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News 15 Apr 13

Macedonia Media Law Stirs Censorship Fears

A draft law proposing the formation of a new media regulatory body is drawing stiff opposition from journalists' unions.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Journalists and media workers have criticized a proposed Law on Media that the government revealed last week, saying it could be used as a tool for censorship.

Mirce Adamcevski, the former head of the Broadcasting Council, SRD, says the draft put forward by the Ministry for Information Society needs revision.

The newly envisaged Agency for Media "will not be an independent regulatory body but a monster that will devour and grind all the media,” Adamcevski predicted.

Under the draft, the new body will have jurisdiction to revoke broadcasting licenses and invoke punishments based on “citizens' interests”, which critics say can be widely interpreted.

Six of its seven members will be appointed by parliament and the association of municipalities while only one will come from the association of journalists.

“Everything will be in the hands of one man, [the agency head] and the agency will be a political cover in which journalists will have no voice,” Adamcevski said.

Macedonia’s Journalists Association, ZNM, the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers, SSNM, the Macedonian Institute for Media, MIM and the Centre for Media Development, CRM, and others, have all expressed concern.

“No one consulted us about the law, formally or informally,” the ZNM head, Naser Selmani, said. “I have told the minister [for Information Society, Ivo Ivanovski] that we will do everything to prevent the passage of the law in a nontransparent manner.”

Ivanovski insists the authorities remain open for discussion and that the law will allow for a more transparent media and for independent journalism.

“Many ZNM members have been present at meetings and we have discussed issues, receiving great suggestions that have been incorporated,” Ivanovski said last week.

Another concern is the envisaged restriction of media freedom in the name of “the preservation of health and morality”, without a definition of what that includes. Critics say this provision could be misused to exert censorship.

The draft comes at a time when concern is being expressed for the future of media freedom in Macedonia.

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

Four years ago, the country was ranked in 34th place in the same media freedom report.

The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s has rebutted claims that it is responsible for the closure of critically inclined media outlets in the past few years.

Following the events of December 24, when journalists along with opposition legislators were thrown out of parliament, the ZNM has halted talks with the government on improving journalists' condition, which the EU had demanded.

The union wants responsibility for the incidents in parliament to be determined, which the authorities have not done.

During a visit last week, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, Stefan Fuele, said resumption of the dialogue between the government and the media was “of key importance”.

Journalists should be included in the reform of the media in an “inclusive, transparent and open way”, he added.

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