The amendments to the key media law have been prepared

 

The key changes will be applied to the Agency for Media and the MRTV. The manner and conditions for electing members of the Agency’s Council, MRTV’s Program Council and the conditions for director candidates will be changed as well. The broadcasting fee will be nullified – it will be replaced by budget money i.e. 0.7 percent of the Budget of the RM…

 

Author: Teofil Blazhevski

 

The recent reforms in the media sphere have begun with the government’s formal decision to terminate advertising on private media with public funds. Social media have been excepted from this decision, which also says that further “communication will be continued through the public broadcasting service” and this left certain dilemmas to some media organizations.

This issue is part of government’s program, as well as the Urgent Reform Priorities and the Plan 3-6-9. The implementation of this decision, as stated in other documents drafted by the government and some media organizations, will relieve the media market from the previous government’s raids and distortions, which has been influencing the market with tens of millions of euros.

However, the true and highly important reform activities are the amendments to the one of the key laws on media, and that is the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (link to the existing law).

After the weaknesses of this law had been recognized, after multiple remarks and proposals had been submitted by media organizations, the government has packed the amendments and has prepared a consolidated text of the law. On 31 August 2017, these amendments were delivered to the media, journalists, expert organizations and NGOs operating in the media sphere. Additionally, after the 7-day period for final remarks, the text will be proposed and adopted by the government and then delivered to the Parliament of the RM.

 

KEY CHANGES WILL BE APPLIED TO THE AAAMS AND MRTV

There are two main amendments to the law – in the regulation of the Agency for Media (AAAMS) and in the regulation of the public broadcasting service, the Macedonian Radio Television (MRTV).

Regarding the first institution, there will be changes in the manner of electing members of the Council of AAAMS and in their tenure, the manner and conditions for electing Agency’s director as well as changes in Agency’s competences in terms of authorizations and oversight of broadcasters’ work.

In short, a 5-year tenure is proposed instead of the current 7-year, the conditions for candidates for director as well as membership in the Council are becoming more strict, and the authorized proponents will be also changed.

Proposed changes exist regarding the measures imposed by the Agency in case of violation of the regulations of the law that are obligatory to the broadcasters:

Heretofore, measures used to be imposed by the director, but the proposed law prescribes that from now on measures will be imposed by the Council, therefore an eventual abuse of director’s discretionary right will be avoided, which leads to the current deviations and inappropriate circumstances in this area. In addition, the manner measures are imposed and the procedure that leads up to the measures is the base for avoiding pressures and influences on media – is said in the explanation on the proposed-solution.

As regards the Macedonian Radio Television, which as a public broadcasting service is a key element of the media reforms and the priorities thereto, there are key changes in three segments.

First, the broadcasting fee, which was the key source of MRTV’s funding, will be nullified. Instead, MRTV will be funded by the Budget of the RM, the proposal is 0.7 percent of the Budget annually. In theory, this solution is supposed to provide 21 million euro annually, out of which 74.5 percent would fund the MRTV, whereas the rest would fund the Agency for Media and the public enterprise Macedonian Radiocommunications Office (MRO).

This way of funding has also been proposed by the five media organizations (AJM, SSNM, CMEM, ICS and MIM), however they proposed funding in the amount of 1 percent of the Budget of the RM annually, while taking into account the enormous needs of personnel and technical and technological development of the MRT. In fact, the abovementioned 1 percent was part of last year’s proposed-amendments to the same law backed by SDSM, the then opposition in the Parliament of the RM.

The second key change is in the manner of proposing and electing members of MRTV’s Program Council, which plays a key role in the election of managers of the public broadcasting service as well as in the establishment and implementation of the public broadcasting service’s program. The goal is greater transparency during the election. Changes in the conditions for candidates for director and deputy director of MRTV have also been made. According to the proposal, the candidate must have at least 8 years of experience in the area of media, communicology, public communications as well as organization managing skills.

The key part of the changes in the Agency for Media and MRTV’s Program Council is that the candidates must be supported by two-thirds of MPs in the Parliament in order to be elected. Up to now, candidates were elected using the simple majority principle.

 

CHANGES IN MEDIA’S OBLIGATIONS

The proposal for amendments to the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (LAAMS) covers plenty of other amendments, but two of them are noteworthy. The amount of music, motion pictures and documentaries aired by the broadcasters has been decreased, and this change lowers their operational costs.

Broadcasters that air television and radio program services are obligated to air at least 30% of program made by native Macedonian authors and authors of the ethnic communities that are not majority in the Republic of Macedonia daily, whereas the public broadcasting service is obligated to 40% – is written in the proposed change.

Furthermore, Articles projecting benefits for broadcasters for making such program from the Budget of the RM have been nullified as well. The explanation on this is the following:

Due to equal treatment of all media and to avoid favoring specific TV stations with national broadcasting licenses, which was practice in the past, the benefits through which the government influenced the media shall be nullified.

The second proposed change is related to the setting of ground rules during airing and hosting news and debate shows, which also provides details on the rules of having balance, diversity of opinions, information and non-discrimination. Experts are already debating on these Articles, but the key dilemma in their debate is whether such provisions interfere with the principle of self-regulation of media.

The proposed changes of this key law will formally fulfil one of the exhaustively covered obligations in government’s Plan 3-6-9, for the first three months of its work, which is also comprised in urgent reform priorities’ media section. The objective is creation of legislative conditions for independent, de-politicized acting of the regulatory body, such as the Agency for Media, and de-politicized functioning of the public broadcasting service.

The quality check of the changes is part of the public debate that will last for several more days, but the check will be practically performed as well, i.e. the quality of the changes will be proven by the practice.

 

Document: PROPOSED LAW AMENDING THE LAW ON AUDIO AND AUDIOVISUAL MEDIA SERVICES (Skopje, September 2017). PROPONENT: Government of the Republic of Macedonia, REPRESENTATIVES: Damjan Manchevski, Minister of Information Society and Administration, Aleksandar Bajdevski, Deputy Minister of Information Society and Administration

 


This article was created within the framework of the Project to increase the accountability of the politicians and political parties Truthmeter implemented by Metamorphosis. The article is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for Democracy(NED) and The Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD), a project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an initiative that supports democracy, good governance, and Euroatlantic integration in Southeastern Europe. The content is the responsibility of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, National Endowment for Democracy, the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, or its partners.

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