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News 31 Mar 14

Macedonia Urged to Regulate Political Advertising

Experts in Macedonia called for an outright ban on broadcast media donating advertising time to political parties in a bid to tackle partisan coverage.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian PM and VMRO DPMNE leader, Nikola Gruevski | Photo by: VMRO DPMNE

As the country gears up for nationwide polls, media experts said that more needs to be done to limit the coverage gifted to parties by broadcasters.

Dejan Georgievski, the head of the Media Development Centre NGO, says that a recent change to the electoral code that limits the sum media can give as donation through discounts to 50,000 euro is a “step forward compared to the previous elections in which media appeared as to be the biggest donors to political parties”.

But he said that “despite this restriction, media outlets appearing as election campaign donors seriously questions their independence, impartiality and professionalism”.

“Our stance is that media should not be allowed to appear as donors and that this should be explicitly stated in the electoral code,” he added.

At last year’s local elections and at the early general elections in 2011, the TV stations with national broadcasting licenses were listed as the biggest donors to political parties, particularly to the main ruling VMRO DPMNE.

They were listed as donors of services and advertisement time worth several million euro.

“Discounts varied from zero to 90 and even 100 per cent. There should be no such things. It is not the same if a media gives campaign advertisement space to one party for free and ups the charges for another one,” explained Mirjana Dimovska, a member of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission.

According to the law, media and political parties are obliged to submit reports to the electoral authority and to the Anti-Corruption Commission after the election campaign detailing how much they have spent on advertisements.

According to the available data from the Anti-Corruption Commission, the TV stations have still not collected over 70 per cent of the money they supposedly earned for party commercials during the 2013 local elections.

This raises suspicion that this money was in fact never intended to be paid and should instead be accounted for as media donations to political campaigns.

The OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission in its election observation report on the 2013 local elections said that “partisan media coverage and a blurring of state and party activities did not provide a level playing field for candidates“.

But the head of the newly formed Agency for Audio and Audio Visual Media Services, Zoran Trajcevski argued the situation was not all that bad.

Media were previously allowed to give parties maximum discounts equal to the amount of five per cent of their total income for that year and Trajcevski said that the new financial limit on how much they can contribute “is way better than the previous one that was calculated in percentages”.

He argued that an additional mechanism of control is that media are obliged to submit their advertisement price lists to several institutions as well as to State Electoral Commission prior to the elections.

He said that this seriously limits the amount media contribute to political parties as price lists submitted for the upcoming elections have largely remained the same as last year’s.

On April 13, Macedonians will choose between four presidential candidates. A second round, pitting the two best-ranked candidates against each other, takes place on April 27, alongside snap general elections.

In the presidential race, three hopefuls are competing against the incumbent Gjorge Ivanov, who is seeking another five-year term in office. Ivanov’s main opponent is Stevo Pendarovski, representing the opposition Social Democrats.

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