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News 11 Apr 13

Two More Critical Media Close in Macedonia

Following the tragic death of their founder and owner, Nikola Mladenov, the weekly Fokus and the daily newspaper with the same name are to close.

 
Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
 

Employees of the two publications received immediate discharge notices on Wednesday and were told that the newspapers, which were in financial difficulties, will cease to appear.

Fokus was under pressure from several ongoing, connected libel cases whose plaintiffs together demanded up to €100,000 from the weekly and the daily.

Following the death of the owner and publisher, Mladenov, in a car crash in late March, one businessman and diplomat, Srgjan Kerim, withdrew his demand for €25,000 from the newspapers.

Fokus, founded in 1995, was the oldest political weekly in the country while the daily was launched last year.

The closure of the newspapers comes at a time when concern is being expressed for the future of media freedom in Macedonia.

After the closure in February of the weekly Gragjanski, also for financial reasons, Fokus was one of the last remaining print media outlets that were critical of the government of Nikola Gruevski.

The World Media Freedom Index 2013, published in January by the organisation Reporters Without Borders, ranked Macedonia in 116th place out of 179 countries in the survey, marking a hefty drop of 22 places from the previous year.

Four years ago, the country was ranked in 34th place in the same media freedom report.

While many accuse the government of targeting the pro-opposition media for their standpoints, the government denies claims of interference.

Meanwhile, the sparse police report into the car crash and its circumstances has fuelled suspicions in some quarters of foul play.

Police found Mladenov’s body on March 27 in an overturned car that had landed in a ditch near the highway at the entrance to Skopje.

The investigative judge in the case, Vladimir Tufegdzic, this week confirmed that Mladenov’s death was an accident and that his car was driving 160 kilometres an hour at the time.

But it still remains a mystery where Mladenov spent his last evening and who he last saw or talked to.

Mladenov, 49, will be remembered as a prominent journalist who built a reputation as a principled critic of the political class that has led Macedonia since independence.

 

 

 

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