Written by: Danijela Lasica

“Dear friends below is a link with the statement” or “We are sending you a tweet” – these are the messages which journalists in Montenegrin newsrooms receive ten times a day on average, nowadays. At the same time, these are the sentences, due to which at least every second journalist wants to stop doing his/her job.

Twitter is a powerful communication tool. But, the question is, whether Montenegrin politicians and the media know how to use it appropriately? Officials tend to inform the public about some key decisions on Twitter – from resignations and appointments, and, the indebtedness of the country, to large police actions and arrests of a “big fish”. The media mostly reports on those without any processing.

Radomir Kračković, the editor of Vijesti Television, shares that such a practice shows the lack of seriousness among politicians and representatives of institutions in Montenegro, but also great irresponsibility towards citizens.

“Then what is the purpose of many PR services and media advisers who are being paid by all citizens?” Also, this is how you can manipulate the facts. For instance, the statement, that you have “successfully” borrowed money is nonsense, because borrowing means accepting the obligation for someone to pay it back. And the citizens will pay it back. Hundreds of millions. When you announce the arrest of “big fish”, we expect you to announce when some ” big fish” gets released from custody or when they get released after the court trial. Usually, these are the topics they do not tweet about on the Twitter profiles of public officials “, argues Kračković.

 Public Service Broadcaster’s journalist Zoran Leković, the author of a debate-type show with several participants, has not faced such a problem. However, journalists from his editorial office often cannot get to an adequate interlocutor, so they are forced to get information through social networks.

” Up to now, we were not privileged to hear the voices of a couple of ministers from the Montenegrin Government, which is absurd, indeed. However, I would not generalize, because there are great examples of the right understanding of the media and giving statements or providing answers directly in front of the cameras “, says Leković.

Politicians and representatives of institutions have often avoided answering delicate questions, while, on the other hand, they were always ready to brag about their achievements and promote their agendas, but of course without “difficult questions”. When they “discovered” Twitter, it became a regular way of communication with the public.

Kračković points out that politicians mostly communicate via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram in a way that brags about their results or calls out political opponents. “There are no crucial debates or answers to important questions because there are no journalists on the other side, only social network users. Therefore, journalism is in great danger because it is slowly losing the exclusivity of intermediaries between decision-makers and the public “, Kračković remarks.

Social networks are not media in the traditional sense but are technology companies and as such are not subject to media rules or media laws. Surveys conducted by non-governmental organizations show, however, that citizens are mostly informed through social networks, especially young people, for whom they are a key source of information.

Kračković points out that incomplete information or products of propaganda for the promotion of certain policies are shared by politicians on social networks, and those are then consumed by citizens who should form an opinion on a certain topic or vote in elections based on one biased discourse. “Unfortunately, this situation significantly contributes to the explosion of conspiracy theories and the radicalization of political and social relations in many countries, including Montenegro,” explains Kračković.

Leković underlines another aspect: consumers of electronic media information want to see a person, official, political representative, employee, and responsible person in the institution and to see, in addition to what they hear, facial expressions, to be able to judge the quality, accuracy of the information they want to receive.

“When there are no physical obstacles, the interlocutors must have this type of responsibility, to timely, and accurately inform the public, even about the topics that may not suit them at the time. That should not be a reflection of goodwill, but an obligation “, says Leković.

Director of the Regional Media Association of Southeast Europe (MASEE) Vuk Maraš believes that it is much harder for journalists to do their job nowadays than it was before because the information they can get comes down exclusively to what politicians or statesmen write on social networks.

“There is no possibility of interaction, or asking questions or subquestions. On the other hand, we notice that even in some cases when a press conference is organized, there is a tendency to deny journalists the opportunity to ask a question. Which not only makes it difficult for journalists but also for citizens who do not get accurate and complete information about what is happening in the system of the state apparatus, which they finance by paying taxes, “says Maraš.

Maraš dislikes this way of communication. “Citizens have the right to know the reason why was a public official dismissed. Instead of publishing it as administrative information that someone’s mandate was terminated, or that the government dismissed him, the citizens have the right to know the reason for such a decision” he said.

What is the position of the media and journalists in this mess and what is their role? It often happens that primarily portals that have an increasing number of readers, broadcast the tweet of politicians without any processing, without context and background. Just a copy-paste news. Perhaps an agreement between the media themselves is the way to “outwit” Twitter statesmen and Instagram politicians?

“I believe that if at least the largest newsrooms in Montenegro agreed that they simply no longer want to publish/broadcast tweets, Facebook posts and similar content in the media, this type of communication would no longer be attractive to public officials.” Because if the media do not broadcast them, then that type of communication is much less important “, says Maraš.

Kračković, however, does not believe in this kind of “solidarity” between journalists and the media.

“Unfortunately, I think this type of communication is simply impossible to avoid. Because neither will all media and journalists ever agree not to do so (so some will always do it and others, who would eventually give up, risk losing viewership or readership because of it) nor will politicians and other public officials give up on a very suitable and profitable channel through which they can promote their views at any time and know that it will reach out a large number of citizens “, believes Kračković.

However, the media and journalists must find a way out of the imposed role of an instant pipeline between politicians and statesmen, and their voters. And they should go back to basic journalistic standards – that information is checked and that it has to be put in the right context. Even if it was the tweet of the prime minister or the president.

Otherwise, Montenegrin journalists will remain trapped somewhere between the following terms: No questions, please; This is a thematic conference; We are not sharing statements with media… or the one from the beginning of the story – you received a tweet.

This article was written with the financial support of the National Endowment for Democracy. The contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and publishers of the Media Institute of Montenegro and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the donors.