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News 25 Nov 14

Macedonian Journalists 'Kept on Short Leash'

Two out of three journalists in Macedonia work on fixed-term contracts, a condition that makes them vulnerable to pressure and censorship, a new study says.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Meri Jordanovska

Many Macedonian journalists are kept on a short leash with fixed-term contracts that are often prolonged for years without the potential of permanent employment, said the new study carried out by Macedonia’s Independent Journalists' Trade Union, SSNM.

“The employer is allowed to freely sack reporters without any repercussions, and that is what’s happening in practice,” said Tamara Causidis, the head of SSNM, at a round table on Monday about the lack of job security and welfare benefits, which plagues Macedonian reporters.

She said that the study entitled “Precarity in the Media Industry” showed that 80 per cent of Macedonian journalists and media workers fear for their jobs.

“Journalists can easily get a job [in Macedonia], but only if they are prepared to work for low wages, [to practice] self-censorship, and to obey their bosses,” Causidis said.

The study showed that 90 per cent of journalists are unhappy with their salaries, which on a monthly basis average around 300 euro, but are often lower than that.

According to participants at the round table, the main precondition for career advancement in Macedonia is the ‘political eligibility’ of journalists as well as their relations with media managements.

Although Macedonia is not the only example where the government has hijacked media for its own interests, the participants agreed that one characteristic of the country is the vast production of low-quality media products which often do not stretch any further than praising various government policies.

Political science professor and union activist Zdravko Saveski criticised the government’s latest reform which envisages obligatory payment of taxes for all those who work on fixed-term contracts as of the beginning of next year, just like if they were fully employed.

The reform stipulates that workers on fixed-term contracts will have to pay 35 per cent of their earnings for health and social welfare.
 
“It would be perfect if the employers do regulate the status of their employees as a result but this is unlikely to happen because they will try to shift the weight of the additional taxes onto the backs of the workers,” Saveski said.

He urged wage rises before forcing everyone to pay equal taxes and and a limit on the fixed-term contracts to no more than one year at the same employer.

Mexmet Koksal from the European Federation of Journalists said meanwhile that the incarceration and prosecution of Macedonian investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski appeeared to be an example of the punishing of journalists and of curbing free speech.

“We expect that the court authorities and the Macedonian government will hear the calls of journalists across Europe that the prosecution must stop and there must be a different ruling for our Macedonian colleague,” Koksal told the panel.

Investigative journalist Kezarovski was jailed for four-and-a-half years in October 2013 for revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial, in a case which has raised fears about media freedom in Macedonia.

Kezarovski spent six months in detention in Skopje, after which he was released to house arrest, where he has been for a year, awaiting an appeals court verdict.

Kezarovski’s prison sentence and long period of pre-trial detention have attracted much criticism, prompting claims that the government of Nikola Gruevski is trying to stifle press freedom. It has denied all involvement in the case.

The journalists' round table comes against a background of the widespread closure of media outlets in Macedonia that are critical of the government over the past few years.

The closures have fuelled concern about the state of press freedom in the country. Since 2011, the European Commission has noted in its annual progress reports that freedom of speech is one of the key areas that Macedonia needs to work on.

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