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The Macedonian government said on Wednesday it had reached an agreement with the country’s Journalists Association, ZNM to remove defamation from the penal code.
The government and the ZNM have also agreed on the fines that in the future will be issued in civil procedures.
If found guilty of defamation, courts can fine journalists up to 2,000 euros, editors up to 10,000 euros while the media that published the offending article could be fined up to 15,000 Euros.
Naser Selmani, president of the ZNM, says that this agreement is a compromise and underlines that the fines will be the last resort for the courts.
"The fines would come at the end of the process. First journalists will have a chance to prove that what they wrote is true, if not, they will be given the chance to apologise or to publish corrections. Issuing fines will be the final solution," Selmani said.
The agreement comes after prolonged talks between the ZNM and the government, which started in September 2011 in order to improve freedom of the media in the country amid warnings from media watchdogs about erosion of freedom of speech.
According to Teuta Arifi, vice prime-minister responsible for EU affairs, this agreement means that all open questions concerning media freedom can be discussed.
"I believe that the European Union will also positively assess this agreement," Arifi said.
Currently, more than 300 lawsuits are pending against journalists in the Macedonian courts, most brought by politicians, wealthy businessmen and other public figures.
On Monday, the ZNM protested before a court in Skopje to again draw attention to this issue that it said hampers freedom of speech and leads towards self-censorship.
The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in late February already said it planned to remove defamation from the penal code and suspend all ongoing lawsuits against journalists for this offence.
Macedonia obliged to decriminalize libel as part of the high-level talks with Brussels that started in March. The dialogue was intended to boost the reform process and complement future accession negotiations.
The EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele greeted the announcement.
“Good news from FYROM. The agreement on law on defamation is proof of effectiveness of the High Level Accession Dialogue & of our overall approach to the freedom of media,” Fuele wrote on his twitter profile.
The draft of the law that tackles defamation will be first sent for review to the Council of Europe followed by public debate in Macedonia before the government sends it to the parliament. The procedure is expected to finish in September.
Macedonia's Broadcasting Council on Wednesday removed the broadcasting license of A2 TV, the sister channel of A1, which was forced to close last year.
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