The media cannot be freed overnight

Kostadin Kostadinov. Photo: SDSM

On the commemoration of the Human Rights Day, SDSM’s spokesperson, the MP Kostadin Kostadinov, said that “the freedom of speech and freedom of public opinion are exercised in full” and also that “the media are freed from any sort of pressure from the government” as well as that “they can report and work freely and independently”, which is half-true in the least

SDSM’s spokesperson, Kostadin Kostadinov, made the following, half-true statement:

The freedom of speech and freedom of public opinion are exercised in full. From a country of silenced, blackmailed and pressured media, today Macedonia has freedom of speech, the media are freed from any sort of pressure from the government, they can report and work freely and independently.

[Source: SDSM/website – date: 10 December 2018]

 

EXPLANATION:

On the commemoration of the Human Rights Day, SDSM’s spokesperson, the MP Kostadin Kostadinov, said that “the freedom of speech and freedom of public opinion are exercised in full” and also that “the media are freed from any sort of pressure from the government” as well as that “they can report and work freely and independently”, which is half-true in the least.

It turns out that as a party in power since 1 June 2017, SDSM has resolved this issue, important to every democracy, completely and in a satisfactory manner.

However, the facts tell a different story. The freedom of speech and freedom of public opinion depended and still depend on the existence of direct or indirect censorship and self-censorship, defamation and insult lawsuits filed by politicians in power and other centers of power, free flow of information, national budget money in the media that is crucial for their survival or whether journalists are intimidated or attacked and so on and so forth.

If each of these facts is analyzed separately, the conclusion would be that the situation has been bettered in many spheres, but not entirely satisfactorily or to the extent that allows someone to boast that “the freedom of speech and freedom of public opinion are exercised in full”.

First and foremost, the media sector reform still has a question mark over it since the two key laws haven’t been amended – the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (LAAMS – the Broadcasting Law) and the Law on Free Access to Public Information.

Both of these laws, one of which has already been agreed upon by the media community and the executive branch, are stuck in the parliamentary labyrinths in the stage of amendment discussion being stuck and not moving forward.

Plenty of issues important to the broadcasters, as well as securing a true freedom of speech and freedom of public opinion expression in all the media, but also for the public broadcaster, MRT, depend on this law.

The discussion on the amendments to the second law began just recently and it’s less likely that all procedures – starting from the discussion in the Government, then the Parliament and finally adoption – will end in early 2019. In addition, the Government has made the access to data of the Central Registry and the Real Estate Cadastre easier, but that’s just a sort of a bypass. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that the overall level of transparency has been increased compared to the period before 1 June 2017.

The key demands for changes to the second law are crucial for the media too – shortening of the deadline for obtaining information, increasing the number of holders of public information and rendering the secondary procedure, if the institution refuses to give information, more efficient.

Lawsuits against journalists filed by politicians are rare and their number approaches zero, but the lawsuits and threats with lawsuits by politicians or other persons in power, even though lower, are still regarded as a rule instead of an exception. Besides, the corresponding law, which would stipulate that the compensation for intangible damage would amount to a symbolic 1 euro (also a pre-election promise of SDSM, page 44), hasn’t been amended yet.

Further, one media research conducted by PINA earlier this year shows that journalists have been pressured even after the change of power. As a matter of fact, regarding the state of the media reforms up to and including September this year one can find out more in the final report of the Media Observatory, a project of Metamorphosis Foundation (Note: The Truthmeter.mk is also published by the Metamorphosis Foundation).

There are fewer and fewer attacked journalists, but their number is still not zero. What is even more important is that the investigations of the past fifty or so cases haven’t noted a significant progress. According to the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), around ten of these cases have been fully investigated.

At last, the vital issue regarding the lack of budget money in the media is not resolved yet. With a decision made in 2017, the Government ceased advertising in the media. However, the last amendments to the Electoral Code, passed a few months ago, allow the campaigns of political parties to be paid for by the country’s national budget. But what’s even more important is that apart from the huge amounts of 4-5 million euros for each election, vast amounts of money are paid by public enterprises, certain local self-government units and local public enterprises to certain media which do a disservice to the media outlets and media market that results in distorted market and media outlets labeled as “ours”.

One new relevant research that will be published in the near future, which we had the chance to look at, has found that only the local self-government has a direct outflow of half a million to a million euros that go in local media’s pockets.

There is plenty to talk about this topic, but the aforesaid facts entitle us to assess Kostadinov’s statement made on behalf of SDSM as half-true. The media reforms and strengthening the freedom of speech and public opinion aren’t things that happen overnight.

 

SOURCES:

Assessed by: Teo Blazhevski

 


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.