The new Macedonian law on Law on Media and Audiovisual Media Services creates serious risks for freedom of expression in Macedonia.
The new law expands the scope of state control from broadcast media (which is justified because they use a limited public resource, namely wireless spectrum) to all kinds of media, including online and print. This is neither justified and unnecessary and far exceeds the requirements of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2010/13/EU.
Furthermore, excessively broad definitions (for instance, the concept of journalists) and vague formulations create the risk and possibility of arbitrary interpretation by state regulators, which would increase the risk of the undermining of freedom of expression.
The drafting of the law suffered from a lack of effective consultation with relevant stakeholders, such as civil society and professional media. As a result, the planned regulatory bodies are given powers that could be exercised in non-transparent and unaccountable ways.
The law centralizes the power to impose heavy fines and other sanctions towards media and journalists within one body, a new Agency for Media and Audiovisual Media Services, which is under complete control of ruling political parties. The ruling parties can appoint 6 out of 7 board members through the Parliament and the association of municipalities (ZELS).
Contrary to article 16 of Macedonian constitution, which explicitly forbids censorship, the Media Law allows the Agency for Media and Audiovisual Media Services to impose limits of freedom of expression outside the scope of present laws (in particular, the Criminal Code for hate speech and Law on Defamation).
The availability of heavy fines means that media bodies can effectively be shut down for not adhering to bureaucratic procedures regarding registration or notification to the agency, for publishing content that it the agency subsequently deems morally harmful or for not publishing announcements by state bodies. Moreover, article 56 of the draft law also allows the Agency to limit of transmission of reception of audio and audiovisual media service from other countries. The wording of this provision is so vague that it could be used to require blocking of foreign online video services, such as YouTube or Vimeo.