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Macedonian journalists held a protest on Monday against judges that they believe selectively chose to issue steep fines for libel and slander against them.
Journalists gathered before the court in Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
The rally staged in front of Skopje's Primary Court by the Macedonian Journalist’s Association, ZNM, gathered approximately one hundred journalists who said that the steep penalties and cases of selective justice resulted in increased self-censorship.
“We call on [the judges] not to issue high fines for slander and defamation against journalists as a way of wooing the politicians in exchange for higher offices, but to abide by the law,” Naser Selmani, the head of ZNM, told the rally.
Selmani said that in the future, journalists will publically confront biased judges with their misdeeds.
“It is time to individualize the responsibility. The trust in the entire judicial system should not be gambled away because of the bad practices of a small group of judges,” said Selmani.
Presently, more than 160 lawsuits are pending against journalists in the Macedonian courts, most brought by politicians, wealthy businessmen and other public figures.
Following talks between the ZNM and the government of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in late February, the government said it planned to remove defamation from the penal code and suspend all ongoing lawsuits against journalists for this offence.
The government and the parliament, however, have not taken action and the ZNM expresses discontent for this delay.
The speculations by some media in April is that the government is planning to drastically increase libel fines as part of the new telecommunications law, which is a reason for additional concern.
The government's only comment was that the text of the law was being drafted.
Gruevski's government has come under increasing fire from international media watchdogs due to the perceived hindrance of media freedom, after several pro-opposition media outlets were closed for tax reasons last year.
Critics claimed the authorities targeted the media for their pro-opposition standpoints.
“If the authorities want to show they are ready to cooperate, they should decriminalize defamation as soon as possible,” said Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative for freedom of the media, last October during her visit to the country.
A similar message came from the International Partnership Group of freedom of expression organizations, which also inspected the media freedom issues in Macedonia.
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