By Nedjeljko Rudovic
An investigative reporter for the Podgorica-based daily newspaper Vijesti was brutally attacked in front of her home on Wednesday (March 7th), as two other men were on trial for threatening her last year. Her injuries were not life-threatening.
The assault is the latest in a series of attacks against Montenegrin journalists that have drawn international attention from the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a Vienna-based group that issued a report last week documenting political and business pressures as a major threat to media freedom in the country.
“A physical attack on Olivera Lakić is proof that Montenegro is not free country. The price for investigative journalism here is too high. Government is powerless to protect journalists,” Rajka Raicevic, a journalist with the opposition newspaper Dan and member of the Association of Journalists of Montenegro, told SETimes.
According to SEEMO, Lakic was also threatened in February 2011, when she reported on the illegal labeling of tobacco products. She and her family received threats, and two men are on trial for threatening her.
SEEMO issued a statement Thursday condemning the attack.
“Considering the frequency of attacks against Vijesti journalists and property, I am led to believe that this daily is a direct target,” SEEMO Secretary-General Oliver Vujovic said. “I call on the authorities to find the person who beat Olivera Lakić, as well as all those responsible for the previous attacks. Montenegro aspires to join the EU. In a democracy, journalists should not be beaten or threatened, and any perpetrators should be found and prosecuted.”
SEEMO’s report last week noted a pattern of pressure against journalists in Montenegro.
Detection and prosecution of all perpetrators of attacks on journalists and media assets is essential “to prove that the government cares for press freedom,” the organisation noted.
“In other words, it would demonstrate that democratic rhetoric is not a facade.”
In May 2004, Dan chief editor Dusko Jovanovic was shot and killed on the street in Podgorica, in what was called an attack on “freedom of expression, independent journalism and democracy.”
Montenegro’s media is swayed by political influence, SEEMO said. [Reuters]
In 2007, independent Vijesti Director Zeljko Ivanovic and journalists Tufik Softic and Mladen Stojovic were beaten, and in August 2011, Vijesti vehicles were burned. The perpetrators have not been found.
“The SEEMO report is constructive for those who are thinking about democratic development and media freedom in Montenegro, and those who have no intention of camouflaging the traumatic consequences for journalists, like trials and attacks on them,” journalists’ self-regulatory body NST President Mirsad Rastoder told SETimes.
In December 2010, Igor Luksic took over the post of prime minister from Milo Djukanovic, who has been accused of influencing the media.
Under his administration, parliament abolished defamation as a criminal offense last year and courts began to recognise the international practice.
“The new prime minister, on the wings of this promising progress, established natural communication with reporters and showed a different relationship. But, there is no evident willingness to seriously reconsider everything that happened earlier,” Rastoder said.
Andrijana Vukotić, the prime minister’s media advisor, claims that the government has demonstrated willingness to promote media freedom.
“I do not question the validity of the findings of SEEMO. At the same time, we think our intention to process cases of attacks on journalists and media assets is more than obvious. It is crucial for the further improvement of overall situation in this area,” Vukotic told SETimes.
Vukotic urged journalists to assist the government in making a better environment for media.
“The most important is the willingness and openness of the government in the direction of strengthening journalism. It helps Montenegro to gain reputation of democratic and modern state that adopts European values and standards in all areas,” she said.
But Vijesti reporter Dragana Babovic said that since Luksic took over, only the rhetoric has changed. She said that Montenegro is generally recognised as a country where the government continuously tries to keep media under control.
“Unlike Djukanovic, Luksic in the first months did not offend journalists who criticised his policies. He had good communication with almost all the media until he realised that ‘friendship’ with the media does not strengthen his position in the party,” she told SETimes.
“If the government really wants to improve the position of the media, especially journalists, it must … discover the murderers and attackers on journalists,” Babovic said.
Journalist Ivana Gudovic said that the delay in detecting and apprehending perpetrators who ordered the killings and attacks on journalists, and political pressures, is the main obstacle to the freedom of the media in Montenegro.
“With SEEMO report the government has received another reminder that theory means nothing if there is still lack of concrete results in press freedom respect,” Gudović said.