“There was no progress in this area over most of the past year”, is noted in the European Commission’s Country Report, in the section dedicated to freedom of expression, which covers the situation of the media in Macedonia. The Ambassador of the European Union, Samuel Zbogar, thinks that freedom of media remains a serious challenge. The problems with media, besides in the appropriate chapter, “slip through” other chapters as well, such as “Judiciary and fundamental rights”. The recommendations for reforms are based on reform priorities, whereas the professionalism of the public service and the private broadcasters with national broadcasting license is in question.
Author: Aleksandar PESHEV
In the general overview of the Report, it is noted that in terms of freedom of expression, this country has “some level of preparation”.
However, freedom of expression and the situation of the media remain a serious challenge in the current political climate.
The chapter titled “Freedom of expression” elaborates this conclusion more thoroughly.
There was no progress in this area over most of the past year. Relevant figures on government advertising, which can constitute a tool to exercise influence over broadcasters, have still not been made public by the authorities. Balanced and diversified reporting by the mainstream media is still lacking, although there were some encouraging signs over the summer in terms of reporting by the public broadcaster and some private channels.
The Report contains specific recommendations for overcoming the noted problems, and the media should “show tangible results of ongoing reforms within the Public Broadcaster, aiming at addressing lack of political independence and lack of balanced reporting”.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PROFESSIONALISM
The first recommendation, as noted in the Report, is a derivative of the reform priorities, authored by the expert team from Brussels, led by Reinhard Priebe, and its implementation was expected to bring the solution to the political crisis. These priorities derive the second recommendation:
Ensure full transparency on government advertising, not only on the spending of public finances but also on its recipients and contents.
The third recommendation requests ensuring of public access to objective and accurate reporting and a variety of viewpoints through the mainstream media, particularly the public service broadcaster. The fourth recommendation notes that all media stakeholders should assume their respective responsibility for professional conduct.
SEPARATE SECTION DEDICATED TO INTIMIDATION OF JOURNALISTS
Intimidation of journalists is separated as special subtitle in the chapter, and it is noted that “the media reflects the strong polarisation of society along political lines”.
There were a number of reports of intimidation of journalists and judicial proceedings against journalists. On 12 April, several journalists were injured by the police during the protests against the President’s pardoning of 56 individuals and the premises of two pro-government media outlets were damaged.
The laws are broadly in line with the acquis although there are continuing calls for further reforms coming from within the country, the European Commission notes, and it also emphasizes that amendments to the electoral code set out rules for the portrayal of political parties by the public service broadcaster, strengthened the monitoring of the media by the Agency for Audio and Audio-visual Media Services.
LEGISLATION EXISTS ONLY ON PAPER
Implementation of legislation remained deficient and freedom of the media continued to decline throughout the year, is said in the Report. Practical measures in the ‘Urgent Reform Priorities’ to improve the media situation have still not been addressed, Brussels remarks.
Political interference in the editorial policies of the media, in particular nationwide broadcasters, remained a serious concern. There are indications that most private broadcasters appear to have coordinated their editorial policy in favour of the main ruling party.
Many media do not meet their obligations on balanced and professional reporting. In some mainstream media, members of the opposition and their activities are negatively portrayed, as are civil society protests, the Report adds, and also notes insufficient coverage in televised debates of politicians from across the political spectrum.
Low professional standards and ethics persisted at some media outlets, to the detriment of the public’s right to receive objective and balanced reporting.
Investigative reporting remained limited and there have also been rare instances of self-criticism, the European Commission remarks. Moreover, throughout the reporting period, some 20 new defamation lawsuits against journalists were registered. The large-scale illegal wiretapping of journalists revealed last year, as it says, further contributed to selfcensorship.
According to Brussels, the Agency for audio and audio-visual services made efforts to complement the selfregulatory functions of the profession, playing a more proactive role on issues of professionalism and journalistic standards and ethics.
CONCERN OVER MRT’S BALANCE
EC’s Progress Report notes that “serious concerns remain over the public service broadcaster (MRT)’s balance in reporting”. In this context, according to OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation mission, media monitoring noted that newscasts “provided limited information about political events and failed to provide comprehensive analysis on a daily basis”.
In several cases, journalists mixed facts with their own political opinions when covering the news. The sustainability and autonomy of MRT financing must be ensured and implemented. The code of ethics of MRT still needs to be adopted.
Furthermore, it says that the Ombudsman Office’s recommendation concerning unlawfully collection of licence fees from vulnerable groups in society remained unresolved.
SUSPICIONS FOR MEDIA OWNERSHIP
The law on audio and audio-visual media services regulates media ownership by laying down restrictions and prohibitions on conflicts of interest, is said in the document.
However, most of the TV stations with a national concession and newspapers of wide circulation belong to individuals known to have close links with the government ruling coalition. Government advertising was suspended, but the data and criteria for granting such contracts (which should be transparent, objective and non-discriminatory) have still not been made publicly available.
The Report remarks the use of unpaid public service announcements, more precisely, it recommends that announcements of a truly public interest nature should also be further explored.
REMARKS IN MULTIPLE CHAPTERS
The remark for the media is also noted in context of civil society’s activities. The document notes that the civil society played a constructive role in supporting democratic processes and ensuring greater checks and balances.
At the same time, civil society organisations continue to express their concerns about the deterioration of the climate in which they operate and the limited government commitment to dialogue, as well as about public attacks by politicians and progovernment media.
In the section of judiciary and fundamental rights, it is recommended:
Ensure freedom of expression and adopt and implement credible measures to support pluralism in the media.
Chapter 10, dedicated to information society and media, repeats some of the recommendations from the subchapter on freedom of expression, which covers the media. More precisely, the general recommendations request strengthening of the independence and capacity of the media regulator and the public broadcasting service.
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).