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News 21 Aug 13

Macedonia Journalists Want Media Law Delayed

After failing to persuade the government to drop a new media law, Macedonian journalist want its implementation put on hold until the country joins the European Union.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Naser Selmani [left] | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

In a sole amendment to the draft media law that the main reporters' guild, the Journalist’s Association of Macedonia, ZNM, submitted to parliament, the union called for enforcement of the law to be delayed so that concern about its possible misuse can be eliminated.

“The government claims this law is in line with European standards. If so, we will not mind if the law takes effect - once we become an EU country,” Naser Selmani, head of the ZNM, said.

Despite calls by all major media organizations for the law to be withdrawn, the new law entered a second reading in parliament on Tuesday after which legislators are due to vote.

The new media law has been a matter of debate since the start of the year.

What most worries journalists is the envisaged formation of a new regulatory body, which will have the right to revoke broadcasting licenses and invoke penalties based on vaguely defined “citizens' interests”.

The new body will be comprised of seven members, most of whom will be appointed by state institutions.

Last month, the OSCE media freedom representative, Dunja Mijatovic, wrote to the information society minister, Ivo Ivanovski, whose ministry drafted the legislation. In the letter, she asked for a new draft altogether.

“Given the current state of media freedom in the country, I am concerned that this legislation could be used to silence critical views and limit free speech,” she wrote, adding that “while many of the regulations are acceptable, I am concerned that their formulation could lead to misuse”.

Ivanovski, however, maintains that the law is positive and will improve freedom of speech. He dismissed concerns raised by the OSCE and media rights groups as minor.

“There are only a small number of remarks, but no matter their quantity, we will work on improving the quality of the provisions,” he promised in response to Mijatovic’s letter.

Following the widespread closure of media outlets that are critical of the government over the past few years, many media watchdogs have downgraded Macedonia’s rating on the issue of freedom of speech.

The World Media Freedom Index 2013, published in January by Reporters Without Borders, ranked Macedonia in 116th place out of 179 countries.

This represented a sharp drop of 22 places from the previous year and a drop of 82 places compared to 2009. Four years ago, the country was ranked in 34th place in the same media freedom index.

The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has denied masterminding a deliberate crackdown on critical media outlets.

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