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Jovo Martinović

Podgorica, Montenegro, August 22, 2018
Jovo Martinović at a private event in Podgorica, Montenegro, on May 27, 2018. Photo: Aleksandar Mrdak

Jovo Martinović at a private event in Podgorica, Montenegro, on May 27, 2018. Photo: Aleksandar Mrdak

Jovo Martinović, the winner of the 2018 Peter Mackler award, is a veteran freelance investigative journalist in Montenegro known for his extensive reporting on organized crime in Europe and war criminals in the Balkans. He has worked for such international outlets as NPR, BBC, VICE, CBS, Canal Plus, The Economist, TIME, The Financial Times, Global Post and the Balkan Investigative Reporting network (BIRN).

Working with U.S.-based American RadioWorks, Martinović played a key role in exposing war crimes—including allegations of organ trafficking—during and immediately after the 1999 conflict in Kosovo. These investigations led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and the creation of a new war crimes court in The Hague—the Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office.  The court is expected to issue indictments next year.

“We are thrilled to name Jovo Martinović as this year’s winner of the Peter Mackler Award,” said Camille Mackler, the award’s project director at the Global Media Forum Training Group. “The Balkans was a region that Peter Mackler, my father, covered extensively through several conflicts. I can think of no greater tribute, on this 10th year of the award, than to recognize the achievements of a journalist who has courageously and at great personal cost devoted himself to reporting truth from that part of the world. The media are under attack like never before, and during this turbulent period for global order, it is more critical than ever to remember the principles of ethical and courageous journalism. Jovo Martinović has repeatedly displayed these qualities as he has fought to pursue his profession.”

Arrest

In October 2015, Montenegrin authorities arrested Martinović on charges of marijuana trafficking and participation in a criminal organization, detaining him for more than 14 months despite the prosecution’s failure to substantiate the allegations with evidence.

The charges against Martinović were filed in the wake of his investigations into drug trafficking, weapons smuggling and other criminal activity. In 2014, he worked with VICE on a documentary series about the infamous Pink Panthers, a Balkan-based international network of jewelry thieves. At the time of his arrest, he was conducting research for French production company CAPA Presse for a documentary (La route de la Kalashnikov) about weapons smuggling from the Balkans to Western Europe. It subsequently aired on the French TV channel Canal Plus.

In a 2016 open letter to Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanović, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders jointly demanded Martinović’s release pending the outcome of his trial and expressed concern that “the investigation and charges against Martinović are motivated by his work as a journalist, rather than criminal behavior on his part, and as such should be dropped.”

Martinović’s supporters note that the case against him is solely based on allegations from a single suspect who was released by the special prosecutor in exchange for testifying—falsely, they claim—against Martinović for the crimes he has investigated. They also cite a series of articles in Vijesti, a leading independent Montenegrin paper, alleging that the special prosecutor pressured a detained Pink Panther gang member to implicate Martinović in crimes he had not committed.

The 44-year-old Martinović, who has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence, was released from custody at the beginning of 2017. But he is still facing trial—and up to 10 years in prison if convicted. His freedom of movement has been restricted, as the court has possession of his passport. He is obliged to report to the police each month and has been unable to work full time as a journalist.

A perilous place for independent journalists

Montenegro, which has applied for membership in the European Union, can be a perilous place for independent journalists. In 2004, Dusko Jovanović, the editor-in-chief of the opposition daily Dan, was murdered as he left his office. In 2007, an independent journalist, Tufik Sofitc, was ambushed and beaten up with clubs. Soon afterward, the same happened to Zeljko Ivanovic, director of the independent daily Vijesti. In 2013, the Vijesti office was bombed. More recently, in May 2018, Olivera Lakić, also an investigative journalist working for Vijesti, was shot and wounded outside her home in the country’s second attack on a journalist in a month. Such cases of violence tend to remain unsolved or are not prosecuted. And those who, like Jovo Martinović, work for international media risk government retaliation if officials are unhappy with their reports on corruption or organized crime. On the press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Border, the country ranks 103 out of 180.

“By giving this award to Jovo Martinović, we pay tribute to the courage of the many journalists who, like him, are fighting for the freedom to inform in Montenegro and in the Balkans,” said Pauline Ades-Mevel, who heads the EU-Balkans desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Peter Mackler Award partner. “The award is granted, she said, as a “message of hope for the community of journalists throughout the region.”

Unable to accept his prize in person, Martinović plans to attend the Sept. 27 award ceremony via video conference. “I am deeply honored and grateful for being chosen as the Peter Mackler Award recipient for 2018. It’s a great encouragement to carry on in journalism despite all the obstacles that I and my colleagues face in Montenegro and other Balkan countries,” he said.

This year’s award presentation is the first to take place at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY, the new home of the award.

“We are delighted to help administer this important journalistic prize,” said Dean Sarah Bartlett. “Many of our students are intent on pursuing international reporting, and the courageous journalism celebrated at this event will serve as a tremendous inspiration to them.”

The ceremony will take place on Sept. 27, 2018, at 6 : 30 p.m. at the Newmark Journalism School, 219 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018. It will be followed by a networking hour. Tickets can be purchased by clicking on this link.