Defamation lawsuits most often filled by citizens
The largest number of lawsuits for defamation was initiated by citizens, and journalists and media have been claimed for more than three million euros during the ten years since the decriminalization of defamation, Trade Union of Media of Montenegro (TUMM) announced.
That trade union organization presented the final report on the occasion of ten years of decriminalization of defamation in Montenegro, which was created within the project “More facts less insults”, financed by the United States Embassy in Montenegro, and which is realized in cooperation with MINA News Agency.
The President of the TUMM, Marijana Camović Veličković, explained that report contains analyzed cases in the period from the decriminalization of defamation in 2011 to 2020.
“It turned out that more than 200 lawsuits were filed, that 142 were legally terminated, and that 68 cases were active. The Monitoring Team of the TUMM monitored more than 200 hearings in the remaining 68 cases that are active and have not yet reached a verdict. Until the end of the procedure, we will monitor those cases, “said Camovic Velickovic.
The monitoring showed, as she said, that the citizens are one who most often sue journalists and the media.
According to her, the finding that there are frequent mutual lawsuits of the media speaks of the state of the media landscape in Montenegro and “that self-regulation does not work and that no one believes in it, not even the media themselves.”
“If it were different, the media would be the first to reach for that mechanism and the court would be the last,” Camovic Velickovic pointed out.
The President of the Basic Court in Podgorica, Zeljka Jovovic, said that the analysis of the TUMM enabled an objective, fact-based way to look at the actions of both courts and the media, through the prism of respecting professional standards.
“It is a surprising fact that citizens are suing the media the most. The analysis provided support for understanding the way courts work. I am glad that the importance of the Basic Court in Podgorica has been recognized, through the number of cases. I am also pleased that the analysis did not show that the basic courts favor one of the categories of prosecutors. That is what proves our objectivity, “Jovovic pointed out.
She said that in the next period, they will pay special attention to the fact that the procedures last shorter.
A researcher in the TUMM, Bojana Lakovic Konatar, said that the analysis showed that the largest number of lawsuits due to damage to honor and reputation are initiated by citizens.
“The largest number of lawsuits and the worst year for journalists was 2019, when more than 50 lawsuits were filed due to damage to honor and reputation. Some of these cases are still active. More than three million euros have been demanded from journalists and the media during the ten years since the decriminalization of defamation. The amount awarded by the courts is much smaller “, stated Lakovic Konatar.
According to her, the media have been sued 210 times.
“When it comes to court proceedings, citizens sue the most, in 103 cases, and it is a very worrying fact that apart from citizens, there is a trend for the media to sue colleagues in a huge number of cases,” said Lakovic Konatar.
She pointed out that during the first decade since the decriminalization of defamation, 3,018 million euros were demanded from the media and journalists, while the basic courts, according to currently available data, ruled that the media pay 143.7 thousand euros.
“From 2011 until today, 142 cases in which journalists and media have been sued have been completed. 13 courts tried, and most cases were in the Basic Court in Podgorica, about 90 cases,” said Lakovic Konatar.
“The analysis showed that the most sued were the media, and the second defendant were journalists, less often editors. Most lawsuits were filed against daily newspapers, against Day – 41. In second place is Daily Vijesti – 36, followed by Dnevne novine with 12, Pink M with 12, Monitor nine, portals Aktuelno.me and RT Glas Plava six “, said Laković Konatar.
Most often, as she added, daily newspapers are sued, televisions are in second place, and portals are in third place, while radio stations are the least sued media.
“It is significant that RTCG was sued in only one case, and local radio broadcasters were not sued in any of the analyzed periods. When it comes to final verdicts, 2.618 million euros were requested in the lawsuits, the amount was not specified in ten lawsuits, the publication of answers was requested in seven lawsuits, and the publication of denials was requested in two lawsuits, “said Lakovic Konatar.
She pointed out that the analysis showed that the citizens asked for around 1.3 million euros.
“Up to 200 thousand euros were requested in the lawsuits of legal entities. Significant amounts were demanded by journalists – 92 thousand, and the media – 76 thousand. Public figures demanded 485,000 euros, while public officials, politicians and businessmen are in fourth place. The total amounts that the media and journalists asked from other media and journalists is 168 thousand euros, “said Lakovic Konatar.
Legal expert Mirko Boskovic explained that before approaching a job and publishing information, a journalist must perceive all potential difficulties and shortcomings that may arise in the information itself, which would later expose them to civil liability.
“Journalists must get acquainted in detail with the standards. They often do not have much time to look at the information they need to publish in the light of legal frameworks and standards in today’s time, which is rich in information, which requires the speed of information flow,” Boskovic said.
Therefore, he believes, it is necessary to study them in detail and look at them.
Legal expert Milorad Markovic said that the analysis showed that Montenegrin courts had reached a high level of application of the standards of the European Court of Human Rights.
“I am glad that this practice of the European Court of Human Rights has not been literally transposed, but that practice itself, adapted to a specific case. Montenegrin courts have managed, in these cases, to translate the practice of the European Court of Human Rights into concrete situations and to refine it and draw additional standards that should be an example for the actions of journalists,” Markovic pointed out.
He pointed to the standard that journalists should act with sincere intention.
“This means that a journalist should have a legitimate goal when it comes to topics of importance to the public, and to investigate and prepare that information in order to make a reasonable effort to confirm the published facts. That sincere intention can replace proving the truthfulness of the published information, “Markovic said.
Journalist Tamara Skrozza assessed that in order to increase trust in the media, media literacy of citizens is necessary, which is lacking in the countries of the region.
“As much as journalists respected professional standards, if there is no audience that will know how to evaluate it, we worked for no reason. What happened in the Scandinavian countries should happen in the entire region, and that is that media literacy has entered the school curriculum,” Skrozza pointed out.
She believes that fake news is a worrying tendency that journalists must beware of.
Skrozza also pointed out that the connection between journalists and politicians undermines trust in media impartiality, but also that journalists must be careful when it comes to the dignity of “ordinary people”.