By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Journalists groups have voiced surprise after the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski last week announced that it was planning to table a new media law.
Instead of a new law, “we would prefer respect and implementation of the current legal framework,” Naser Selmani, head of the Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, ZNM, said on Wednesday.
The ZNM and the Macedonian Institute for Media, MIM, recommend a series of concrete steps without changing the existing media laws.
These include decriminalization of libel, reform of the national broadcaster, Macedonian Radio and Television, and a halt to the government’s practice of placing lucrative adverts only in favoured media outlets.
Last week, the Ministry of Transport and Communications defended the need for a new Law on Media, saying it was necessary to widen the span of the existing Broadcasting Law, which only regulates the electronic media.
Among other things they envisage “a considerable increase in fines” for media that break the law and a set of new regulatory bodies to monitor what is published.
Journalists are on the alert, as some fear the law will be used to additionally curb media freedom in a country where numerous media watchdogs have already sounded alarm bells.
“This concept [of introducing laws] without consultation and involving the media community tends towards the regulation of areas over which society and the media have not reached any consensus,” Petrit Saracini, program manager at the MIM, said.
The closure in summer of A1 TV, the country’s best known anti-government media outlet, was widely blamed on government pressure.
So was the closure of the three dailies also owned by A1’s owner, Velja Ramkovski, Vreme, Spic and Koha e Re. Ramkovski is now on trial on for tax avoidance.
The government insists that it is not targeting critically inclined media and says the closures were purely related to the owner’s tax avoidance.
However, according to the recently published European Commission report on Macedonia, “the media continue to be subject to interference from political and business interests.”
It added: “Intimidation of journalists and selective enforcement of legislation against media companies are increasing causes for concern.”
The Commission’s remarks followed similar concerns raised in July by a number of media watchdogs such as Amnesty International, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization, SEEMO, and the France-based group Reporters Without Borders.
During her visit to the country in October, Dunja Mijatovic, representative for media freedom of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, said she noticed “worrying trends” concerning the media in Macedonia.
In October, the Government and the ZNM lauched direct talks aimed at resolving some of the key issues troubling reporters. The talks should resume next year.