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Macedonia: ‘Critical media is vanishing’

Following the arrest of a journalist on espionage charges, the heads of Macedonia's journalist association and trade union explain the decline of the country's media freedom

By Tamara Causidis and Dragan Sekulovski / 19 November, 2013

The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski

The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been heavily criticised for the state of media freedom in Macedonia (Image Toni Arsovski/Demotix)

Media freedom in Macedonia has been deteriorating for some time. The latest case is the arrest of Zoran Bozinovski, the owner of website critical of the government, Burevesnik on espionage charges. Below, Tamara Causidis, President of the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers and Dragan Sekulovski, the Executive Director of Association of Journalists of Macedonia, chronicles the challenges facing the free press, in their submission to the upcoming International Federation of Journalists conference in Kiev. 

The media business in Macedonia has been increasingly under attack over the past few years. The EU and the US State Department, as well as renowned non-governmental organisations like Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, have all called attention to the decline of media freedom in the country. The challenges most often highlighted include imprisoned journalists, restrictive draft media laws, the government’s large advertising share, the lack of transparent ownership, and the polarisation of the media along lines of political and business affiliation. In light of this, freedom of the media and freedom of speech have been marginalised.

Macedonia has almost 200 media outlets, but unfortunately, that does not make the situation better. They all compete in a small, distorted market, covering just over 2 million citizens, where they cannot survive financially unless they align their interests with the governing parties and politically connected, large businesses. Apart from state media, the vast majority of the country’s press is in private hands. However, the government come out top among the 50 biggest advertisers in the country in 2012. The latest European Commission report raised this as a serious concern, and the DG Enlargement report of June says that at least 1% of the annual national budget (20 million Euros) is invested in media outlets through government campaigns and advertising. This highlights the authorities’ huge influence in the media sphere. Bearing in mind that there are no criteria for how to distribute these funds, “governmental friendly” media outlets are favoured over others. Professionals are fired and people with personal integrity are replaced by obedient mouthpieces, while a huge number of journalists are living in professional insecurity. Behind the veil of “economic reasons”, critical media is vanishing.

One of the most striking example of the situation Macedonian media finds itself in, took place on 24 December last year. Journalists reporting on the parliamentary session were expelled from Parliament by security forces without any reasonable explanation. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) used all national legal measures to fight this, but so far no public official has been held liable for this breach of Article 16 of the constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to objective information. The next step would be submission of an appeal to the Court in Strasbourg.

In April the government announced a draft media law, now in its final stages within Parliament, which has the potential to further negatively affect media independence and freedom of expression. International and local organisations are concerned about the same issues regarding the bill – the intention to have one regulator for all types of media and the powerful role of this regulator, the issues concerning political independence, sustainable financing and high and disproportionate fines for the media, as well as the messy attempt to adopt definition of a journalist. The main Council of Europe, OSCE and AJM recommendations have not been accepted. In fact, the latest version of the law was updated with amendments which makes the text even more restrictive the before. For instance, it envisaged that authorities to decide which national association of journalists is legitimate, and will have the right to nominate a member to the council of the regulator and the public broadcaster.

In October 2013 Macedonia became the only country in south-east Europe with imprisoned journalists. Tomislav Kezarovski, from the daily Nova Makedonija, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for in 2008 revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial. The witness recently testified that he had given false evidence against the accused killers. The Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) and AJM organised two protests in front of court in Skopje, raising the issue in the international community, but despite this Kezarovski was sentenced on October 21.

It should also be noted that at the time, he was investigating the mysterious death of prominent journalist Nikola Mladenov, founder of the weekly Fokus and one of the biggest activists for press freedom in the country. AJM is taking daily initiatives to raise the visibility of this case, to try to convince authorities that this sends terrifying message to all journalists and endangers freedom of press even more.

Finally, many colleagues in the media cannot rely on any of the basic rights guaranteed by the Labour Law. They are working without contracts, insurance, paid vacation, overtime hours and sick leave, and minimum wage is not regulated. There aren’t any internal rules or statutes defining the rights and obligations of owners, editors and journalists, and there are instances of both direct and indirect bans for organising into workers unions. The journalists themselves are barely educated about what a union is and how they can organise through it. In the face of fierce criticism from AJM, the government has developed the Macedonian journalists association, designed not only to diminish critics and open confrontation but also to impose artificial support for the proposed media laws.

This text is drafted based on a draft report on the media situation in Macedonia by Tamara Causidis, President of the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers and Dragan Sekulovski, Executive Director of Association of Journalists of Macedonia. It will be published at the upcoming conference organised by the International Federation of Journalists in Kiev. 

This article was originally published on 19 Nov 2013 at indexoncensorship.org

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6 Responses to Macedonia: ‘Critical media is vanishing’

  1. Peter Reply

    21 November at 22:21

    The opposition party of Z.Zaev is the party that brought Macedonia to the point of bankrupt state by selling off every manufacturing enterprise in the country and pocketing the money for personal use.As of that result there were more than 280,000 people without a job.Present government of Nikola Gruevski has brought the country to the 5th place in doing business world wide.His government created more jobs,thanks to foreign investments than the opposition did in more than 16 years.Created work for over 1600 families who lost their jobs during the opposition in government.Created work for the health impaired individuals,increased pensions for the pensioners,increased the help to the farmers from 40 million to 500 million euros and many more.The opposition have nothing to show for themselves for their 16 years in government while the economy was booming in the world. And the worst thing one can do was the selling off the constitutional name to a foreign government that impedes the country’s progress today.The think is,the opposition still fights the government for their southern neighbor Greece.I agree with one commentator on this site,the assassination attempt on Gligorov was due to the changes of the constitutional name of Macedonia.The only thing was the then Minister of Internal Affairs was L.Frckovski who was heavily involved in the sale of Macedonia to the Greeks.
    Zaev was pardoned by Crvenkovski for stealing millions of dollars even before he was supposed to appear in front of a judge.
    These journalists are paid by Soros as was the opposition paid by Greece in the tune of 130 million dollars.Does anyone remember 130 million dollars in black garbage bags stolen from the Greek banks to pay for the interests of Samaras destruction of the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian minority in Aegean Macedonia?.Has any of these journalists ever written anything about the plight of the Macedonians in Greece or Bulgaria?.This article is a disgrace to the journalism of Macedonia.

  2. Peter the Greatski Reply

    21 November at 20:42

    Your ludicrous attempt to frame yourself a descendents of ancient Macedonians is one of the key reasons why there is so much to pressure to censor in the former Yugoslav republic.

    • Peter Reply

      22 November at 22:14

      Do you consider yourself as ancient descendent?Was there such a country named Greece from ancient times to 1829?
      Looks like your tongue starts spewing hatred before your brain gets engaged.

  3. Peter Reply

    21 November at 00:03

    It is a disgrace for opposition journalists to claim their freedom is curtailed in Macedonia.
    Where is the outcry on the freedom of speech in Greece and Bulgaria where the Macedonians are being prosecuted on daily basis.
    In both these countries the Macedonian language is forbidden.Macedonians from the occupied Aegean Macedonia have appeared in Stratsburg on several occasions and have won their cases against the Greek government.Greece had to pay the oppressed on several occasions,Greece paid,but never followed the court decisions in practice.
    In Bulgaria the government confiscated the printed material,again the host country never followed the courts.Where are these journalists outcry against these human rights violations in occupied Macedonian land,or are these Soros recipients?.The main anti-government complainants are the very same journalists who are supporting the sick opposition of Zoran Zaev who’s family destroyed the image of Macedonias quality farm products with his family cucumber disaster.
    In the matter of December 24th,the police had to remove everyone due to the unruly behavior of the opposition,live cameras don’t lie,we all seen it.A member of parliament Markaduli was covering the cameras so the public won’t see it.A member of opposition physically punched a 60 year old government member, did these same journalists written one iota on the subject?of course not,because they are controlled by the opposition.
    The two co-authors of this article are oppositions right hand,not independent journalists,thats for sure!

  4. Ex editor Reply

    20 November at 17:39

    From the first comment everybody can see how much effort the Government is putting in silencing critical voices.
    On every protest there is counter-protest.
    They use the their highly organized and hypnotized-by-unprofessional-unethical-propaganda-media voting machine to label every critical voice. Macedonia has chosen it`s tyrants, a no doubt, they will make the same choice again, because the ruling party has done the mass hypnosis well, maybe so successfully that it can spread like a virus on neighboring (also democratically troubled) countries.
    Macedonia these days is full of fear and despair. Everybody is afraid because they know their phones and accounts are tapped by the authorities. The Government on several occasions have proudly declared that they monitor Facebook, and other social networks…
    Everybody who is for freedom and democracy is labeled as enemy of the state.
    In just three years, period in which the authorities showed aggressive attitude towards any opinion that differs from their own (which apparently is followed by controversial process of antiquization and mythological identity distortion). The vast majority of mainstream media outlets were bought by tycoons close to the authorities, and or more than 50 Editors-in-Chief were changed with obedient ones. Some of the new ones do the lying, and publish pre-created by Government content for money, some do it because they are simply blackmailed.
    Under the tyranny, there is crime. Lot`s of money gets pumped out of the country on private accounts, and nobody can ask anythig. If he does, he will most probably be sentenced to jail, or even his life will be put in danger.
    The opposition that is mentioned in the comment is lost and lazy, waiting for the people and journalists to do the fight for them.

  5. Makedonier Reply

    19 November at 15:01

    This article is a huge shame, especially for the media led and financed by the political oppostion in Macedonia, and everyone who has a little clue about the situation in Macedonia will see the name of the authors of this text who are paid by political parties who are now 7 years in opposition.
    Macedonias media is free, is very liberal and open for all those who declare themselves as journalists. Every day we Macedonians are threatened by domestic medias and articles like this, but no one believes them, simply because they are fighting to gain political power and when they gain it they would do also as the todays government does….

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