As part of the process for resolving the current political crisis, EU’s priorities in terms of the media, and particularly the recommendations of the EU’s expert team for the situation with the media in Macedonia, drew clear boundaries that cannot be crossed and that prevent the undemocratic, manipulative, political and openly criminal stunts of the government, when it comes to its influence over the journalists in the country.
Author: Vladimir Petreski
Although we are yet to see how the implementation of these recommendations will be conducted and even though the government can still influence the media using undemocratic means and a Putin-type propaganda; the kind of propaganda that the citizens of Macedonia have long been subjected to, the number of measures that can be taken by the current government is dramatically declining.
This applies particularly to the manipulation and pressures exerted on the Macedonian Radio and Television, the misuse of government advertising, through which tens of millions of euros went to the pro-government media each year, the closed institutions that are openly violating the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Character and, most importantly, it puts an end to the numerous and unscrupulous lawsuits of the ruling camarilla and its journalist hounds against critical journalists, while they themselves were openly using hate speech with impunity, made possible by the politicized judiciary.
Nikola Gruevski, with his signature on the inter-party agreement on June 2 and on the June 19 annex, expressing consent for all findings, priorities and recommendations of the European Union to be implemented in practice, not only recognizes the existence of “serious indications” that the Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate was eavesdropping for the government, but also acknowledged that all the problems facing the journalistic profession during the past years are real and specific, with the government being the only culprit for this situation.
THE GOVERNMENT ACKNOWLEDGED THE PROBLEMS IN THE MEDIA
This signature, aside from being an unconditional admission of guilt for the situation in the media, is also contradictory to president Gjorgje Ivanov’s statement given on the “Telma” TV station a day before, where he said that the report of “Freedom House” was only a “perception”. Gruevski, by signing to implement all of EU’s recommendations, acknowledged the reports on media sustainability prepared by “Freedom House”, “Reporters without borders” and IREX, because these reports are accepted as relevant in the recommendations of the EU experts.
Contrary to the loony arguments that these reports are paid for by Soros and written by people close to the opposition, etc., EU’s experts immediately present their recommendations regarding the media precisely citing the findings of these reports, in order to locate the problems in the profession. This is a truly refreshing approach, without the need for using any excuses, as these are internationally acknowledged researches, based on an objective methodology. Nowadays, the government propaganda goes so far as to say that the EU was manipulated by these reports. This would mean that the authors of the reports from this country initially deceived these three organizations, and then continued to deceive the European Union. Unquestionably, this is just a bad and ridiculous conspiracy theory and one should be very unrealistic to agree with the truthfulness of such a “pan-European” conspiracy against the country’s current government, when it comes to media freedom.
As for the experts’ recommendations regarding the profession, the most important one is the one instructing the courts that when giving rulings on cases of insult and defamation, they should do it in a balanced way and disregard the possible political implications of the specific case. The courts are required to “develop a clean and strong practice of protecting freedom of expression when it comes to allegations for defamation,” and it is added that “mediation and self-regulation should play an important role in the reduction of the large number of court cases.” This should put an end to the political trials against journalists, where they are tried just because they are critical towards the government and we should never again see a ruling against a journalist, for example, for publishing an interview with a person who was an ambassador in office only a few months earlier, with the trial being carried out just because the interview contains accusations against the current director of the Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate, Sasho Mijalkov, who filed a lawsuit against the journalists of the “Fokus” weekly. The call for balance also means that people using hate speech and slander will face justice, something that was not possible so far, due to the political protection that was being provided to those people.
The unnecessary government ads purchased in a non-transparent way should stop immediately. This is clearly indicated in the experts’ report: “Buying political support from the media by financially supporting the media market is unacceptable.” This is particularly important because it is extremely detrimental to the profession and the democracy in the country. This money was used for corruption in journalism, and the government spent enormous amounts of money for the media that spread the most intolerance and hatred, and no bids were publicly announced if the advertisement was intended for a portal or a printed medium. Bids were announced for TV advertising campaigns, but the largest amounts of money were given to the pro-government TV stations, with a justification that they had the most viewers, whereas the other one or two TV stations only received small amounts so the government can justify itself, saying that it spends money in all the media.
We are yet to see how the reform of the MRT goes and what steps will be taken there for the public broadcaster to be freed from the constraints of the government, from the mindless propaganda and the extremely subjective method of providing information. Of course, a good indicator for this would be each following news program, future debate shows, for example, and the selection of guests in them. If a whole plethora of independent intellectuals and critical journalists continues to be “blacklisted” in the MRT, as before, then the EU will have to intervene directly and require specific personnel changes.
DANGERS STILL LURKING
The government can always intensify the propaganda and “industrialize” it, i.e. start producing it on an industrial scale. Previously, the number of articles spreading propaganda poison, coming from the ruling party and published on the portals that are closest to the government, and then published by all the pro-government portals, newspapers and TV stations, was one to two articles a day, and now it’s three to five articles a day – due to the current crisis and the publication of wiretapped telephone conversations. This dynamic can be further increased to include other modes of journalistic expression through propaganda with professionally created videos and animated stories, as it is done in Russia, and to include defamation of an even greater number of critical journalists, intellectuals, activists etc., and extend to even more media, especially local media, that at least so far, were not involved in the spreading of pro-government propaganda poison.
The recent obscure deals for local and regional TV stations in various cities throughout the country, being bought by people close to the ruling party are particularly concerning. The deals are highly suspicious given the fact that six television stations owned by six different owners were sold in a very short period to three companies that were registered on the same day and that suddenly, after the sale, began receiving government advertising, and some of them had significant profits just a few weeks after the sale, as they’ve never had before. These deals should, of course, be investigated by the competent institutions (financial police), and especially since the owners, each and every one of them, refuse to provide an explanation about the origin of the funds used for purchasing the TV stations.
Another concerning issue are the policies of the current government in terms of funding programs in Macedonian language for protection of the language and for the development of a national TV production. These policies should be under strict supervision, with control over the amounts and projects being funded, and over the selection of the media receiving the funds. We must not allow the government to continue allocating funds for advertising campaigns, by camouflaging the campaigns with yet another alleged purpose and we should ensure that the funds for this type of production will be spent only for that particular purpose and nothing else, without any political or propaganda content.
All things considered, we are at the beginning of a journey that we must complete if we want to improve the situation with the journalist profession, both in terms of political pressures, and in general (there are also recommendations for the working conditions of the journalists). It remains to be seen how things will go and whether something will be negotiated about the media throughout the course of the negotiations, and we have yet to see what will happen in the whole period up to the April elections next year, and after. The EU will now take an even closer look and analyze the situation in the country, including the situation with the media, without allowing things to get worse, in order to avoid having its officials and experts extinguish fires such as the current one.
This journalistic lesson was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project - Media Fact-Checking Service Component,, mplemented by Metamorphosis. The journalistic lesson is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).