By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s Broadcasting Council on Wednesday removed the broadcasting license of A2 TV, the sister channel of A1, which was forced to close last year.
The revocation of the licence comes just as the TV recently started to air news bulletins and live political panels and to hire some of the journalists who previously worked in A1.
But the council’s explanation for its action is that “the TV failed to meet the licence criteria”, meaning, to include more news and educational content in its programmes to match 5 per cent of its air time.
The Worker’s Union of Journalists, SSNM, described this explanation as “absurd” at a time when the rules of the council are being disobeyed “on a daily basis” by other broadcasters.
Saying they were “appalled” by the move, they said it comes “just as the TV station started to consolidate itself”.
The move also comes as the government of Nikola Gruevski and the journalist’s association, ZNM, announced a deal on decriminalization of libel. The timing of the deal was seen by many as a deliberate attempt to distract attention from the shutdown.
This “coincidence” says the workers union, “will not diminish the weight of the move that again leaves many of our colleagues facing unemployment, nor it will remove suspicions of a selective use of law and a crackdown against critically oriented journalism”.
A2 was the last remaining chunk of the Macedonian media empire of media mogul Velija Ramkovski.
Unlike, A1, A2 up until recently did not air news bulletins. The bulk of its programmes, aired through cable and satellite, consisted of soap operas, films and talk-shows.
A1, once the country’s most prominent pro-opposition outlet, was declared bankrupt last July when the courts found it owed €9.5 million to the tax office in unpaid taxes. Earlier that same month, three daily newspapers also owned by Ramkovski; Vreme, Shpic and Koha e Re, were also closed because of unpaid taxes.
The crackdown was widely blamed on the cente-right government of Prime Minister Gruevski who has, however, denied allegations of involvement.
After spending a year in detention, in March Ramkovski was sentenced to 13 years in jail on four charges of tax evasion, criminal association, money laundering and misuse of office. He continues claiming he was being framed by the government.
The reduction in the number of opposition voices in Macedonia’s media has sparked concern over media freedom in the country.
The European Commission, the OSCE, the Freedom House and the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation all expressed concern over the development.