Newspaper drama in Montenegro sparks questions on media freedom

16/01/2012

A bid for Montenergo's Pobjeda newspaper has raised questions of political and media connections.

By Nedjeljko Rudovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 16/01/12

photo

Fahrudin Radoncic is the owner of BiH daily Dnevni Avaz. [Reuters]

After being on the market for more than four years, through declining circulation and increased debts, Montenergo's state-owned newspaper Pobjeda may have a buyer. However, due to the nature of the offer, many media experts are seeing red flags.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) businessman and politician Fahrudin Radoncic offered to buy the paper on December 27th. Radoncic -- who owns BiH daily Dnevni Avaz and is the founder of the Union for a Better Future of BiH in 2009 -- offered to pay 1 euro for the paper, and said he will invest 2.1m euros over the next three years.

The oldest daily newspaper in Montenegro -- launched in 1944 -- Pobjeda is the only state-owned newspaper in the country. Before 1990, the paper was sold throughout the former Yugoslavia.

In recent years, it has served to protect the ruling Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), headed by former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, from political opponents. The paper's views rarely stray from those of the government.

Pobjeda has been for sale since 2007, but saddled with almost 10m euros in debt, had no takers. The paper's circulation numbers have continued to fall, and were around 4,000-5,000 in 2011, according to Freedom House. In comparison, privately-owned Montenegrin daily Vijesti has a circulation of 20,000.

Then came Radoncic's bid. That sparked media speculation that Djukanovic used his close ties with Radoncic, who is originally from Montenegro, to formulate the offer.

Given that Avaz serves as a tool in the political clash with Radoncic's opponents, some experts think that a takeover in Montenegro will foster this model in Pobjeda.

Mirsad Rastoder, the former head of the journalists' self-regulatory body in Montenegro, notes that the expansion of media freedom depends on respect for professional standards. "From what we know, Avaz follows [Radoncic's] principles."

Like all other countries in the region -- with the exception of Cyprus and Greece -- Montenegro is categorised as a "partly free" country in Freedom House's 2011 Freedom of the Press report.

With a rating of 37 (top-ranked Finland has 10), the same as in the 2010 survey, Montenegro was ranked 80th in the world for press freedom and the 5th among the 13 SEE countries -- behind Cyprus (36th), Greece (65th), Serbia (72nd) and Bulgaria (77th).

As for buying Pobjeda, Rastoder told SETimes, "It must be taken into account that [joining] property and political interests is not in line with the European aspirations of Montenegro," or its attempts to reform journalism, he said.

Association of BiH Journalists General-Secretary Borka Rudic indicates that most complaints to BiH's Press Council were filed against Avaz and its sister publications.

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"In BiH, we have a term which accurately defines unprofessional and inflammatory reporting for personal, political and tycoon interests of the owner -- Avazovstina," Rudic told SETimes.

"The media community in Montenegro will not get anything; but they can lose everything they have tried to build in the area of media professionalism," if Avaz takes control of Pobjeda, she said.

Šejn Husejnefendić, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism in Tuzla, was cautious.

"Certainly minor changes in the editorial policy will happen. We will have to wait and see whether this will be a victory for Pobjeda, or a victory for Radoncic," Husejnefendić told SETimes.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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