The government is the leading problem for the media – confirmed by two reports in one month

 

Both Reporters Without Borders and the U.S. Department of State in less than a month came up with (once again) poor evaluations regarding the media conditions, media freedoms and respect of the right of expression in Macedonia. Both reports emphasize the government’s pressures as a main reason for this situation, which positioned Macedonia as 118th in the world according to the World Press Freedom Index

 

Author: Teofil Blazhevski

 

The free media, as bearers of the freedom of speech, have been jeopadized for years now. However, the question now is not if, but how much more they will jeopardized. This begs the attention after the publication of the Reporters Without Borders’ Index, showcasing the situation with media freedom in the world for 2015, in which Macedonia dropped 1 spot compared with the results of 2014, i.e. now it is positioned on the 118th place out of 180 ranked countries.

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In the section for Macedonia, it is stated that although the offences of defamation and insult are transferred from the criminal legislature to the civil legislature in 2012, large number of lawsuits are filed to the courts, whereupon one part is related to the journalists facing extensive punishments:

Defamation was removed from the criminal code in 2012 but prosecutions have been replaced by civil actions with the possibility of heavy fines and jail terms for reporters and media owners. At least 580 defamation suits have been brought since the end of 2014, several dozen of them against journalists. As a result, more than half of Macedonia’s journalists say they censor themselves, according to a poll by the Macedonian Union of Journalists and Media Workers, the organization stated in their latest report on media freedom.

 

MACEDONIA IS A “PROBLEM CHILD”

Christian Mir, head of Reporters Without Borders, says that the evaluation is poor due to two problems, the wiretapped journalists and the party affiliation of the Council at the main regulator – the Media Agency:

Macedonia is relatively low ranked in this list, it is a “problem child” who, if evaluated according to the current situation development, can become even more problematic. Several factors contributed to the poor position of the country. First, the huge wiretapping scandal from Gruevski’s conservative government was revealed last year, i.e. the mass wiretapping of people, among whom are 100 journalists. From our point of view, the monitoring and wiretapping should always be criticized and is always a problem for the media freedom, because in that case the information source and the right to reject to unveil the witness cannot be protected. This mass wiretapping and monitoring, revealed last year, is a huge problem, stated Mir in this interview for Deutsche Welle.

The Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index is published every year since 2002, and as the organizations states, it is a world-known tool used by many governments and international organizations when evaluating certain countries.

The index is producend on the basis of anonymous questionnaire and conversations – experts from the media sphere. “It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country” says the explanation of Reporters Without Borders, whereupon they clarify that the questionnaire is consisted of 87 questions.

 

USA: THE GOVERNMENT IS RESTRAINING THE CRITICISM

Recently, another credible report that is published every year, pointed out to and confirmed the problems in Macedonia regarding the freedom of speech and media freedom. It is the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

The second section of this report states the main problems – government advertising, pressuring the journalists, censorship and self-censorship, insult and defamation lawsuits…

Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately, but there were credible reports that the government attempted to impede media criticism by directing its advertising purchases toward progovernment outlets. The Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services’ 2015 report did not provide information about the top advertisers in the country for 2014. The 2014 report identified the government as the top advertiser on private television stations with national coverage, we read in the Freedom of Speech and Press section from the report of the U.S. Department of State.

In the Press and Media Freedoms section, it is stated that mainstream media are owned by people or organizations close to the government, and also that government advertisements misuse the market and make media dependable on that money:

A very limited number of independent media voices actively expressed a variety of views without explicit restriction. Media outlets and reporting continued to be divided along ethnic and political lines… The mainstream media rarely criticized the government.

In their evaluation on freedoms and rights of human in Macedonia, the Americans in the media section refer to the European Commission Senior Experts Group’s June report, authored last year by an expert group led by Reinhard Priebe.

Media experts reported that a chilling effect dominated the media environment, as intimidation, absence of good labor conditions for journalists, and financial instability for media companies made them vulnerable to government pressure and reliant on government advertising. Experts reported an environment of fear surrounding the media that encouraged self-censorship. The country’s political crisis also highlighted serious concerns over selective reporting and lack of editorial independence on the part of the public service broadcaster, Macedonian Radio Television (MRT).

In the Violence and Harassment section it is emphasized that ”Journalists reported pressure to adopt progovernment viewpoints or risk losing their jobs. Several journalists reported threats and intimidation directed against them, including allegedly by government officials”. Later on in this section, several other cases are mentioned such as the Lustration Commission’s decision about the editor-in-chief of Fokus Jadranka Kostova, the court decision about Tomislav Kezharovski, as well as the decision of the editor of Telegraf and Independent Ivana Kostovska to resign, because she was pressured to write and publish articles in favor of the government and not to publish the articles related to the “bombs” published by the opposition.

In the Censorship or Content Restrictions section, the U.S. Department of State refer to journalistic reports which state that “they were pressured to self-censorship”, but also to reports from “Privately owned media claimed they routinely received calls from authorities at the highest levels of government dictating how and what to report with regard to political issues”.

For the first time, this section mentions a legislative decision that practically led to the program content limitation.

On February 3, the Public Prosecution Office issued a statement warning media not to publish videos or other material connected to an investigation into opposition leader Zoran Zaev, stating that anyone publishing these materials “may be subject to further criminal proceedings,” and that doing so “is punishable by law.” The statement had a chilling effect on the media. Goran Petreski, the editor in chief of MRT, cited the statement when explaining why MRT was not covering the opposition’s “bombs”. Other media outlets reported on the “bombs” and did not face criminal charges.

The report of the U.S. Department of State, ends the Freedom of Speech and Press section with the poor application of the Law on Free Access to Public Information, whereupon around a hundred citizens complained that they have been rejected from exercising this legal right.

 


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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