- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
Independent media voices in Macedonia are being silenced, warns the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation, SEEMO.
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski | Photo by: Macedonian Government
In a statement released on Tuesday, SEEMO charges the centre-right government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski with deliberately targeting critically oriented media.
Since the beginning of the year, the statement says, critical voices “have been silenced through media closures, selective tax-related investigations against media owners, the selective allocation of government-sponsored advertising, pressure by companies, labour disputes, self-censorship, fear of job loss and other forms of pressure.”
As a result, “Gruevski can count on friendly coverage by the majority of the country’s national print and broadcast media,” the statement says. “Independence and pluralism are seriously endangered.”
The SEEMO statement is the latest in a series of international reactions to the closures of the dailies Vreme, Shpic and Koha e Re, which shut down on July 3 as a result of being unable to pay alleged overdue taxes. The papers closed after the state froze their bank accounts.
"SEEMO calls on Prime Minister Gruevski and all state institutions to guarantee press freedom and abstain from indirect pressure on critical media outlets," said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic. "Democracy cannot be constructed with an obedient media and uninformed public."
The media watchdog is concerned that the country’s most prominent private broadcast outlet, A1 TV, may also be forced to close soon.
Ordered to pay some 9 million euros in alleged taxes, A1 has already cut its staff and news outlets. The station owner, Velija Ramkovski, was detained in December 2010 and accused of tax evasion and financial irregularities.
Reaction within the Macedonian media community has been divided.
On July 4, the Journalists Union and Journalists Association staged a joint protest to call attention to what it characterised as repeated breaches of journalists’ rights.
However, several media outlets supportive of government policies have signed an open letter calling on Macedonian authorities not to bow to pressure exerted by the European Commission, OSCE and Amnesty International, among others.
These institutions have urged the government to allow the indebted media organizations to pay their bills in installments, so they can stay in business.
The government earlier ruled out installment payment plans.
SEEMO notes that the government also applies pressure through a selective advertising policy.
“In small and fragile economies, public institutions tend to be major advertisers and therefore important contributors to companies’ revenues,” the statement says. “Where governments place their ads is of major importance for media outlets, and government-friendly media are often favoured over others.”
Closure of critically oriented outlets leaves Nikola Gruevski's government without its biggest media critics.
The Serbian paramilitary who became a key prosecution witness at his former comrades’ trial for war crimes in Kosovo says he had to speak out about the brutal massacres his unit committed.