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News 04 Feb 13

Macedonian Journalists Hit Back Against 'Forced Apologies'

Macedonian journalists have issued a satirical ‘collective apology’ to the country’s leaders after growing numbers of reporters were forced to retract their articles or face big fines.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

A group of journalists from several Macedonian media outlets sent an ironic letter to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and parliament speaker Trajko Veljanovski apologising for “every future mistake, whether it is made intentionally or not”.

“Each time the parliament speaker feels offended, he can open the apologies [letter] and satisfy his need,” said Tamara Causidis, the head of the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers in Macedonia, the organisation behind the incentive.

In the letter, the journalists also apologised for not doing their work in accordance with politicians’ needs, for asking the prime minister tough questions that he was not ready to answer, and for writing articles that may have portrayed Macedonia in a bad light.

The union said that the number of forced apologies to political leaders rose after the government introduced controversial libel reforms last year that scrapped the criminal offence of libel but introduced steep fines for journalists in civil courts instead.

The legislation pegged the fines at 2,000 euro for each offending writer, 10,000 euro for his or her editor and 15,000 euro for their media company’s owner.

The move caused outrage amongst journalists in Macedonia, a country where the average monthly wage is around 300 euro.

Reporters were forced to issue a public apology or disclaimer after being sued because under the changed legislation, the judge would then have to stop the case and reconsider whether to impose a fine.

Several hundred law suits were dropped after the changes came in, but the union said that over the months that followed, about 60 new civil suits have been launched.

The World Media Freedom Index 2013, published last month by Reporters Without Borders, ranked Macedonia in 116th place out of 179 countries covered in the survey, marking a hefty drop of 22 places from the previous year.

Just four years ago, the country was ranked 34th in the same media freedom report.

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