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MEDIA IN TRANSITION
The Last Among the Independent are Disappearing
The new age has imposed new rules of the game: space is narrowing down for independent media in Montenegro and they are threatened to become extinct
One state daily newspaper, one state radio station, one state television station - that is what Montenegrin media scene consisted of in the beginning of the nineties of last century.
The multiparty era contributed to the foundation of new media - biweekly Krug, and then weekly Monitor were the first private printed media in Montenegro. And what is very important, they were the first media independent from the influence of the state or some party. At the time, independent media were founded as a form of cultural and political resistence to the ruling state ideology of Montenegrin political elite which - in the alliance with the policy of Milosevic's Belgrade - advocated war with neighbours and interethnic hatred.
The ice was broken for the printed media, and later on independent electronic media outlets were were founded. After Monitor which was founded in October 1990, radio Antena M started broadcasting in the beginning of 1994 as the first private radio station in Montenegro, and the first private television station Blue Moon was founded in 1997.
In 1997, the media outlets in Montenegro flourished. A part of Montenegrin ruling party (M. Djukanovic) started opposing Milosevic's policy. Belgrade started exerting great pressure on Montenegrin authorities, who wishing to ensure democratic support for their policy, offered maximum support to the development of private media.
In that period, the international community intensivelyoffered assistance to Montenegrin independent media. Not just for the sake of the establishment of democratic society in Montenegro, but as a tool in the struggle against dictatorship in Serbia. The common market enabled the sale of the media outlets registered in Montenegro without any limitations in Serbia.
In September 1997, the first private daily newspaper in Montenegro - Vijesti - was formed out of Monitor weekly. This was definitely the beginning of a new time. Daily Vijesti was the first that succeeded in merging professionalism and market principles being a media outlet that, apart from aid from abroad, also managed to provide considerable local sources of income.
At the time, running away from Milosevic, some Serbian media outlets also moved their seats to Podgorica (Dnevni telegraf, Danas). In that period (1997-2000) the largest inflow of foreign donations in the media was registered - approximately 500 thousand euros a year.
Belgrade regime, on the other hand, did not sit still. Milosevic started providing the logistics for the foundation of some media in Montenegro and for keeping others alive. That is how daily Dan was founded in Montenegro in 1998, as the second private daily newspaper in Montenegro after Vijesti. Except for Dan, through financial support of the federal government official Belgrade helped the foundation of Radio D, TV Yu Info, and some other media outlets which were the loudspeakers of Milosevic's policy in Montenegro.
This political struggle between Milosevic's opponents and Milosevic's supporters in Montenegro significantly contributed to the increase of the number of the media on Montenegrin scene.
Of course, this also reflected on the present media market in Montenegro. There are four daily newspapers (Vijesti, Pobjeda, Dan, Publika), one weekly (Monitor), and several periodicals, and about 40 private radio and TV stations, seven of which cover the whole territory of Montenegro (RTV Montenegro, TV IN, TV Pink, TV Montena, TV MBC, TV Sky Sat, and TV Elmag).
Their number simultaneously reflects the big problem the media on Montenegrin scene are faced with. For a state that has only 670 thousand inhabitants - the offer of the media is too big, especially since after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, Montenegro has lost some of its political significance.
That is why a decline of foreign donations, or generally of investments into Montenegrin media was evident in 2002 and 2003, and an additional cut in the budget was announced for 2004. Foreign analysts obviously estimate that the most difficult period has passed and that the media outlets must provide for their own survival. It is assessed that foreign donations in Montenegro will not exceed 100 thousand euros in 2004.
How and which of Montenegrin media will survive the time which is approaching?
The situation is the worst for the media which are not controlled by the state or some political party. In the tiny Montenegrin market, in a state which is facing bankruptcy, they can hardly count on surviving only from sale and marketing. Investigations of the media scene point out to the necessity of profound changes for some media to survive in the newly established situation.
"Montenegrin independent weekly Monitor is at a crossroad. Without foreign donations it is almost impossible for it to survive. Although our weekly has the highest circulation among political magazines that are sold in Montenegro, it cannot survive in the market", says for AIM Miodrag Perovic, founder and director of Monitor.
Perovic stresses that the market of less than 700 thousand persons is too small for the survival of a political magazine such as Monitor. The weekly that was founded in the nineties of last century in resistance to the war hysteria and nationalism is nowadays in a difficult situation because the donors announced their withdrawal. "Radical economic and editorial changes are necessary to keep us alive", Perovic concludes, and mentions that radical changes in graphical design and editorial policy require - additional investments, so that a vicious circle is formed: in the constant struggle for survival there is neither time nor money for investing into the future.
Other electronic independent media, such as Radio Antena M, or TV Montena, TV MBC and TV Sky Sat, are in a similar position. All these media outlets have difficulties staying in the market, although their ratings in Montenegro are quite significant.
Although nobody wishes to say it in public, it is obvious that independent media in Montenegro are also partly responsible for the situation they are in. Apart from objective limitations (small market and low purchasing power of the population), there is no doubt that independent media outlets could have worked better, or operated according to the principles of market economy they all theoretically advocate.
This also refers to editorial policies, but also to the strategies of these media. It turned out that time has passed when it was sufficient to have a stand - to be against the war or Milosevic - in order to have a high rating. The increased number of media outlets and the abundance of information imposed competition.
Apart from political issues, the increasingly choosy consumers demanded a new content. A recent public opinion poll conducted by Damar agency from Podgorica shows that the users of information are mostly interested in scandals, monetary transactions and - humour. Political topics rank fourth, unlike for instance 1999, when the question of the state status was the predominant topic readers and spectators wished to know more about. Hardly any of independent media truly adapted to this new trend.
Besides, constant annual donations, insisting on the elitism of the public, lulled the media supported from abroad to sleep. This often provoked moves which were not commercial at all.
That is how Montenegro ended up with three private television stations with similar editorial policies - TV Montena, TV MBC, and TV Sky Sat - and the managements of these media did not even consider the possibility of merging their teams and instead of three minor TV stations creating one powerful media. Instead, all three are threatened to be "swallowed" by powerful TV stations supported by big private businesses, such as TV Pink which has as if by some miracle got the permit to broadcast in Montenegro.
"It's difficult to preserve one's distinct feature one is recognized for, one's original colour and one's independent editorial conception, and be under daily pressure because of numerous invoices, obligations to one's crew, and more than anything else, to one's spectators", says Djuro Vucinic, owner of private TV station Montena for AIM.
Although they have common problems, the three mentioned television stations still have not reached an agreement and each will continue to struggle for survival on its own.
Printed media outlets are also faced with the problem how to survive with their independent editorial policy and be economically powerful enough to keep up the circulation and the daily income.
The most popular daily newspaper in Montenegro, independent Vijesti, was the first to turn towards a new objective: searching for a strategic partner.
"We had no problem to survive. Although we have more than 130 employees, thanks to high circulation of twenty thousand copies a day and, accordingly, a considerable income from advertisements, our daily has had a secure place in Montenegrin market", says Zeljko Ivanovic, director of Vijesti.
In the beginning of last year independent daily Vijesti started slow negotiations with German Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ). This German media corporation is present in the Balkan for a long time already, first through its investments in Croatia and Macedonia, later in Serbia where it bought 50 per cent of the shares of daily Politika.
WAZ entered Montenegro by investing into daily Vijesti: it bought fifty per cent of the shares of Roto slog printing works (owned by daily Vijesti and weekly Monitor), and at the same time fifty per cent of the shares of independent daily Vijesti.
"The editorial conception - according to the sales contract - has remained fully in the jurisdiction of the editorial team of Vijesti. WAZ will try to improve the management, distribution and collect debts. This means that we have maintained our independence, and at the same time found a strategic partner who is willing and eager to invest into our company", says Director of Vijesti Ivanovic.
How much money the German concern set aside for the purchase of half of the shares of the Montenegrin daily with the highest circulation remains a secret. It is no secret, however, that WAZ is ready to loosen the purse-strings and invest a lot of money in Montenegro. According to AIM's information, by the beginning of summer the German concern will introduce new printing works into Montenegro, worth almost two million euros
There is no doubt that the printing works will be able to print dailies and magazines in colour and that it will technically be high above its competition in Montenegro. By the way, the investment of WAZ will be the biggest foreign capital investment in Montenegrin economy in 2004.
Why has this powerful German player decided to invest so much in Montenegro?
Equipped with modern printing works, the latest in Montenegro, WAZ can take the final step in conquering the media: nobody can compete with it with their prices, and in a short while, according to the estimate of experts, the new printing works will take over printing of the biggest number of publications in Montenegro. If it manages to centralize the press, that is, to take over printing of other daily newspapers and magazines, in seven years WAZ should restore the capital invested into the purchase of half of the shares of Vijesti and acquisition of new printing works. After that, everything it makes will be - extra profit.
Hand in hand with economic power goes political power. By controlling relevant media in Montenegro German concern could - indirectly, with the help of the media it controls - influence political developments in Montenegro. Whether accidentally or not, in the past year, when compared with its previous writing, daily Vijesti has significantly sharpened its cricism of the regime in Montenegro. Whether this is the result of an independent assessment of the editorial team or the impact of the German partner, it is very difficulr to determine with precision. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the new economic position after the inflow of German capital, gives the editorial team and journalists of Vijesti a more comfortable position.
"Monitor should also seek a strategic partner", says Miodrag Perovic. According to his words, the survival of this Montenegrin independent weekly is at stake and selling of half of the shares to a company which would be ready to invest into the development of the weekly is seriously considered. "Only with an inflow of fresh money can we count that transformation of this weekly is possible in the sense of further professionalization and improvement of its technical quality" says Perovic.
Does this mean that German WAZ has cast an eye on the oldest Montenegrin weekly? In Monitor, nobody wishes to either confirm or deny that they are negotiating with the German concern, but it is logical to predict that the same company that has already bought Monitor's shares in Roto slog printing works will try to purchase half of the shares of the respectable magazine. The question that arises is to what extent and how Monitor will change after that and whether it has any possibility of choice if it wants to survive independently on the small Montenegrin market?
In the meantime it seems that electronic media are not too attractive for foreign investors. In the beginning there were announcements that Slovenian television station POP TV was interested in purchasing the shares of TV IN from Podgorica (the most modern and the best equipped private Montenegrin TV station).
It all ended with the announcements: there are no information that any foreign media outlet might buy some Montenegrin television station. To some extent, reasons for this should be sought in - geography. In order to cover Montenegrin mountaineous territory with a high-quality signal it is necessary to install about 100 transmitters. This significantly increases the expenses for technical equipment and its maintenance and this is one of the discouraging factors for foreign investors.
"It is equally expensive to maintain the equipment on small Montenegrin territory as on a several times more spacious Voivodina where just one or two transmitters are needed", says Marko Sofranac, engineer who is for a long time in charge of maintenance of transmission systems in Montenegro. In other words: big investments are needed for a market of hardly 700 thousand inhabitants - too big an investment for a small profit.
"As far as I know, there have been no announcements that any local TV station might invest into Montenegrin electronic media", Djuro Vucinic notes. The owner of TV Montena stresses that his media has seriously considered the possibility of making itself interesting for a foreign investor.
However, Vucinic believes that this could be realistic only under special circumstances. "Only if two conditions are met: that we edit the information program on our own and that the foreign partner does not demand 51 per cent of the shares. Sale of TV Montena is possible only if these two conditions are met", says Djuro Vucinic for AIM.
It is a question, though, whether, anybody will be interested in purchasing independent electronic media in Montenegro under such conditions. For the time being, the only thing that is certain is that it is impossible to go on like before, but that outlines of a new media scene in Montenegro are not yet visible.