Montenegro's constitution and laws guarantee freedom of speech and expression, but press freedom continues to be threatened by political interference, unpunished attacks on journalists and economic pressures.
Despite its small population (620,000 inhabitants), Montenegro has more than 150 registered media outlets, including three dailies, five TV broadcasters with national frequencies – including the public one, RTCG – and one press agency. Three of the five television networks with national coverage are partly or wholly foreign-owned, mostly by companies from the neighboring Serbia.
Montenegro has been ruled for three decades, with few interruptions, by the DPS (the successor of the former Communist Party), whose members have waged a strong campaign against independent media and journalists. After an initial defeat of the DPS in 2020, government pressure and attacks on journalists have somewhat diminished, but the new authorities are still trying to control certain media outlets and journalists. Moreover, there are concerns that foreign owners of some outlets will influence the editorial policies to serve the interests of other governments (Serbian, for example) or those of their local political favorites.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed and defamation is decriminalised. Despite having undergone several changes in recent years, the legal framework preserves gaps in terms of free access to public information and protection of the confidentiality of journalistic sources, which leads to media’s independence being insufficiently protected against political and economic influences. The same is true for the RTCG which is not spared of political pressures despite the adoption of a new legal framework in 2020.
As the main advertiser, the state has, in recent decades, distributed most of its funds to the “loyal” media. While RTCG and local public broadcasters are predominantly financed by the state budget, the private media are largely subject to the influence of advertisers and market volatility. Following the dire economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on the media, the government has provided them with financial support that has proven to be insufficient to ensure their sustainability.
Montenegro is a society deeply divided along ethnic, religious and political grounds in addition to the authoritarian political culture inherited from the past. In such an environment, the media are often accused of working for foreign interests and betraying the nation or the church. Campaigns against professional journalists are often led by politicians from both ruling and opposition parties.
Almost all of the attacks on journalists that took place over the last year have been resolved, but of those that took place further back, many remain unpunished, despite promises from the government that came to power in 2020 to take steps to resolve them. One such case is the assassination of editor in chief Dusko Jovanovic and the attempted murder of investigative journalist Olivera Lakić. In 2023, after seven years of proceedings, journalist Jovo Martinovic was finally acquitted of unfounded charges of belonging to a criminal group.