More than microphone holders: the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro.

Mila Radulović, secretary general of the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro.

Mila Radulović, secretary general of the Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro.

The Association of Professional Journalists of Montenegro (DPNCG) is an organization that supports investigative journalism and works to increase the safety and security of reporters. Furthermore, the DPNCG offers journalists free legal aid and psychological support. In Montenegro, such assistance is indispensable at a time when the authorities harass the media and violence against journalists often goes unpunished.

Secretary General Mila Radulović talks about the DPNCG’s work and explains what it is like to be a journalist in the country, especially when dealing with sensitive topics such as organized crime and corruption.

You are simultaneously the secretary general of the DPNCG and the editor of the daily newspaper Vijesti. What motivates you to do two such demanding jobs?
Ambition to change things. Since the beginning of my journalistic career, starting with the newspaper Borba, I have been involved in daily journalism. When a journalist reaches a certain point, the job no longer stimulates you and you get into a rut, it is good to have a change. That is why I also took on the role of secretary general. The DPNCG is developing slowly; we have only one full-time employee. But as an association, we must fight in solidarity for better professional conditions and to prevent the humiliation of journalism and journalists. That is my motivation.

What challenges does journalism face in Montenegro?
Journalists in Montenegro have been turned into people who simply transmit statements by politicians, their tweets and posts – we have become microphone holders. We are contributing to a climate that is not conducive to social development but to stagnation. Media owners pay attention to clicks, while there is no time, staff or money for investigative, analytical journalism. Sometimes, a journalist shines with a good story, but unfortunately not often enough. We need to think more about the interests of the public and less about the number of comments, likes or reposts. We need to look at the motives behind political statements, rather than just reporting those statements.

The DPNCG is a relatively young association of journalists. You were founded in 2016. Why did you decide to form an association? For what purpose?
For years, no one represented the interest of journalists in Montenegro. I started to be ashamed that there is no such association, so we first formed a union. Then some colleagues suggested that we should form an association because a union could not represent freelancers or provide legal assistance. In the meantime, things have changed here. There is a more vibrant civil society that is vocal and follows topics related to the media and journalists. I can’t say that we are successful because journalistic solidarity is not yet at a high level, but things are improving.

Dealing with organized crime and corruption can be difficult and frustrating. How do you motivate colleagues and your network to try to make a difference?
These are, in fact, topics that should be in our focus because they reveal how our regimes work. The link between organized crime and corruption and parts of the government marks us in the Balkans and only a few journalists are ready and have the knowledge to get into those stories. We have great editors: we work with colleagues from the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and we try to learn something and make progress concerning the stories that are read in the media every day.

Looking at the DPNCG from the outside, the association mainly combines investigative journalism and training. Why do you think this combination is good? How interested are the DPNCG members – and journalists in Montenegro in general – in these topics?
Since newsrooms don’t have the time or money to invest in journalists, we use the opportunity to gather on weekends, relax and break through the polarized media scene by socializing in order to learn about the rights and techniques of investigative, responsible journalism. Our members are colleagues from most media outputs. They recognize our good intentions and together, I believe we can make some progress. But it will take time. The very fact that there is such a lousy media situation in this country indicates that we are just at the beginning of our work.

The change of government in Montenegro has triggered a significant reorganization of the state apparatus, including institutions fighting organized crime and corruption. How do you assess the situation?
As long as the heads of investigations are prosecutors who only did their job selectively and were rewarded with loans and apartments from the executive, or while people at the head of the courts were also bribed in the same way, there will be no results. Results will come when we get a prosecutor who is not be afraid to investigate suspicions that parts of the judiciary, police and political apparatus, as well as certain individuals, earned millions from smuggling tobacco and drugs and the privatization of state property. Everything else can only be a farce for the European Commission. We expect changes in the prosecution soon and then we will see if the change of government has brought anything new. For now, the only change is that the police do not report us for social media posts in which we criticize the leaders of the former government.

When looking at organized crime and corruption, does the DPNCG cooperate with other civil society organizations and state institutions? Has anything improved as a result of the country’s recent change of government?
We had excellent cooperation from civil society and representatives of state institutions, through the ombudsman’s office, when working on stories about crime and corruption. These are individuals who are ready to help raise journalistic standards because they see how bad the situation is. Unfortunately, so far, we have not had the opportunity to go thoroughly into this topic, but we are trying to change that. Concerning the change of government, thus far the only noticeable difference is the political will to change things. But the old regime has not been dismantled in critical areas. Those who were replaced because they did nothing to fight organized crime and corruption are now, it seems, mostly pulling the strings from the shadows.

Recently, the DPNCG issued a statement demanding responsibility for the unsolved murder of journalist Duško Jovanović and attacks on colleagues in general. What is the background of the announcement? How endangered are journalists in Montenegro?
Almost all attacks on journalists, including the murder of the former editor and owner of the daily Dan, remain unsolved. I know this because I followed most of these cases while I was in the commission to investigate attacks on journalists. You don’t have to be a lawyer or watch crime films to realize that prosecutors in Montenegro have not invested sufficiently in investigating attacks on journalists – even murder. Looking at those case files is depressing. Honestly, it’s a shame to what extent these prosecutors did not want to make any effort to do their jobs properly. And yet many were promoted; others are retired, but sit on different bodies where they benefit. Someone should finally ask them why they failed to do their jobs: was it fear, ignorance, obstruction from the top or something else?

The change of government has not changed much for journalists – they are still targeted. We won’t be free to do our work until we not only know that those who attack us will be punished, but also until we are responsible for what we write and say. This means that some journalists should start serving the public interest instead of that of certain people.

You provide legal and psychological assistance to journalists. What motivated you to provide these services? What is the reaction of your fellow journalists? Do they ask for help?
It took journalists time to realize that they cannot fight their problems alone. Furthermore, the newsrooms mainly look out for their own interests, not those of journalists. The pandemic also confirmed that journalists increasingly need professional help. Unfortunately, they don’t use it enough because there is still insufficient awareness in the Balkans that we should go to a psychologist or a psychotherapist. That said, some colleagues talk individually with a psychologist about stressful situations at work. And at group training sessions, we share our experiences, which helps to overcome challenges and better prepare us for future situations. Things are improving and we will not give up on this help.

Can you tell us how the GI-TOC’s Resilience Fund helped the DPNCG and the journalists you represent?
Thanks to the Resilience Fund, we have published two excellent brochures on researching organized crime that are available to everyone online. We also linked relevant information from the NGO Affirmation Network (MANS), the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro, and the BIRN to journalists who are writing about corruption and organized crime. Furthermore, through the Fund we learned a lot about human trafficking, particularly through consultations with the police and civil society organizations that are seriously following this issue. We also understood why our country had been the target of criticism from international organizations and institutions for years. It’s because of the poor access to justice and compensation for victims and lack of punishment of perpetrators. In addition, through the Fund, we were able to publish excellent, high-quality texts on human trafficking that resonated outside Montenegro.

What are the next steps for the DPNCG? What are your hopes for the future?
Our goal is to develop what we started, try to professionalize, unite and report about the problems that do not allow our societies to break away from the alliance of corruption and crime. To do this as professional journalists, we must have credible sources and check every fact. Then, we can publish and promote stories on our website and social networks, independent of the will of the media outlets where we work. Maybe this will make someone angry, but free media is still an ideal. So we have to work at least on developing free, high-quality self-aware journalists.

Mila Radulović is a journalist and editor of the Montenegrin daily Vijesti. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, Department of Journalism. A professional journalist since 1991, Radulović has worked for the Belgrade newspapers Borba, Naša Borba and Dnevni Telegraf, as a correspondent for the Belgrade news agency Beta and as an associate of the Belgrade weekly Duga and NIN, as well as Banja Luka’s Nezavisne Novine. She was a coordinator for investigative journalism at MANS. She is one of the founders of the Media Union and a former member of the Commission for Investigation of Attacks on Journalists. She has won a number of awards, including the MANS and Centre for Civic Education awards for articles on human rights and the fight against corruption.