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News 12 Feb 14

OSCE Gives Cautious Nod to Macedonian Media Reforms

The new media legislation in Macedonia is fine on paper - everything depends on the way it is implemented, the OSCE media freedom representative, Dunja Mijatovic, said.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

OSCE's Dunja Mijatovic and Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski | Photo by: gov.mk

Describing the new media legislation as good on paper, Mijatovic said the key issue now was how it was put into practice.

Implementation should “promote independence and ensure a plurality of opinions in media”, she said on Wednesday, adding that this posed a test for the authorities.

During her three-day visit, Mijatovic met members of Macedonia’s journalists' associations, while on Tuesday she met Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the Information Society Minister, Ivo Ivanovski.

The recently adopted the Law on Media and the Law on Audiovisual Media Services form part of controversial government-backed legislation that some journalists fear will curb freedom of speech.

  Another drop in media freedom
  In its latest World Media Freedom Index 2014, whose publication by Reporters Without Borders coincided with Mijatovic’s visit, Macedonia was ranked in 123th place out of 179 countries.

This represents a drop of seven more places from the previous year and a major drop of 89 places compared to 2009. Five years ago, it was ranked in 34th place in the same index.

“The democratic window-dressing of the past few years is not enough to hide the many freedom of information violations”, the Reporters Without Borders wrote in their fresh report.

The law was adopted amid protests by journalists inside the parliament building, who said it would extend government control over the sector, hit by widespread closures of media outlets critical of the government in recent years.

The closures are one reason why many media watchdogs have downgraded Macedonia’s rating on the issue of freedom of speech, which Reporters Without Borders has called the worst in the region.

The new legislation has been criticized for allowing the imposition of large fines against media outlets and journalists, for allowing the government to selectively allocate government advertising money to the media of its choice, and for not guaranteeing the independence and transparency of the new media regulatory body.

However, parliament later adopted some changes to the laws, submitted by the country's largest media union, the Journalists' Association of Macedonia, ZNM. The ZNM welcomed the concessions but said it was still against the new laws. 

Mijatovic said her talks with the Prime Minister proceeded in a “positive atmosphere” and praised the government for heeding the OSCE’s observations during the drafting of the laws.

Gruevski issued a press release saying that in the talks he had “pointed out the readiness and will of the government to continue contributing towards improvement of standards in the media sphere”.

Answering a question about whether she was being too mild towards a government that has been accused of sharply curbing media freedom, Mijatovic said journalistic unity was the best way to improve the situation.

“I am fully aware of the situation” she said, adding: “but I cannot fight your battles”.

Calling for greater solidarity among journalist over issues of common interest, Mijatovic said that her impression was that journalists in the country are deeply divided.

If the situation is ever going to improve, an "inclusive and independent" self-regulatory system must be established in the media sphere, she added.

During her talks with Gruevski, Mijatovic urged the government to be more transparent about the money it spends on advertisements in the media. “We have to deal with that now,” Mijatovic said.

During her stay, Mijatovic also met with journalist Tomislav Kezarovski, whose incarceration last year raised fresh questions about media freedom in Macedonia. He is currently under house arrest.

“I am pleased that Kezarovski is now at home and that the authorities facilitated my visit to him. I will continue to closely follow his case,” Mijatovic said.

Kezarovski was jailed last October for four-and-a-half years, for revealing the identity of a protected witness in a murder trial in an article he wrote in 2008.

In November, Kezarovski was granted house arrest where he now awaits a higher court ruling concerning his jail sentence.

Last August and September, Mijatovic and Gruevski exchanged open letters about the case.

While Mijatovic insisted that Gruevski could not evade overall responsibility for the case, Gruevski replied that the case had nothing to do with the government and that she should have confidence in the Macedonian courts.


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