A lack of effort by the government to solve the wave of attacks on journalists could hurt Montenegro's EU accession.
By Nedjeljko Rudovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 22/01/14
The Vijesti newspaper office was bombed on December 26th. [Facebook/Vijesti]
If perpetrators in the new wave of attacks on journalists in Montenegro remain unpunished, the situation could endanger the country's EU accession negotiations, Union representatives said.
"The EU expects the Montenegrin authorities to take decisive action in order to achieve measurable results in the preservation of freedom of expression and freedom of the media, including the conduct of the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of old and recent incidents of threats and violence against the media," Dragan Mugosa, spokesman of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, told SETimes.
Earlier this month, Lidija Nikcevic, a journalist from the daily Dan, was beaten with a baseball bat by several masked men outside her office. The attack followed the December 26th bombing of the offices of the daily newspaper Vijesti.
Neither of these incidents, nor another five attacks on independent journalists in recent years, has been solved.
"Freedom of the media is an important segment of human rights, and any intimidation or attack on journalists will be treated extremely negative in the framework of EU accession negotiations," said Mitja Drobnic, head of the EU Delegation in Montenegro.
Slovakia European Parliament member Eduard Kukan said the attacks were alarming.
"In modern society, which has a credible aspiration toward European integration, freedom of press and expression must be guaranteed," he said.
The government said it is taking action.
"The police are taking all measures to shed light on the attacks. There are some developments in the investigation, but details cannot be told because that can endanger the investigation," Internal Affairs Minister Rasko Konjevic told SETimes in a statement.
Konjevic said the police should be given a reasonable period of time to solve the recent cases.
"If this does not happen, we will launch the question of responsibility," he said. "There is an indisputable political will to solve the attacks on journalists and media assets."
But, he added, the fact that the prior cases have not been solved is a cause for concern.
"The lack of results in these cases demonstrates inefficiency by authorities. If this is a fact, then something in these state bodies must change," he said.
Despite the reassurances from the government, many in the independent media sector doubt that the latest attacks will be solved. They said that power centres close to or in the government ordered the attacks to discipline the media and force them to support Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who has been in power for 23 years.
"Given that no attack has been solved so far, I do not see why that would now be the case. It is obvious that the target of many attackers exclusively are journalists of Dan, Vijesti and Monitor, and undoubtedly the motive for the attacks are published articles and editorial policy of Vijesti and Dan," Nikola Markovic, an editor at Dan, told SETimes.
On January 6th, the owners of Vijesti asked Djukanovic to suspend an inflammatory campaign against the newspaper, expressing concern after the bombing and other attacks that further violence could result in loss of life.
"We are seriously concerned that if your government and those who support it do not stop the campaign of intimidation against those who criticise, it is a question of time when some of the independent journalists and media owners will be killed," Harlan Mandel, executive director of the American Media Development Investment Fund, said in the letter to Djukanovic.
Andrijana Vukotic, an advisor to Djukanovic, said the government is actively engaged in improving media freedom, and said there is no such campaign.
"Unfortunately, it is evident that the part of the media community deliberately wants to create the impression of the existence of such a campaign. On that line was probably the expectation of the media who lead a brutal anti-government campaign for years. The government and the prime minister will prove their commitment to freedom of expression by not reacting to lies about them," Vukotic told SETimes.
She added that the prime minister's office shares the concern of the media about the recent attacks.
Media organisations SEEMO from Vienna and international NGO Freedom House also condemned the latest attacks.
"We urge the authorities to thoroughly investigate the case, especially since it seems that Vijesti is targeted because of their independent reporting on key issues, such as corruption and official wrongdoing," said Karin Karlekar, Freedom of the Press project director at Freedom House.
What can Montenegro's government do to protect the safety of journalists? Tell us your thoughts below in the comments.