By Marina Stojanovska
A group of journalists and media organisations are objecting to an agreement between the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the government that would decriminalise libel and defamation, but implement steep fines that critics say will lead to self-censorship.
Under the agreement signed June 13th, fines for libel and defamation will be a measure of last resort, ordered only after all preventive measures are exhausted — including issuing a denial, reconciling or issuing an apology.
“We agreed the maximum fine would be 2,000 euros for a journalist that has committed libel, while 10,000 and 15,000 for the editor-in-chief and the media’s owner, respectively,” Naser Selmani, president of the media association, said.
The plaintiffs in libel and defamation cases are mostly politicians, but editors and journalists increasingly sue other journalists as well.
“Is it ‘optimal’ for a Macedonian journalist, working for 200 to 300 euros a month, to pay ten monthly wages for a defamation fine?” Branko Gerovski, editor of the web portal Plus Info, told SETimes.
But some media workers said the agreement provides the basis for a deeper redefinition of journalists’ rights and responsibilities, as well as relations inside the media houses.
“It is time certain editors face reality. A new era in journalism has begun, in which the main decisions and the responsibilities will be shared,” media expert Viktor Grozdanov told Nova Makedonija.
“[The EU] closed their mouths by fully supporting the new law. If the law is written in accordance with the European obligatory and recommended directives, then it is all right and we all should support it,” Grozdanov said.
Sladjana Dimishkova, president of the Macedonian Journalists Association, said that while the agreement is a step in the right direction, the high fines for media owners open the door for them to exert greater control over the work of journalists.
“This is a proposition for which there should be a public debate in which the profession will be involved. We recommend self-regulation in the work of journalists,” Dimishkova told SETimes.
Biljana Petkovska, executive director of the Macedonia Media Institute, said libel and defamation fines will become a part of the past, provided the courts use the non-monetary measures under the forthcoming law.
“That creates the basis to seriously begin the process of strengthening professional standards in the editorial rooms through efficient self-regulation, in which all media that promote professional and ethical journalism will participate,” Petkovska said.