The 33rd DFC Magazine issue brings an interview with Dr. Zlatko Vujovic, President of the Governing Board of the Center for Monitoring and Research (CeMI). Disrupted diplomatic relations between Montenegro and Serbia, parliamentary majority crisis, and further perspective of Montenegro were the topics discussed by Vujovic. The new Magazine issue analyzes the unhidden attacks coming from Serbia on the address of Montenegro, that have been particularly intensified after the adoption of the Resolution on Srebrenica on June 17. We have also covered some of the main messages from this year’s NATO Summit held in Brussels on June 14, as well as the DFC Public opinion survey showing that the citizens of Montenegro trust media partially.

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The Digital Forensic Center discussed with Tamara Srzentic, Minister of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media, the negative scores that Montenegro obtained in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders in April, as well as the increasingly present online hate speech issue.

Minister Srzentic emphasized that her Ministry has started the Continuing Media Dialogue, where all the issues that pose problems to this sector are discussed with the media representatives, in order to find systemic solutions. Besides, the Minister highlighted that the discussions about the drawing up of the Media Strategy began, which should encompass our future activities, provide recommendations and strategical guidance on the media industry development, as well as the improvement of media freedoms in the broadest sense.

DFC: Montenegro ranked 104th on the World Press Freedom Index, published in April by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), climbing one place compared to 2020, but yet, it remains the region’s worst-ranked country. What do you think contributed the most to such a low ranking?

T. SRZENTIC: The Government closely read and analyzed the findings of the 2020 World Press Freedom Index prepared by the Reporters Without Borders that identified the challenges and problems in the media industry during the previous year. It is important to say that, since the very beginning of the work of the new Government and especially after having had conversations with the media representatives, we have recognized the challenges. Let me remind you that we started the Continuing Media Dialogue, the first of this type, where all the issues that pose problems to this sector are discussed with the media representatives in order to find systemic solutions with joint efforts.

Stricter punishments for attacks on journalists

I believe that the growing attacks on journalists and the cold cases of crimes against journalists that are yet to be solved are the main reasons, among the others, behind the country’s low ranking in the Index by Reporters Without Borders. A deeply polarized society in each segment also contributed to this. Having recognized it as one of the key issues regarding the freedom of speech and the status of journalists in Montenegro, we opened up a discussion, at the governmental level, on the amending of the Criminal Code as to punish more severely the attacks on journalists, while such a provision would prevent all future attacks and other crimes against journalists.

On the other hand, it is equally important to improve the policy of criminal sanctions in the former cases of attacks on media representatives. The Minister of the Interior and the Head of the Police Administration have paid special attention to these issues. I believe that the work of the Commission for the monitoring of the investigations of the competent authorities in cases of threats and violence against journalists, murders of journalists, and attacks on the property will give results and shed a light on cold cases.

Freedom of speech and media freedoms are a pillar of each democratic society. We need to carry out reforms and improve public awareness of the importance of the media and their role in every society. The Ministry of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media has committed itself to solve systematically these issues and it has been intensively working on challenges and problems that piled up during the previous period.

The importance to adopt Media Strategy

DFC: According to the Index, the government’s harassment of media and professional journalists continues, while the attacks go unpunished. What will your Ministry do to improve media freedoms in Montenegro?

T. SRZENTIC: This Government has been working on creating an atmosphere where the media and journalists in Montenegro should feel free to report, under no political pressures, on any topic in an unbiased manner. Apart from all the things previously mentioned, I believe that the adoption of the Media Strategy and the reform of the media regulation will be of great importance. We have already started working on activities for drawing up the Media Strategy, the first of this type in Montenegro, which we will design together with the media representatives. Besides the regulatory framework that should be improved and completed, we believe that such a document is more than necessary since we found no document that adequately covers the development of the media industry in Montenegro. The Strategy should encompass our future activities, provide recommendations and strategical guidance on the media industry development, as well as the improvement of media freedom in the broadest sense.

DFC: The RSF also emphasizes that the current government, after the August election, announced the amendments to the media laws from 2019, particularly in the provisions according to which the journalists would be obliged to reveal their sources. Are those and other amendments being worked upon and when could we expect stronger mechanisms for the strengthening of freedom and protection of journalists in general?

T. SRZENTIC: Along with all these activities, we work on the media legislative reforms referring to the adoption of the new Law on Audio-Visual Media Services and the amendments to the Law on Media and Law on National Public Broadcaster – Radio Television of Montenegro (RTCG), in order to harmonize all three laws. Certainly, one of the intentions of this Government is to completely protect the journalists and their sources through legal reform in accordance with the best practices and standards applied in more developed countries, which will be in accordance with the expectations of the Montenegrin media community and our international partners.

Completion of the legal framework by the end of the year

The entire legal framework for the media is expected to be completed by the end of the current year, while the adoption of the Media Strategy is planned for the end of September 2021. That way, we will provide comprehensive reforms that will protect both journalists and media themselves and will allow them to perform their work without obstacles.

DFC: Do you think that the problem of hate speech in general, and especially on the internet, can be solved with legal regulation or any other action, such as campaigns? Is your Ministry planning any particular steps in this regard, and which ones?

T. SRZENTIC: I am aware that hate speech, under the pretense of the freedom of speech, often takes shape, on social media and the internet in general, that threatens individuals, but also the society as a whole. The social media expansion significantly contributed to the spreading of hate speech and disinformation that are overflowing the media environment. On one hand, we have complete freedom of speech in the online environment, but, on the other hand, we have the growing hate speech with inadequate sanctions policy. We are aware that this issue burdens our society and, therefore, within the Media Strategy, we will define direction and steps to solve this problem, as well as the concrete measures and activities of the relevant bodies. Also, I think that Montenegro and its society definitely need objective self-regulation, in order to implement professional and ethical informing, which will apply the ethical standards to the media work on the basis of a voluntarily agreed code. We also recognized the importance of promoting media literacy and, in that area, this Government needs to make a particular contribution, in order to raise the citizens’ awareness of the critical and safe usage of media content. Likewise, the public administration must be as transparent as possible, and I am particularly dedicated to this task since the transparent work itself is the best mechanism to reduce the space for the launching of disinformation referring to our work.

Media should constantly build their own capacities

DFC: Among other things, the Digital Forensic Center organizes training for journalists in order to introduce them to the phenomenon of disinformation, as well as the methods of open-source fact-checking. Director-General of the Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire said that journalism was the best vaccine against disinformation. How do you plan to raise the level of professional journalism where true and reliable information will be the goal and tool for the development of a healthy society?

T. SRZENTIC: I believe that all these questions will be recognized and defined through the development of the Media Strategy in the following period. In this context, it is particularly important that the media sector itself applies the Code of Ethics of Montenegrin Journalists. The media themselves need to be aware that their capacities should be continuously built, particularly when it comes to the education and training of younger journalists. It is also necessary to protect their journalists so that no party meddles in their work and that they do not experience any kind of pressure, to provide them with good and secure working conditions, to continuously invest in their education. The role of NGOs is also very prominent since they largely contribute to media professionalization, which is something that I am particularly thankful for.

The 32nd DFC Magazine issue brings the interview with the Minister of Public Administration, Digital Society and Media Tamara Srzentic. We discussed with the Minister the situation in the media in Montenegro, reforms that the Ministry is preparing, as well as the hate speech that is increasingly present on social media and the internet. The new Magazine also brings an overview of the 15 years of Montenegrin independence and the hidden activities surrounding the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between MNE and the SPC. Also, you can read about the beginning of the 5G network trials in our country and the results of the Training for Young Digital Sherlocks.

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The new DFC Magazine issue presents a shorter version of the author’s analysis of the attempt to assimilate Montenegro into the Serbian world. Besides, we also bring the article about discussions in the Montenegrin public and the overall events ahead of the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church. In the 31st Magazine issue, read the interview with the research journalist Milivoje Pantovic on the Chinese influence methods in Montenegro and Serbia, as well as the comment of Srecko Latal, Balkan Insight editor for Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the disputable non-paper that suggests a significant reorganization of the Western Balkans.

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During the summer semester, the Faculty of Philology introduced the module Media literacy within the project Preparing future teachers: Education for Democracy and Human Rights. For this occasion, in this month’s DFC Magazine issue, we are talking with the module authors Ph.D. Dusanka Popovic, Assistant Professor at the study programs Montenegrin Language and South Slavic Literature, Serbian Language and South Slavic Literature, and Pre-school Education, and Ph.D. Marijana Cerovic, Assistant Professor at the study program English Language and Literature.

Considering that the main activity of the project is selecting one of nine key concepts of democratic culture promoted by the Council of Europe, as well as the module creation, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Marija Cerovic says that they chose the topic of media literacy precisely because of their awareness of its significance in today’s society and familiarity with the state in Montenegrin education institutions.

Ph.D. Professor Assistant Dusanka Popovic says that human rights to express freely, select, and receive information spread by media bound the education system to prepare young people, who are particularly susceptible to the influence of media, to develop critical thinking and safely consume information constantly presented in today’s social environment.

Digitalization requires media literate teachers

DFC: Since its founding, the Digital forensic center has been highlighting the significance of media literacy in the fight against disinformation and fake news in its statements and texts. This is why we believe that the creation of the module Media literacy for students of the Faculty of Philology is quite a step forward for Montenegrin society. What motivated you to start this project?

Dusanka POPOVIC: It seems that, so far, the influence of media literacy on each individual to take their active role within both smaller social community they belong to and the society as a whole, through understanding, selecting, and receiving information of different content, form, and purpose spread by the media, has not been sufficiently recognized. Digitalization and new media forms, the increasingly rapid flow of information and their quantity require a media literate teacher, who would be able to understand their students, monitor and prepare them for constant and intensive contact with different kinds of media and their polysemic messages.

DFC: We understood that the module would be realized within the project Preparing future teachers: Education for Democracy and Human Rights. Could you tell us your primary goal and what guided you in drafting this module?

Marijana CEROVIC: The main activity of the said project, organized by the European Wergeland Centre, in partnership with the Faculty of Philology, among others, is the selection of one of nine key concepts of democratic culture (promoted by the Council of Europe) and the creation of module covering selected topic. Being aware of the importance of media literacy and familiar with the state in our education institutions concerning this issue, we saw this activity as the opportunity to promote media literacy and offer it to our students as a free-choice elective. The students from three study programs are participating in this project, but this module could be offered at all faculties educating future teachers.

To encourage students to consider their responsibilities

DFC: What are you expecting from this project, how was it designed and how do you assess the so-far interest of students to take the module?

Dusanka POPOVIC: Human rights to express freely, select, and receive information spread by media bound the education system to prepare young people, who are particularly exposed and susceptible to the influence of media, to develop critical thinking and safely consume information. Drawing from the Council of Europe Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture, we have opted to remind students of the key concepts of media literacy, and the particularity of media text as a construct, of ways in which media messages are constructed and deconstructed, and of the notion of censorship from the perspectives of both editor and reader. And also to teach them how to identify stereotypes and prejudices following the media messages shaped to serve their goal, and to encourage them to consider their responsibilities they assume as either users or authors. An important part of this module is the methodological approach to media content in primary and secondary schools, i.e. how to prepare for teaching on media literacy and how to implement that in a classroom setting. How to implement the practice in schools, i.e. organize classes on media literacy, is also covered in this part.

Since the module is in a pilot phase and is a free-choice elective, at the very beginning, when they were offered the module, and later during the activities, students have shown a high interest, actively participating in discussions, thinking critically, and sharing their opinions on key points of media literacy. They have shown a special interest in research of the issue we are dealing with, creativity in preparing presentations, posters, and other works produced at classes. One of the important guidelines for the module implementation is that the active and interactive teaching methods should be applied in the realization, reproducing a democratic learning environment. One of the goals of the project as a whole is to help future teachers to create a democratic environment in small school communities, whose integral part is media literacy. What we expect is that the importance of this module for the competency of future teachers gets recognized and becomes available to all students.

Teachers should have a high level of media competency

DFC: Do you believe that media literacy should become a mandatory subject in schools? How much significant role does it play for the development of critical thinking among youth?

Dusanka POPOVIC: Despite some elements of media literacy being covered by certain subject programs (for example, Subject Program for Montenegrin-Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian language and literature, and as a special elective subject in general high schools), this is not sufficient to fully develop this literacy. This is why we believe that introducing media literacy as a separate and mandatory subject would significantly help to understand media, the ways in which they function and the ways in which we receive their messages, and develop critical thinking concerning social events in students’ environments. Besides, high school students, once at faculty, would be better prepared to further study, broaden, and develop this field. We also believe that all teachers should have a high level of media competency that must be continually advanced, meaning that they can recognize the cultural and ethical aspect of media, are familiar with rights, media policy, and its social influence, and have cognitive media skills including knowledge, understanding, and the analysis of media content. The subject could become then a cross-cutting theme covered in all subjects’ programs taught in schools and to get the status that has been nicely put as in one of the guides on this topic for our region: Rather than a new subject, media literacy represents a new learning approach for all other courses.

DFC: To what extent acquiring media literacy skills can help to develop society as a whole and what would be the first lesson of media literacy you would give to both experts and the general public?

Marijana CEROVIC: Media literacy is one of the ways to build and preserve a more human and fairer society, which is, undoubtedly, the basis for its further development. necessary if it wants to further develop. Should we base the youth education on the idea that education for democracy must be received early on at schools, where everyone knows not only their rights but responsibilities as well, we will help them to become active and proactive members of their social communities. It is a serious and demanding task to do, and the choice is upon us – the society and the state. The first lesson of media literacy should be to all ask ourselves: Are we controlling media or are they controlling us? And also what else do we need to know to answer this question…

The new DFC Magazine issue brings the analysis of the activities of the new government regarding the intelligence and security sector in Montenegro, which have been perceived among a significant part of both the Montenegrin and international public as undermining of previously achieved results in that field, weakening of cooperation and sowing of distrust in the relations with NATO member states. In the 30th issue, read about the situation in Montenegro one year after the fight against COVID-19 – in short, high COVID-19 death rate, late vaccine procurement, and economy on oxygen. The guests of our column Interview on the occasion were PhD Dusanka Popovic and PhD Marijana Cerovic, the authors of the model Media Literacy at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Montenegro, who have conveyed a strong message: Media Literacy is a way to create a more human and fairer society!

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The new DFC magazine issue brings the overview of events in Niksic as it heads into the local elections on March 14. Read about fake researches circulating on the Internet ahead of the local elections, media campaign from Serbia, and activities of the Montenegrin and Serbian political actors and activists. Also, the DFC conducted research on the popularity of the Twitter accounts of five Montenegrin politicians between December 15, 2020, and January 15, 2021, which showed how much of their popularity comes from and outside Montenegro. For our column, Interview on the occasion, we interviewed Ph.D. Milos Vukcevic, a lawyer and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law of the Mediterranean University. For this DFC magazine issue, he talked about the right to privacy, misuse of personal data, and online identity theft, and how all these phenomena are dealt with by the Criminal Code and Montenegrin legislation.

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Another Friday has come, together with the new edition of our weekly column On Friday Afternoon. As usual, we will start this week’s overview with the topics related to Montenegro.

On Wednesday night, the DFC discovered at least 50 Twitter accounts that impersonated and, therefore, damaged the reputation of several public and political figures in Montenegro. The activities of these accounts were coordinated and synchronized since, in a very short space of time, they changed their usernames and profile photos to those of public figures and officials. Apart from impersonating the accounts, they also shared inappropriate content. Some Twitter users did not realize that those were not the official accounts of public figures, and engaged in a discussion with them. Considering the short period and a large number of accounts and their mutual interaction, it becomes evident that the activity was not spontaneous but rather organized and synchronized. The DFC reacted promptly and informed the public and competent state authorities about these events. The Deputy of the Basic State Prosecutor in Podgorica Vukas Radonjic confirmed to Radio Free Europe that the complaint regarding fake Twitter accounts had been submitted to the (Basic State) Prosecutor’s Office and that the investigation would be conducted to determine whether (or not) a criminal offense prosecuted ex officio had been committed. Besides, the impersonation presents a violation of the Twitter Rules. Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.

This week, BIRN in Serbia published research that showed that there were serious loopholes in the content control policies of Facebook and Twitter in the Balkans. The BIRN’s major findings showed that nearly half of Facebook and Twitter posts published in Bosnian, Serbian, Montenegrin, or Macedonian language present hate speech, while one in two posts reported for hate speech in one of these languages remains visible online. When it comes to posts promoting violence, the content was removed in 60% of cases, and in cases of targeted harassment, it was removed in 50% of cases. Experts say that the greatest problem could be the lack of transparency in how companies assess complaints about social media.

The Serbian historian Aleksandar Rakovic stated publicly on TV Happy’s morning show that Montenegrins have a mentality error, that they are all crawlers, and that Serbs should factory reset us for a new world which Serbia is building on the territory of our country. These statements were broadcasted during the show Bitka za Niksic (Battle for Niksic). With the local elections approaching, the Serbian media seem to become increasingly interested in the events in Montenegro. After TV Happy introduced the serial Battle for Niksic, the news portal Novosti introduced the column Izbori u CG (Elections in Montenegro). In the last seven days, there were 4,730 texts about Montenegro, which represents 82% more than in the first week of February. Two days after the portal news Novosti had introduced the column Elections in Montenegro, the same column appeared on the news portal Alo, which was labeled the record-holder in breaching of journalism ethics and standards by the Serbian Press Council. It is important to highlight that the Council for Strategic Policy (CFSP) published this week the investigation showing that nearly one in six front-page headlines in the Serbian daily newspapers published in 2020 was fake news.

Late last night, the DFC revealed at least 50 Twitter accounts, which impersonated and thus damaged the reputation of several public and political figures in Montenegro.

The activities of these accounts were coordinated and synchronized, considering that in a very short space of time they changed their username and profile photo to those of public figures and officials including Dritan Abazovic, Momo Koprivica, Branko Radulovic, Marko Milacic, Milo Djukanovic, Milivoje Katnic, Petar Komnenic, Draginja Vuksanovic Stankovic and many others. Apart from impersonating the accounts, they also shared inappropriate content. Besides, many Twitter users did not realize that those were not the official accounts of public figures and engaged in a discussion with them.

Considering the short period and a large number of accounts, and their mutual interaction, it becomes evident that the action was not spontaneous, but organized and synchronized. At this moment, we cannot reveal any further details on who is standing behind the profiles and the coordination or its goal, as not to compromise our investigation.

The Twitter Rules clearly say that impersonation represents a violation of this platform’s Rules. Twitter accounts that pose as another person, brand, or organization in a confusing or deceptive manner may be permanently suspended under Twitter’s impersonation policy.

Yet, there are exceptions when such accounts will not be removed, i.e. when they are not in violation of the Rules. They are the following:

The user shares one’s name but has no other commonalities (which is now not the case. They used the public figures’ names and photos, shared their opinions, and engaged in a discussion with other persons.)

The profile clearly states that it is not affiliated with or connected to any similarly-named individuals or brands. That goes for the following cases:

  • The account name (note: this is separate from the username, or @handle) should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account. Non-affiliation can be indicated by incorporating, for example, words such as (but not limited to) parody, fake, or fan.
  • The bio should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account. Non-affiliation can be indicated by incorporating, for example, words such as (but not limited to) parody, fake, or fan.

One of the most popular accounts of this kind is Parody Boris Johnson with 145,000 followers, using the identical name and photo as the British Prime Minister, but visibly and clearly indicating, as required by the Rules, that it is a parody account.

Whether it is mere entertainment, how one part of the public feels, or something else, it is not without the reason that social media take impersonation very seriously and impose rigorous measures on this sensitive issue.

Nevertheless, what one person finds amusing may represent a serious problem to another, damage their reputation and honor, and create inconvenient situations.

Another Friday has come, together with the new edition of our weekly column On Friday Afternoon. As usual, we will start this week’s overview with the topics related to Montenegro.

This week, a new issue of our DFC magazine was published. It presents conspiracy theories around vaccines that the media from the region were spreading, which are striving to compromise the credibility and trust of citizens both in the work of health institutions and the immunization process. In the column Interview on the occasion, our collocutor was Dr. Vuk Vukovic, Assistant Professor at Department of Production, Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the UCG. Dr. Vukovic discussed the topic of social media and emphasized that only constant education can lead to a revolutionary shift. Likewise, the 28th Magazine issue covers alternative social media such as Parler and Gab, which have become a safe haven for extremists and supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Download the PDF issue by clicking on the link or the photo below.

Fake or anonymous social media accounts that are spreading inappropriate content have been a very common phenomenon in Montenegro for the last couple of years. Our colleague Milan Jovanovic said for RTCG that the internet contributed to the democratization of information but also caused less pleasant phenomena such as online harassment, lately the most present on fake or anonymous social media accounts.  Click here to read the integral report on possible dangers caused by inauthentic coordinated behavior on the internet.

This week, Niksic was the center of attention in our country. On Monday, Montenegrin police arrested Stevan Simijanovic for possessing a fake diplomatic passport. Simijanovic introduced himself as an American diplomat at the OSCE mission in Vienna, and the media published that he also possessed Montenegrin ID, as well as a Serbian and US driving license. Also, Pobjeda wrote that Simijanovic met with the CM URA representatives, which was confirmed by this political organization. Simijanovic was also a member of the International Police Organization and after being arrested, he was excluded from that NGO. Equally, it is interesting that one of the companions of the fake diplomat Stevan Simijanovic in hotel Ambassador in Podgorica from December 24 to February 9 was Marija Havrilov, a prominent member of the Serbian extremist nationalist movement Zavetnici. Simijanovic has a connection with the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to his LinkedIn profile (before its deletion), Simijanovic was a Sub-Deacon in that religious organization.

Also, Niksic was the center of attention due to the inappropriate graffiti that appeared on the Haji Ismail Mosque in this town. Hate messages directed towards members of the Islamic faith were written on the walls of the Mosque. Even though this kind of behavior was rebuked by all political actors in the country, it is clear that these events will only raise tensions before the local election in Niksic.

This week, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights published a piece of research on media and media freedoms, showing that one in two citizens in Montenegro does not trust media. According to the research, television is still the most dominant media, and Facebook is the most visited social media. Also, the research shows that the citizens have high expectations from the new Government when it comes to the protection of journalists and media freedoms. The author of the research and leading CEDEM methodologist Milos Besic emphasized that the TV is still the most dominant media and that over 70% of the citizens watch it on a daily basis.

Have a nice weekend!

Always question!

DFC team