Yearly research of the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), encompassing 10,630 articles with Montenegro as the keyword, provides an insight into narratives and the amount at which they were spread by the most read Serbian news portals in Montenegro.

The analysis showed that the news portals Alo, Espreso, Blic, Srbija danas, Kurir, Informer, and Novosti had been the most read Serbian media in Montenegro continuously during the last 12 months, but at the same time, they had been spreading the content of a debatable quality.

Daily coverage of the Serbian media on Montenegro would not be particular at all, had it not been dominated by disinformation, fake news, sensational headlines, and the narratives addressing the broad audience.

The monthly media reports showed that the Serbian media were very much read in Montenegro, which raises concerns even more on the possibility of manipulating the Montenegrin public.

Given that the Montenegrin social and political scene this and last year was marked by big events: adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the processions resulting therefrom, the coronavirus and the parliamentary elections that had brought about their own narratives, the negative narratives were launched almost on a daily basis.

The most frequent narrative was: Montenegro is a criminal and captured state. The adjective criminal sends out a message that the criminal activities in the region are originating from Montenegro and that the most notorious criminal organizations, the most vicious homicides, robberies, kidnappings, and drug dealing have their roots in Montenegro. While captured means that it is captured both politically and socially. Some of the messages sent out and suggesting bad conditions in Montenegro are: state institutions are captured as they are dominated by corruption and nepotism, the Montenegrin regime does not respect human or religious rights and it aims at creating a private state.

The narrative that has been filling the Serbian media columns for months and was particularly popular with the processions going on, refers to the endangered Serbs in Montenegro, deprived of any rights, which was supported by the claims that Serbia would protect them from the discrimination of the Montenegrin regime. Besides the protection of Serbs, the articles persisted in aiding and supporting the Serbian shrines in Montenegro that the Montenegro regime aims at seizing.

Key events through the lens of the Serbian media

The adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the processions, and the developments in Budva gave rise to another narrative: Montenegro is an unstable state where riots and civil war may occur and where the Montenegrin regime is using repression. On a daily basis, they have been reporting that the Montenegrin regime was using the police force to apprehend, beat and persecute both the believers and the clergy, that it does not allow the freedom of expression on social media, that it has been attacking the opponents in every possible way. To strengthen the narrative, even the Army of Montenegro was targeted by the Serbian media, in the sense that it had been taken by the government to the streets to prevent the processions.

Even the global coronavirus pandemic did not lower the tone of the Serbian online media. Moreover, they were writing that the Montenegrin government was unable to cope with the virus and that it had been hiding the numbers of the infected. The fact that we had been the last country in Europe to report on positive cases and first to declare corona free destination did not prevent the Serbian tabloids from continuing their hunt by publishing that we had neither laboratories nor PCR tests. Neither have the démenti of the Institute for Public Health and the Government of Montenegro stopped them from thwarting Montenegro’s success in the fight against coronavirus.

At the time of the coronavirus emerging and the NKT’s preventive measures introduction, the narrative of coronavirus being an excuse for the government to stop the continuation of processions was brought to the fore.

The influence of a negative campaign on the tourist industry’s collapse

Montenegro’s tourist industry, which has been for years targeted through the Serbian media’s steady pattern, was clinched by disinformation and fake news. However, the epidemiological situation and measures introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic had additionally deepened and intensified the campaign of deteriorating the image of Montenegro as a tourist destination. The negative propaganda was visible in calling on the Serbian citizens not to go to Montenegro on holiday because the coronavirus was flaring up there, the beaches were empty, and the prices were extremely high. Their main ace in the hole was that the Serbian tourists were not welcomed there. The decision not to open the borders with Serbia due to the unfavorable epidemiological situation in the country and the risk of the virus importation was presented in the Serbian tabloids as a politically motivated decision, which causes further tension between Podgorica and Belgrade.

Elections and constitution of the Government

All of the tabloids and media in Serbia paid great attention to the parliamentary elections in Montenegro held on August 30. The narratives and sensational headlines were coming one after another day by day until the very Election day. Spreading of negative narratives and disinformation had a goal of its own – to create more tension. The dominant narrative was the one about the regime’s continuing with three-decades-long activities of electoral fraud and manipulation to stay in power; this time by vote-buying (IDs), inviting foreigners primarily coming from Kosovo and Albania to vote for the DPS, and by inciting riots. However, none of the stated was supported by evidence.

The constitution of the Government after the elections was the old-new topic, and by that, the occasion for the Serbian media to influence social and political developments in Montenegro additionally through information manipulation. The declaration of election results was followed by the narratives on divisions that occurred in Djukanovic’s DPS, falling apart of the DPS, which was proved by alleged incidents among the party’s representatives, unraveling of a tapestry of crime that has been suffocating the whole country. There were also claims that President Milo Djukanovic could present us with a couple of surprises in order to undermine the constitution of the new Government without the DPS. In his attempts to stay in power, one of the scenarios presented was a declaring of a state of emergency due to the abrupt increase in the number of infected. This was described as a method serving the purpose of possible salvation or prolonging of the regime’s political end. Besides the spreading of these narratives, the Serbian media were regular in the publishing of the statements of the three coalitions’ leaders: For the Future of Montenegro, Peace is Our Nation and It’s in Black and White, along with their further plans. They were also trying to guess who would take the seat of the President of the Parliament, Prime Minister, or who would be entrusted to lead the most important bodies in the new Government.

At the end of the monitored period, the change in the Serbian media narratives regarding Montenegro’s new majority is noticeable. The shift happened because of the signing of the Agreement among the leaders of the three collations on September 9, after which they have become traitors overnight who have turned their backs on Serbs.