By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s main journalists’ union on Friday urged members to protest following news that two journalists were sacked from the Utrinski Vesnik daily after having taken part in a protest strike last week against announced staff lay-offs.
The management has not commented on the reasons for the sackings. But the union said it suspected it was part of a growing crack-down on journalists and media seen as critical of Nikola Gruevski’s centre-right government.
This is “a terrifying message”, which shows that “any attempt to show discontent or just speak out publicly can result in a swift reaction”, the head of the union, Tamara Causidis, said.
Last Sunday, the daily newspaper, owned by Germany’s WAZ, came out with a slimmed down edition after 40 journalists down tools, opposing announced lay-offs.
The daily is one of three in the country owned by WAZ and is the only one of the three with a critical political attitude.
Meanwhile, three other dailies that are also seen as pro-opposition in outlook have announced their imminent closure.
Vreme, Spic and Koha e Re, published by Plus Production, say their weekend edition will be their last and they are sending their 150 employees on forced leave before final closure.
The dailies say the government is behind their closure. The newspapers allegedly owe one million euros in unpaid taxes. The revenue office last week closed their accounts, which left them with no means to pay wages and basic printing costs.
The dailies came out this week in a slim version and only in black and white. “But even this is impossible from now on,” Kole Casule, editor of Vreme, said.
“Every freedom-loving person in this country should understand that our fate today can be someone else’s tomorrow,” the editor of Spic, Branko Geroski, said.
The government has denied being behind the closure of the critically oriented media houses.
But the controversy over media freedom in Macedonia has grown since the end of last year when police and financial inspectors swarmed into the offices of the country’s most prominent TV station, A1, which is also critical of the government.
Shortly after, in December, police detained A1’s owner, Velija Ramkovski, on suspicion of serious financial crimes. The trial against him is ongoing.