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Macedonian Journalists Cry Foul Over Libel Reform

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By Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Many Macedonian journalists feel they have been duped by the government with a new deal on decriminalization of defamation that imposes steep fines instead.

A number of Macedonian journalists and media groups have energetically denounced a new deal between the government and the country’s Journalists Association, ZNM, which scraps the criminal offence of libel.

While the ZNM defends the deal as the best possible solution and as a breakthrough in the arena of media freedom, many journalists think they have given to much away.

They say that the steep fines for libel envisaged in the new agreement make the apparent concession by the government worthless, and say they will only boost self-censorship.

Under the agreement, journalists will no longer face criminal charges for libel and judges can no longer set arbitrary fines if journalists are then found guilty of the offence in court.

Reporters will be sued in civil procedures instead, and the fines will be strictly laid down: 2,000 euros per author, 10,000 euros for his or her editor in charge and 15,000 euros for the media company’s owner.

If the journalist decides to apologize or publish a disclaimer, the judge will have to stop the procedure and may not issue a fine.

The head of the ZNM, Naser Selmani, on Wednesday defended the deal, saying it was not perfect but an “optimal compromise” with the authorities that will now impose fines only as “last resort”.

But many disagree. “Is it ‘optimal’ for a Macedonian journalist, working for 200 to 300 euros a month, to pay ten monthly wages in a defamation fine?”, Branko Geroski, a senior journalist and editor asked in his column for the popular web portal Plus Info.

“After this… editors and owners will introduce censorship on their own,” he added. “Probably they will have nothing to censor as there will be few journalists left who will want to risk such steep fines for being critical.”

In its protest against the deal, one of the biggest circulation dailies in Macedonia, Vest, pubished a blank front page on Thursday, stating: “That this is how front pages will look with the new deal”.

Following last year’s crackdown of several prominent critically oriented media outlets, the centre-right government of Nikola Gruevski came under increased criticism over the state of media freedom in the country.

The closure of A1 TV, once the country’s most widely watched channel, and three daily newspapers, Vreme, Shpic and Koha e Re, was widely blamed on government pressure.

Gruevski has denied this, insisting that the media outlets were closed solely because they had not paid their taxes.

However, the European Commission, the OSCE, Freedom House and the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation all expressed concern over the development.

They also pinpointed the use of high and often seemingly arbitrary fines against journalists as one of the main tools used to for exert pressure on the media.

Last October, the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, following her inspection of the media in the country, said that Macedonia lacked a “stable and professional legal framework that is actually implemented and fosters media freedom.

“If the authorities want to show they are ready to cooperate, they should decriminalize defamation as soon as possible,” Mijatovic added.

Later that year, the government launched a series of talks with the ZNM aimed at addressing the main problems of the journalists.

The new agreement comes eight months after the talks with the ZNM began.

Meanwhile, Macedonia was also urged to decriminalize libel as part of its high-level talks with Brussels that started in March.

The dialogue is intended to boost the reform process in general and complement future accession negotiations.

But the deal was made after a good deal of uncertainty concerning the size of future fines.

In April some media reported that the new penalties that the government had allegedly drawn up would be draconian, ranging from 10,000 euro for journalists, up to 40,000 euro for editors and up to 80,000 euro for media owners.

Jadranka Kostova, editor of the political weekly Fokus, believes these reports were all part of a government hoax designed to scare journalists and make the newly agreed penalties look more acceptable.

“The government expertly set the bait about draconian fines so that now the new sums would make us happy. A million other questions remain unanswered,” she said.

A court last year ordered Kostova to pay 15,000 euros in fines to former Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki for a text called “How Drivers Associations Became Milososki’s Family Firms?”

Currently, according to the journalists’ association more than 300 lawsuits are pending against journalists in the Macedonian courts, most brought by politicians, wealthy businessmen and other public figures.

According to Teuta Arifi, Vice Prime Minister, responsible for EU affairs, the new agreement shows that “all open questions concerning media freedom can be discussed” and the agreement proves the government’s willingness to improve journalist’s conditions.

She noted that the draft of the law tackling defamation will be first sent for review to the Council of Europe followed by a public debate in Macedonia before the government sends it to parliament. The procedure is expected to finish in September.

The EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, has welcomed the announcement.

“The agreement on law on defamation is proof of effectiveness of the High Level Accession Dialogue & of our overall approach to the freedom of media,” Fuele wrote on his Twitter profile.

Revoking the broadcasting license of A2 TV, on the same day that the libel deal was announced, was “not so good news”, he added.

Balkan Insight

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

18 thoughts on “Macedonian Journalists Cry Foul Over Libel Reform

  • Avatar
    June 15, 2012 at 10:59 pm
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    Gruevski should focus his efforts on building more giant Greek statues. How about one of Leonidas of Sparta? He was a Dorian Greek like Alexander the Great.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    June 16, 2012 at 1:56 am
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    In FYROM we have no Albanian journalists. I understand the big problem with the Slavic journalists. Gruevski’s skopje government has a strangle hold on free speech in FYROM.

    Everytime journalists speaks out the Slavic police destroy their offices in skopjia. Maybe its time for justice for journalists.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      June 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm
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      How much freedom have the indigenous Macedonians people in Greece?
      A state owned “Post Office”refusing to deliver election material is considered as a democratic state?
      Samaras distributed 130 million dollars in 1995
      for propaganda againts the Macedonian nation and the Macedonian minority.He was charged,but charges droped by the state of Greece because it was againts the Republic of Macedonia and its large Macedonian minority.So,it is OK for Greek politicians to raid the Greek banks for propaganda with no accountability to the state.
      No wonder Greece is in a state of chaos financialy,and to top it off,Greece blames Germany for its own shortcomings.
      You Greeks are well known for puting the gear on first before you turn the key on.
      No wonder Germany’s media,as the Guardian noted in article,regarded the instransigent conservative leader as “the fly in the oitment,the gadfly who…put personal ambition
      before national interests”.
      The Guardian told the truth,Samaras needs the money from the eurozone to sweeten his own and his cohorts pockets.
      Greece can’t come to terms with historical facts for a simple reasons,the so-called greeks are non existant today.Greece is a mixture of different people who have no connection to the ancient people,surely you do know this fact!
      If Greece loses the Macedonian history,they will be left with nothing,and this is the reason Greece is fighting a losing battle.
      Republic of Macedonia is right to claim its ancestors,they achieved their freedom from its occupiers and re-established their nation and are free to write their own neglected history by their occupiers!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        June 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm
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        @Peter

        Well most DNA studies in the world proves that Greeks have large connections to the ancient Greeks. Also the Greek language has an unbroken chain of at least 4000 years(in comparison to the Bulgarian dialect spoken in Fyrom that by communist in 1944 was renamed “Macedonian”).

        Of course the makes the former Bulgarians from Fyrom that pretends to be Macedonians very uncomfortable. Because you know it yourself. If the ancient Macedonians where Greeks which all universities in the word states then who are you? Maybe we should let your proud hero own words answer that question

        “We are Bulgarians, more Bulgarians than the Bulgarians in Bulgaria themselves.”

        Krste Misirkov, “On Macedonian Matters”, Macedonian Review Editions 1903

        … and today the very same Slavic people are taught they are indigenous “Macedonians”.

        Sooner or later you need to deal with your identity problems.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    June 16, 2012 at 6:35 pm
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    Tito made this people so called Macedonians, and Gruevski has made them the ‘fathers of the wite race’. What they really are is confused. The world laughs, but this is abuse. Poor Skopjes.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    June 16, 2012 at 6:46 pm
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    Don’t worry. The name change will automatically difine your ethnicity. It will differentiate your fake macedonian population from the real Macedonians in Greece. You will however have lovely staues to remind you of how much you admire Greece.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      June 16, 2012 at 9:23 pm
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      @Akron,better think twice,we do have ethnicity,you don’t.You know why you don’t?It is simple,you are a mixture of different people,and not one is real “Greek”.You should call yourselves Yunanista,not something that you have absolutly no connection to.The Romans used to call you “Gaicos”never Greek.
      Our Prime Minister at least does not raid the national banks and stashing 130 million dollars in black garbage bags with no accountability to the nation.Don’t you think,thats the reason Greece became a beger state.Does the”fly in the oitment”reminds you anything?.Who is laughing at whom Akron?That is why you should take my advice”put the key on ignition and turn it,before you put the gear on”.In other words”engage your brain before you comment”.
      US president John Adams was right to describe the Greeks as people…230 years later they are still described in the same way,corrupted in their morals to such a degree,as to be faithless,perfidious race,destitute of courage…Ouch!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    June 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm
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    Let’s see. Fake DNA studies that say you are linked to the ancients and Greeks are not, don’t count as evidence. Real and published DNA studies that say Greeks and Japanese are the most direclty linked peoples to their ancient counterparts says everything. Fake Rosetta Stone findings that say your modern bulgarian dialect is really the ancient language the Macedonians spoke is just as laughable. By the way you idiot, do you know where the word yunan comes from? It’s the Persian word describing Ionian Greeks. Once again your own propaganda makes you guys look like fools.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      June 17, 2012 at 4:42 pm
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      @Akron,thanks for allowing me to answere your stupid greek mythology.
      US wanted Macedonia independent back in 1783.
      “The project of setting at liberty the whole country of ancient Greece,Macedonia,and Illyricum,and erecting independent Republics in those famous seats,however splendid it may appear in speculation,is not likely to be seriously entertained by the two Empires,because it is impracticable.The Greeks of this day,although they are said to have imagination and ingenuity,are corrupted in their morals to such a degree,as to be a faithless,perfidious race,destitute of courage,as well as of those principles of honor and virtue,without which nations can have no confidence in one another,nor be trusted by others.
      John Adams,one of US founding fathers,in a statement written back on July 14th 1783 to the first US State Secretary Robert Livingston,clearly states he wanted to see Macedonia as well as Greece independent from Ottoman rule.
      Unfortunatly for some Balkan nations(including Macedonia),it was the French,Prussians(Germany) who decided who gets independence.
      The US president was well awere the French and Germans were pushing their own agendas on the Balkans.
      Adams then goes on to describe the Greeks as people…230 years later they are still described in the same way,corrupted in their morals to such a degree,as to be faithless,perfidious race,destitute of courage”.

      Mario Alinei,Dean Emiritus of the University of Utrecht,director of several linguistic revious and progenitor of the Continuity Theory,states;
      “I have to commence by clearing away one of the most absurd consequences of the traditional chronology namely,that of the arrival of the Slavs into the immense area in which they now live.
      The only logical conclusion can be that the southern branch of the Slavs is the oldest and that from it developed the slavic Western and Eastern branches…Today only a minority of experts support the theory of a late migration of the Slavs.”
      Recent genetic studies conducted by Oxford University reveal that todays ethnic Macedonians carry only 15.2% of the Slav gene,slightly above modern Greeks and Albanians and less than Serbs and Bulgarians!
      They further reveal that todays ethnic Macedonians have the highest amount of the Mediterranean gene of all European people!
      This was also confirmed by the University of Madrid studies.In a court of law,it is genetic proof that is conclusive,I might add!
      Here is a sugestion for the Greeks,how about DNA tests on the remains of the Royal Macedonian Tombs,uncovered and desecrated by”Greeks” in todays occupied Macedonia?
      Follow this up with genetic tests on modern Greek and Macedonian population…we will soon see the truth!
      Further,there is no pure Slav people…just like there is no pure”Greek”.
      In summation…Ethnic,yes todays Ethnic Macedonians cannot possibly be of the old Mediterean substratum if they were slavs arriving in the Balkans in 6th century AD…as the 19th century Western construct asserts!!
      Todays ethnic Macedonians are authocthonous to Macedonia,it is very simple!Their language,unintelligable to the ancient Greeks,was a form of proto Macedonian/Slav,which then spread outward,becoming more complex as it moved furthere away from Macedonia.Countless proto Macedonian letters unearthed on the territory of the Republic of Macedonia(and no doubt in Pirin and Aegean Macedonia,though the respective occupiers have no doubt concealed them from the world because it does not fit their lies)attest to this fact!

      “The Macedonian language from the census of 1920”
      Why Greece did not announce the figures of population in the newly occupied territory,but did for the rest of Greece?.This report was written by Dimitry Lithozou,read it,might change your perspective on the truth!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    June 17, 2012 at 12:43 am
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    Oh ya Peter, your John Adams quote is fake. It doesn’t exist. Go back to your ‘scientists’ in Skopje, the one’s busy making up history, and tell them that the quote is as real as your identity. By the way, don’t you find it a little funny that your government reffers to historians as scientists. I guess it makes sense when you consider that your identity is a product of failed experiments.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    June 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm
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    You do know that your referencing Skopje funded DNA studies that have been proven fraudulent and therfore umpblushiable right?Just one question. Are you Slavs? Gruevski says you’re not. He even took any referrence to being Slavs out of the history books. The reson he did so, is because the history of being Slavs and Macedonians at the same time doesn’t add up. He ditches attempts to do so (like the Rosetta Stone farce) when Universities and MUseums around the worls refused to change what they taught. There is not one Historian, not one, that says the ancients were Slavs. All say they were Greeks. Back to the drawing board for you.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      June 17, 2012 at 11:25 pm
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      @Akron,you don’t even know what slav means.
      Did you read my comments in etirity?Did you understood what Alenei refers to,or are you ignoring the truth?.
      Have you ever read what Isocrates wrote to Philip,and did you understood it.What Demosthenes tried to say on the epitaph of 338 BC.Do you realy understand what Alexander said to Philotas at the trial for treason?
      You should be ashamed for calling yourself “Greek”if you don’t understand above questions.But than again,Adams was right for characterizing you as he has in 1783.
      There was one person who argued with me on the same subject,it turnedout he was half Albanian half Vlah who tried to deffend the greekness in him.Now,how funny is that!Are you realy a Greek,or same as your president Papulias(Sulayman)and the other 27″Greek”Prime Ministers out of 57?.
      Why don’t Greece follow up what Alinei is suggesting on the DNA,soon we will find out who’s right.This is a challenge to you Greeks.Soon we can find out if those Macedonian Tombs belong to you,or to the Macedonians, what are you afraid of for refusing?
      Macedonia suggested to Greece to seat down and find out the historical truth,historicly,not politicly.Why is Greece not willing?Once more,Alinei is right!
      84.8%Macedonians are not slavs.By the way,do you reffer to the Russians,Ukrainians,Serns and Bulgarians as Slavso-Bulgarians,Slavo russians etc.?The Greek propaganda has taken you way out of history,and the reason is as I have written before(You have no history based on ancient people.Your 4000 year history is just a myth!!You must thank Prince Otto who wrote your history.
      Dr.Thomas Arnold,the founder of the school Ethos in 19th century in England,suggested that fabricating Greek legents will profoundly improve the English image,ever more than the Greek image.
      Do you understand the word”authocthonous”?Read my previous comment slowly,pay attention to the words Alinei is describing.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    June 18, 2012 at 11:05 pm
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    Haha. I’ve read your propaganda before and came to realize that there isn’t one shred of evidence to support your claims. In fact there is a ton of evidence to show how you are fabricating your identity.

    You say you have a right to declare yourself whatever it is you want. To self identify. But you don’t have a right to force me to accept your ludicrous identification.

    Why don’t you respect Alexander the Great’s own declaration that he was Hellene. He traced his peoples roots to the Dorian Greeks. And he was right. He spoke Greek, lived in Greece, beliieved in the Greek Gods and fought a war for Greece against the persians. All the peoples of the time,Egyptians, Persians, Assyrians etc called him a Greek. The Bible described him as the Prince of Greece. It’s really that simple.

    By the way, use published DNA references, not Skopje propaganda please. Expand your sources of information.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      June 19, 2012 at 3:30 am
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      Akron,I was right,you don’t know your own history.
      Alexander chastized Philotas for not addressing the public in the Macedonian language(not Greek).Isocrates was very specific in the difference between the Macedonians and the Hellens.Demosthenes refered to the holy soil of Hellas,not Macedonian.
      A Polish proverb goes as follows”gajdury,gajduri,monosu ta egrapces monosu then ta katalavenis”.This is not personal,and not directed to you personaly,its a proverb,just to make sure.
      I suggest to you,read what Alexander said to Philotas,also what Isocrates wrote to Philip and lastly but not least,what Demosthenes meant on the composition of the Epitaph in 338 bc.
      John Adams nor Alinei faked or are fake findings my friend.Read the news on the internet,you will findout what people are saying about the Greeks.
      You want to proove the DNA is wrong,then lets have the tests as Alinei is suggesting and many others.Lets seat down and talk about the two nations history as Macedonia has suggested to Greece and Bulgaria.What are you afraid of?.
      Akron,have a peacfull day!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    June 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm
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    What did you think of your governments pathetic attempt to claim that the demotic Egyptian on the Rosetta Stone was really your Bulgarian dialect?

    Reply
  • Avatar
    June 19, 2012 at 11:37 am
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    @Akron,Bulgaria was non-existant when Macedonia was a nation,neither was “Greece”.
    You can tell this to the ones who have no idea of Balkan history.
    For too long Greece had the upper hand on fabricated history,now many are reconsidering their own writtings as Dr.Thomas Arnold and others in the 19th century.
    But,instead of arguing on the subject,and insulting each other,we should look at scientific facts,and this fitts with Alineis suggestion.I will leave it to that.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    June 20, 2012 at 10:12 am
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    You are both wrong and right. Akron yes the ancient Macedonians were one of the many Greek tribes, but their dialect was difficult for the attic speaker to comprehend. Peter our land of FYROM was always Illyrian land from 1000BC until the Romans came and divided us up.

    Skopjia was never known as belonging to the ancient Macedonians or any other Greek people. Later when the Slavs immigrated here 700AD the Bulgarians began pushing out many of our people, but even today you can see that FYROM has 60% Yugislavs and over 30% Albanians. In another 10 years we will be closer to 40% because your Slavic people are physically unable to reproduce as fast as our people.

    Many years ago the skopjian government of Gruevski said he would pay money to all Slavic people who had more babies but this ended in failure. Because unlike our strict muslim scriptures that teaches us to refrain from hedonistic spending, alcohol, and luxuries all the Slavs of skopjia always waste money, health and time and for this reason the Slavic woman goes unsatified.

    What will change in FYROM one day is that the majority will be the indigenous Albanians once again and finally the immigrant Bulgarians who came here only some 1300 years ago can again live alongside us instead of thinking they can live up and above us.

    The only indigenous people left in FYROM are the Albanians, as the modern Slavs of FYROM are only recycled people of Yugislavs from their ancestral Bulgarian roots.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      June 23, 2012 at 11:27 pm
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      @Sam,obviously you are Albanian.I have nothing againts the Albanian people in Macedonia or elsewhere.The Albanians in Macedonia are enjoying their freedoms as any Macedonian citizen.The problem I have is,Republic of Albania has banned the macedonian language in Golo Brdo.They are not even recognized ethnicly as Macedonians on the last censcus,whereas in Macedonia you have Albanian shools,people in high government positions etc.
      I am happy with the defense Minister,Vice Premier Arifi and others,and why not,it shows Macedonia is multiethnic society.Greece as Albania and Bulgaria are not recognizing the Macedonian minority,do you call them democratic?.You should read what Alinei said on the arrival of the Slavs and DNA facts before you make a comment as you have.
      Sam,the Greek army in Athens were singing that,they will make clothes out of our and your skins.The Greek president Papulias(Sulaiman)is of Albanian ancestry,he must have been very happy to hear what his army was singing about him!
      You see,we must think before we make stupid comments,like some Greeks are talking about the expenditure in Macedonia on statues.Greece is unvailing a statue in Salonika soon with borrowed money,at least Gruevski spends it through the budget,own money not borrowed as Greece does.
      The Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia are lucky,unlike the Macedonians in Albania,Bulgaria and Greece who’s language is forbiden.

      Reply

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