By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Defamation is to be removed from the penal code and all ongoing lawsuits against journalists for this offence suspended, the government announced on Friday.
The change in the law follows months of negotiations between the Macedonian Journalists’ Association, ZNM, and the centre-right government of Nikola Gruevski.
“These [negotiations] are now giving their first results,” Vice Prime Minister, Teuta Arifi said.
At the moment more than 160 lawsuits are pending against journalists in the Macedonian courts, most of which have been brought by politicians, wealthy businessmen and other public figures.
The change will take effect once the parliament adopts a new law on the subject. The government said it will submit a proposal within one week.
The move comes after the VMRO DPMNE-led majority in parliament rejected an opposition-sponsored bill to decriminalize slander in January.
However, the ZNM then said it was not discouraged and would continue its negotiations with government.
Gruevski’s government has come under increasing fire from international media watchdogs concerning perceived curbs on media freedom, after several pro-opposition media were closed down for tax reasons.
Critics claimed that the authorities had targeted the media for their pro-opposition standpoints.
“If the authorities want to show they are ready to cooperate they should decriminalize defamation as soon as possible,” Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative for freedom of the media, said last October, on a visit to the country.
A similar message came from the International Partnership Group of freedom of expression organizations who also came to inspect the media situation in Macedonia.