By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s ruling VMRO DPMNE party has said it will sue journalists from A1 TV for slander after they alleged that the party was behind an election fraud scheme.
Calling the A1 allegations “unseen, unfounded, base and vulgar,” Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki of the VMRO DPMNE told a press conference on Tuesday that the party was forced to sue to protect its dignity.
A1 TV on Sunday and Monday aired audio recordings of telephone conversations that they say prove that the ruling party bullied civil servants into providing lists of voters for the forthcoming June 5 general elections in exchange for their posts or other favours.
“These media no longer do their journalistic duty,” Milososki maintained, referring to A1 and the other outlets owned by the incarcerated media mogul Velija Ramkovski, who has been in detention for five months awaiting trial on charges of financial crime.
“Instead they serve a manipulative and political purpose,” he said, accusing A1 of teaming up with the opposition Social Democrats.
The TV station, which is seen as critical of the government, says it has evidence that can prove the scheme, and the role of the VMRO DPMNE.
Posing falsely as workers at a VMRO DPMNE call centre who wanted to check whether the listed people were indeed planning to vote for the party, A1 journalists called several civil servants who allegedly submitted names of voters the party could rely on.
The TV station aired some of the conversations in their news bulletins this week.
“They can sue us but everything that we aired is authentic,” Saska Cvetkovska, one of the A1 journalists who took part in the investigation, told Balkan Insight. “We hope the institutions will do their job,” she added.
She explained that A1 has submitted its evidence to the State Electoral Commission, the domestic and international election monitors and to key western embassies in the country.
“We plan to submit our findings to the Ombudsman’s office and to the Public Prosecutor as well,” Cvetkovska said.
Cvetkovska insisted that the A1 journalists had previously consulted lawyers and were careful to protect the identity of their interlocutors, who did not know they were being recorded.
She said faking their identity as journalists on the phone was the only way to get the people to tell the truth.
The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the A1 have been locked in a bitter feud for several months, ever since a court froze the bank account of the TV as part of the case against its owner Ramkovski.
A1 insists that Gruevski was behind the court decision, aimed to shut down the critically inclined media, but the prime minister has firmly denied the claims.
The government argues that Ramkovski is trying to hide himself behind the TV, attempting to shift focus away from his charges of financial crimes to media freedom issues.