from the Council of Europe, the lobby group Article 19, and a number of international organisations based in Montenegro also attended.
The meeting agreed on a Budva Declaration on Broadcasting in South-East Europe which - in its first sentence - demanded that the states in the region "put in place an open, democratic process to reform broadcasting, with the full participation of civil society". On the pivotal points under debate in Montenegro, the Declaration was equally clear. It used and built on the Council of Europe recommendations by requiring that not only the broadcasting regulator, but also the supervisory bodies of the public broadcaster and the signal distributor "be protected against interference, particularly by government, or of a political or economic nature".
The development of the declaration over two days of intensive debate was an educational experience for all involved. All major radio and television stations, both privately and state owned, UNEM- and non-UNEM members alike were represented, took an active part and became aware of the importance of lobbying for their own interests. There was also a change of attitude on the side of government. Confronted with the professional solidarity of broadcasters from all over South-East Europe for the first time, its representatives cooperated fully and constructively and, at the end of the conference, endorsed the declaration. The Working Group on Media Legislation was revived, now as a body of representatives of all stakeholders on an equal footing, and adopted the Budva Declaration as the basis for broadcasting legislation in Montenegro.
Government finally presented a model which follows the principles contained in that declaration and espoused from the start by UNEM: Public broadcasting services will be supervised by civil society and not by government and/or political parties. The supervisory council of the national broadcaster will have members nominated by civil society groups or clusters of NGOs working in the same fields. Parliament will only ratify these nominations with no right to change or add names. A comprehensive list of groups of people who do not qualify for membership of the council expressly names office bearers with the state and political parties. After their appointment, no one - including the nominating groups - has the right to influence council members.
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The broadcasting regulator will be governed by a council appointed in a similar manner. The Broadcasting Agency can develop a frequency allocation plan independently from the Telecommunications Agency, and will grant licences and frequencies as a one-stop shop - supervised by the council.
While the cooperative work on fleshing out the new broadcasting legislation was going on, government opened a new front by presenting a draft Media Law to replace the 1998 Public Information Law. The draft attempted to regulate every single aspect of media activities in the Republic - including state registration of media and journalists, stringent provisions on professional journalistic standards, and a statutory Media Council to supervise the performance of the media.
At first, this did not meet much resistance. Quite a number of journalists and other civil society groups accepted the need for the state to play a powerful role in regulating the media in view of the at times unprofessional performance of mainly the print media, in particular during election campaigns. Rumours were published unchecked, personalities attacked without any factual base - the yardstick for news too often being not newsworthiness but political expediency.
A comprehensive set of comments from an international perspective, commissioned by UNEM, had one clear message: the draft was unacceptable by democratic standards. An assessment by the Council of Europe, sought by government, came to the same conclusion.
In December 2001, UNEM organised another Round Table, this time on self-regulation of the media. The aim was to raise awareness amongst the media fraternity that it should be up to the profession itself to regulate its own matters, professional standards in particular. The outcome was inconclusive, participants were not sure about the way forward: on the one hand there was a healthy distrust of the state regulating professional standards, on the other hand there were equally strong doubts about whether the profession would be able to `police' itself.
Eventually a deal was struck: The state agreed to refrain from dealing with ethical issues in the legislation (apart from clauses on hate speech and protection of minors), provided that the media themselves develop self regulatory structures and procedures to promote professional standards. During January 2002, the six media and journalists' associations in Montenegro agreed on a set of principles for a code of ethics and started debate on a structure for self regulation. The state reciprocated by dropping the controversial clauses in the draft Media Law.
The following months saw the fine-tuning of the set of laws to reform the media. Drafts were commented upon, rewritten, reviewed again and again amended, all regularly published on a special website giving the public a chance for continuous comment. As a result of this intensive and time-consuming work, a
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new sense of understanding and common purpose grew between all sides at the negotiation table. By the end of May 2002, the work was done and the final blessing for the media reform package from the Council of Europe achieved.
With the drafting process in its last stages, UNEM and the government's Secretariat of Information started a campaign to raise public (and politicians') awareness of the need for media reform with the slogan: "Media Reform in Montenegro - the precondition for free citizens". This slogan was later changed to a less educational: "One, two, three - Media Reform".
In June 2002, government tabled the drafts in parliament - where the power balance had changed just a few weeks earlier. The ruling coalition had lost its majority with the break-away of one of its partners, and parliamentary elections were called for later in the year. The opposition - now with the majority of seats in parliament - used the old laws and made sure that a person of their choice was made editor-in-chief of the state broadcaster. With this key position in their hands, they had no pressing interest in passing the new media legislation. During August and September, the media reform bills featured on the agenda of parliament nine times - only to be postponed on each and every occasion.
Pressure from civil society mounted again, in particular from the media fraternity, spearheaded by UNEM. It now turned out that, thanks to the transparent process with sometimes seemingly endless and tiring Round Tables, the new legislation had really become `owned' by civil society. Citizens identified with it and fought for it. Independent radio and television stations organised `blackouts' by not broadcasting for certain periods of the day. The controversy made headlines every week, commentators urged lawmakers to fulfill their duty, discussions took place on all radio and TV stations. The `summer war' turned out to be the best possible public awareness campaign to highlight the relevance of the reforms.
In mid-September, a compromise of sorts was found: the bills were passed with the proviso that implementation should begin in May 2003 only. Obviously, the opposition hoped to win the upcoming elections which would enable it to change the laws as it saw fit - meanwhile continuing to use the power of the media as the ruling party had done before. The minority ruling party, on the other hand, promised to implement the reform - in the case of an election victory. In the event, it did indeed form the new government, and had to keep its promise.
The passing of progressive legislation, however, could not be the end of the matter. The new dispensation goes to the very core of monopoly constellations and vested interests that developed during the communist and post-communist era. There are bound to be attempts at undermining it or lessening its impact once the full meaning and practical implications of the new relationship between the media and the powers that be have become apparent to all.
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For this reason, it was decided not to leave the process of implementation in government's hands alone, but to create a Joint Initiative with representatives of the state and civil society (formed even before the final passing of the reform bills) and spearheaded by a Working Group with two UNEM and two government representatives. An Action Plan for the Implementation of the Media Reform was drawn up and presented to the international community for possible funding.
By now, the process of constituting supervisory bodies for both the (former) state broadcaster RTCG and the Broadcasting Agency according to the new legislation is complete. Both bodies are in the process of organising themselves - adopting statutes, appointing directors and other staff, developing policies and regulations.
Work at grassroots level has also begun. From February to May 2003, the Joint Initiative visited all municipalities in the Republic to discuss the necessary reforms within radio and TV stations as well as other media operated so far by local authorities, and which have to be brought under public control. Again, Round Tables were the preferred modus operandi: all stakeholders discussed the way forward together, mostly late into the night, with lively public interest.
Crucial acid tests still lie ahead. The national broadcaster has to be restructured in order to be able to fulfill its public mandate and to become self-sustainable. This will entail not just organisational change in a huge, overstaffed institution, but, perhaps more importantly, change in mindsets, in attitudes, in ethos. The Broadcasting Agency will soon have to decide on the renewal of existing and the issuing of new licences for broadcasting services - and there are many businesses hoping to enter the market with only a limited number of frequencies available.
More legislative work is also under way, as demanded by the Media Law. Special legislation will enable citizens to gain access to information held by the state, and an anti-trust law will seek to ensure appropriate competition in the media market of Montenegro. The era of Round Tables in Montenegro is not over yet.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2003