Ensuring independence is the major challenge for public service media (PSM) in the Western Balkans.
That was the conclusion of two days of debates held in Montenegro this week which heard from the top management of Montenegrin Member RTCG and representatives from the country's parliament, government and regulatory authorities as well as civil sector and media experts.
The aim of the meeting was to discuss the major challenges for the development of PSM in the Western Balkans, to compare practices in the region and to look for ways to overcome the challenges.
The EBU's Head of Member Relations for Central and Eastern Europe Radka Betcheva highlighted how important it is for the public to understand the contribution PSM makes to society and democracy.
"When this is understoof well we will be able to develop, and properly implement, appropriate legal frameworks, institutional frameworks and ensure adequate and stable funding for PSM," she said.
"Of course, for this we need a clear political will and commitment and above all the understanding that PSM are there to serve the public interest, not single politicians or political parties, and criticize the wrongdoings of those in power."
The EU Ambassador to Montenegro, Aivo Orav said that: “We cannot stress enough the importance of public service broadcasters. They bear much greater responsibility than the private media – they are there not only to inform citizens, but also to educate them and to give them access to content that is in the public interest.
"Public service broadcasters should be the driving force behind the democratisation of societies and we need to support their full independence."
Ambassador Orav opened the second working day of the roundtable “Models of Governance and Regulation of Montenegro’s Public Service Media”, recalling that freedom of expression is among the interim benchmarks for Chapter 23 (Justice and Fundamental Rights), which must be fulfilled in order for a country to move to the next phase of EU integration.
Participants at the debates engaged in heated discussions about models of funding, contracts with government, independence of PSM, division of supervisory and managerial powers in PSM, instability of PSM, the criteria for electing members of supervisory bodies, involvement of regulatory agencies in the election process, representation, governing bodies in the Council and the professionalization of PSM.
The debates will be continued next week in Kosovo and over the coming months in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania, continuing next year in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
They are organized within the framework of a joint project to support PSM in the Western Balkans, financed by the European Commission and implemented by a consortium of EBU, ORF, IFJ, EFJ, BIRN, and ERNO.