PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — The United States has criticized the dismissal of the head of Montenegro's state TV, a move seen as the result of political pressure in the small Balkan country seeking European Union membership.

Montenegrin state TV's managing board on Thursday removed director general Andrijana Kadija, citing an allegedly damaging agreement with a rights group.

Montenegrin journalists protested the decision. Kadija has said she was replaced "because the public broadcaster was truly independent."

The U.S. State Department said in a statement that Kadija's removal "undermines media freedom, the reform and preservation of which is central to Montenegro's integration into the Euro-Atlantic community."

The statement released Friday by the U.S. embassy in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, adds that "Montenegro must do more to safeguard media freedom and the editorial independence of its public broadcaster."