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News 31 Jan 13

Macedonian Media Alarmed by Falling Freedom Rating

Politicians are abusing media outlets, says the journalists’ association, after a new report on media freedom ranks Macedonia worst in the Balkans.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Naser Selmani, head of the Journalists' Association, ZNM, said politicians in Macedonia routinely treat the media only as a tool to manipulate the masses.

“It is high time for the government, the parties and the public to face the fact that the media freedom in Macedonia is seriously jeopardized,” Selmani said on Wednesday, following the issue of a report.

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

Only four years ago, the country was ranked much higher up in 34th place in the same media freedom report.

Selmani said the country's sharp drop in the index was worrying.

The report mentioned arbitrary revocations of broadcasting licenses as well as worsening work conditions for journalists.

The European Commission, media watchdogs and local civil rights groups have all voiced concern over the state of media freedom in the country, after several critical media outlets closed in the summer of 2011.

The most prominent TV station, the pro-opposition A1, as well as several newspapers, all closed that summer, following the arrest of their controversial owner, Velija Ramkovski, who was later jailed for financial crimes.

The downfall of A1 was widely attributed to political pressure from the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. A1 claimed it was being targeted for its pro-opposition views. Gruevski and the ruling VMRO DPMNE party denied the claims.

Following the closure of Ramkovski's media outlets, another large media group owned by Germany’s WAZ group quit the country, leaving prominent newspapers in the hands of Macedonian and Serbian businessmen with questionable backgrounds.

The most recent example of a change of ownership was the takeover of Alfa TV, which Balkan Insight revealed last October.

This critically-inclined outlet was bought by Serbia's CHS, a firm wholly owned by Comtrade Holding, an offshore company based in the Dutch Antilles.

Last month the ZNM abandoned talks with the government on improving journalists’ positions, talks that Brussels has been insisting on.

The response came after government parties on December 24 passed a budget for 2013 in minutes, after journalists and opposition MPs were kicked out of the parliament.

Selmani at the time said the government of Gruevski had reached “the bottom of its irresponsible behaviour”.

Gruevski and other officials later apologized to journalists for the eviction, but insisted they were removed for security reasons.

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