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News 18 Jul 13

Macedonian Journalists Reject Draft Media Law

Macedonian journalists organisations have continued to press their concerns over the government's third attempt to pass a controversial media law.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
 Photo by: Darko Duridanski

The Macedonian 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, on Thursday urged the government to withdraw the new law.

Instead of a single Law on the Media, the government has submitted to parliament two drafts, a Media Law and a separate Law on Audio and Audiovisual Services. The two fields were previously contained in a single draft.

The draft has been only “mechanically divided into two separate laws”, noted Tamara Causidis, head of SSNM, who called the changes “cosmetic”.

Naser Selmani, head of the ZNM, also said that the government had failed to incorporate many previously articulated complaints.

“The government should withdraw the draft law on the media because it contains no explanation and there is no need for it," he said.

"The draft on Audio and Audiovisual [Services] should be corrected in line with the remarks of domestic and foreign experts,” Selmani added.

The new media law has been a matter of debate since the start of the year.

What most worries journalists is the envisaged formation of a new regulatory body that will have the jurisdiction to revoke broadcasting licenses and invoke punishments based on vaguely defined “citizens' interests”.

The new body will be comprised of seven members, six of whom will be appointed by state institutions.

“Concern about the ‘Agency for Media and Audiovisual Media Services’ remains, although they have increased the participation of the civil sector in it,” Selmani said, adding that this body will be all-powerful in the media sphere.

In June, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, also sent remarks concerning the draft law, arguing that it was too cumbersome and might only further complicate matters.

On Monday, the Information Society Minister, Ivo Ivanovski, insisted that the two new drafts incorporated all the key complaints that had been made by these two organizations.

Journalists disagree, and are also worried by the new 13-member Council of the Macedonian Radio and Television, MRTV, which will regulate the work of the public broadcasting service.

“Ten out of the 13 members of the Council are being proposed by political and public institutions, reducing the chances of MRTV becoming a true public service,” Selmani said.

The first parliamentary reading of the drafts is expected on July 22. But Minister Ivanovski said that due to the summer holidays, adoption may be postponed for September.

Following the widespread closure of media outlets that are critical of the government over the past few years, many media watchdogs have downgraded Macedonia’s rating on the issue of freedom of speech.

The World Media Freedom Index 2013, published in January by Reporters Without Borders, ranked Macedonia in 116th place out of 179 countries.

This represented a sharp drop of 22 places from the previous year and a drop of 82 places compared to 2009. Four years ago, the country was ranked in 34th place in the same media freedom index.

“A very limited number of independent media voices were active and expressed a variety of views without restriction, particularly through online outlets,” the US State Department observed in its latest country report on human rights for 2012.

While journalists complain of being targeted for their views, the government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has denied masterminding a planned crackdown on critically minded media outlets.

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