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News 01 Oct 12

Macedonian Journalists Shun Libel Reform

Amendments to the criminal code decriminalizing libel may lead to direct censorship of journalists, the Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers, SSNM, says.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The head of the union, Tamara Causidis, says that if the changes to the proposed law pass parliament unchanged, judges will have new powers to stop the publication of journalists' stories.

At issue is article 23 of the proposed law, which will give judges the right to ban publication of a story three days after a journalist is sued.

The judges can prevent publication without the defendant having any automatic right of appeal.

“We will be giving a tool to strongmen who have influence in courts to prevent the publication of content that they do not want published by simple filing of lawsuits against journalists,” Causidis says.

Under an agreement reached in June between the government and the main media guild, the Journalists' Association of Macedonia, ZNM, journalists will no longer face criminal charges for libel and judges can no longer set arbitrary fines if journalists are then found guilty of the offence in court.

The head of ZNM, Naser Selmani defended the changes, insisting that “there is still time to alter the draft provisions” before they go to a vote in parliament.

Unlike ZNM that defends the deal as the best possible solution and as a breakthrough in the arena of media freedom, many journalists already said they feel they have been duped by the government.

If the new law passes as it is the fines for sued reporters would be up to 2000 euros, while editors and media owners could be fined with maximum of 10,000 and 15,000 euros in civil procedures, much to swallow for local reporters in a country with an average monthly wage of some 300 euros.

Vlado Kambovski, a law expert who is head of the team that works on the law changes also says that they will take the Union’s warning in to consideration.

“This law is not all powerful, but its basic goal remains the freedom of speech” Kambovski told a panel discussion last week.

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