News 27 Jul 11

Macedonia’s A1 TV Bankrupt, Facing Closure

After a court in Skopje pronounced A1 TV bankrupt on Tuesday, journalists said farewell to the doomed-looking station in a news show.

Sase Dimovski and Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Journalists from Macedonia's A1 TV paid a farewell tribute to the TV station on Tuesday, saying the company “departs into history as an outlet that continuously promoted European principles".

The joint statement of the reporters was read out in the main news on Tuesday.

A1's 234 employees are expected to lose their jobs after the court formalizes its decision declaring the station bankrupt, expected in three days. The state trustee will then have the right to determine whether A1 should stop broadcasting.

The TV station claims it was targeted by the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski for its pro-opposition views.

Tuesday's legal ruling declaring A1 bankrupt came at the request of state trustee, Aco Petrov. He told the court in Skopje on Tuesday that the station's financial situation was dire and that by continuing to operate it would only generate further debt.

“A1 has debts of some €30m, €9.5 m of which the TV station owes to the tax office for unpaid taxes,” Petrov told the court, arguing that it could repay only 4.3 per cent of its debt.

The tax office and the state attorney also supported bankruptcy proceedings being launched for A1.

Danco Nakov, a lawyer for A1, questioned the way the issue was being handled. “The whole procedure is against the law and the only goal is to shut down A1,” he told the court.

Nakov said the tax office had inflated the sum owed by the TV station to €9.5 million. He said an investigation into A1’s jailed owner, Velija Ramkovski, had showed that the TV station owed only €1.5 million in unpaid taxes.

Macedonia's two main reporters' guilds, the Journalists' Union and the Journalists' Association, said the potential closure of the TV station posed a threat to the media in the country as a whole.

“The closure of the oldest private TV in the country would seriously deplete the local media space,” the unions said in a statement.

Ramkovski has been in custody for over six months and is currently on trial, alongside 22 other people, charged with grave financial crimes.

A1’s trouble dates back to late 2010, when police and tax inspectors raided the station’s premises in search of evidence of financial misdemeanours.

In January this year, the courts froze A1’s bank account and property but the TV station was allowed to continue broadcasting. More recently, the tax office confiscated a number of A1’s vehicles.

Earlier this month, three daily newspapers owned by Ramkovski, Vreme, Shpic and Koha e Re, were also closed because of unpaid taxes. The sudden reduction in the number of opposition voices in Macedonia has sparked concerns for media freedom.

Journalists' associations staged street protests this month against what they see as political and business pressures on their freedom.

The European Commission, the OSCE, Freedom House and the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation have also expressed concern.

In separate press releases issued this month, they asked the Macedonian government, for the sake of democracy and pluralism, to allow the TV to repay its debts in instalments so that it could survive. The tax office rejected the proposal.

Earlier this month an OSCE representative, Dunja Mijatovic, suggested that the closed daily papers had been targeted by authorities.

"While media should follow rules set for all businesses, these outlets seem to have been targeted by the authorities in this case,” Mijatovic said in Vienna.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his VMRO-DPMNE party maintain that media freedom and tax payments have nothing in common. They say the tax officials have only been doing their job.

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