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There are “worrying trends” concerning the media in Macedonia, Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative for freedom of the media, said on a visit to the country.
Dunja Mijatovic | Photo by: Balkan Insight
Mijatovic on Friday finished a three-day inspection of the country aimed at meeting government officials and local journalists.
Her visit comes after a number of media watchdogs, including the European Commission, have raised concerns about what they see as a disturbing situation in relation to press freedom.
“It is urgent that politicians, citizens, media owners but also journalists in this country finally understand that they have to serve the public and not politicians,” Mijatovic told a press conference in Skopje on Thursday.
Mijatovic said there were problems among the journalists as well. “Journalists should stop dividing themselves according to their political interests”, as this is “destructive for the society as a whole”, Mijatovic said.
On her visit, Mijatovic met Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki and the Vice Prime Minister for European Affairs, Teuta Arifi.
Her visit also included meetings with the head of the Broadcasting Council, Zoran Stefanovski, the head of the Journalist’s Association, ZNM, Naser Selmani, and the head of the Journalists’ Trade Union, Tamara Causidis.
The country lacks a “stable and professional legal framework that is actually implemented and that fosters media freedom”, Mijatovic said, adding that there was a need to preserve the inependence of regulatory bodies such as the Broadcasting Council.
“If the authorities want to show they are ready to cooperate they should decriminalize defamation as soon as possible,” Mijatovic added.
At the moment about 105 libel cases are pending against journalists in Macedonia, she noted, arguing that “this is unacceptable for any country”.
Journalists Rock Against Censorship
The Reporters, a local rock band made of Macedonian journalists from several different media outlets, on Tuesday made their studio debut with their first single symbolically called “Freedom”.
The song represents their way of showing defiance against what they see is a growing trend towards silencing media outlets and limiting freedom of speech.
“In these times when everything is silent, I say to you, Freedom”, goes the refrain of the song. “So much noise and yet so much silence. The voice is raised, a new false truth,” it continues.
Zarko Dimitrioski plays the guitar, Mile Bosnjakovski plays the bass guitar, Borjan Jovanovski is on drums while Petrit Saracini and Stojan Trpcevski lend vocals. The text for the song was written by Saska Cvetkovska.
Praising Vice Prime Minister Arifi's recent initiative to stage direct talks with the Journalists’ Association on improving their conditions, Mijatovic said that this was a good start.
The first meeting between government and the ZNM took place earlier this month and both sides expressed hopes that talks will continue.
However there were bumps on the road when the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, last week in an interview launched a highly personal attack on one journalist, accusing him of working with the EU to denigrate the country.
The ZNM responded by reminding the government that it was not its job to comment on the work of individual journalists in this way, to which the government replied that they felt entitled to comment on reporters’ work, just as journalists commented on ministers’ work all the time.
According to the recently published European Commission report on Macedonia, "the media continue to be subject to interference from political and business interests," and, "Intimidation of journalists and selective enforcement of legislation against media companies are increasing causes for concern."
The Commission's remarks followed similar concerns raised in July by a number of media watchdogs such as Amnesty International, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization, SEEMO and the France-based group Reporters Without Borders.
The closure in summer of A1 TV, the country’s most prominent critically inclined media outlet, was widely blamed on government pressure.
So was the closure of the three dailies owned by A1's owner, Velja Ramkovski - Vreme, Spic and Koha e Re. Ramkovski is now on trial on for tax avoidance.
After further analyzing the country, Mijatovis is expected to visit once more next month. “I will not hesitate to criticize harshly if I see no changes to these negative trends”, she said.
For the third year in a row the Commission is urging a start to membership talks with Macedonia at the end of a generally positive progress report on the country.
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