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New law putting Foreign Minister in direct charge of accrediting foreign media arouses concern.
Journalists and opposition parties have criticised a proposed law that aims to tighten up the process of accrediting foreign media.
The draft law on Foreign Press Materials, Foreign Movies and Foreign Information Activity went before parliament last month with the support by the ruling VMRO DPMNE party.
According to the draft, foreign media will only be able to work in Macedonia on the basis of written permits granted by the Foreign Minister.
“This creates space for abuse, as the media may be left hanging if the minister decides for some reason not to sign the accreditation,” one accredited foreign reporter in Macedonia complained anonymously.
Foreign correspondents caught interviewing or filming in Macedonia without permits or with permits that have expired face fines ranging from 500 to 1,000 euros.
Some opposition parties say the country's ruling parties are trying to exert more control on what foreign media say about the country.
“This will mean total control over the information that foreign correspondents report from Macedonia,” Emilijan Stankovic, the spokesperson of the main opposition Social Democrats, claimed.
Under the current law, issuing permits to reporters is a mere formality carried out by government officials. At the moment some 50 foreign journalist are accredited in Macedonia.
The ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski insists that getting permits will remain easy.
“All these past years there has never been a case of journalists being denied [permits] so we shouldn't worry about this provision,” VMRO DPMNE spokesperson Ilija Dimovski said.
The Justice Ministry spokesperson, Sashkim Bakiu, told Balkan Insight that the law “has been prepared taking in to account the experiences of many EU countries”.
But the controversy comes after Macedonia was criticized harshly last year for curbing media freedom.
The 2011 European Commission report on Macedonia noted that "the media continue to be subject to interference from political and business interests".
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 closures last summer of A1, a pro-opposition TV station, and three dailies owned by A1's owner, Velja Ramkovski - Vreme, Spic and Koha e Re - were widely blamed on government pressure.
The government insisted it was not targeting opposition media but tax dodgers. Ramkovski is currently on trial for tax evasion and other alleged financial misdeeds.
Germany’s WAZ Media Group has sold its three Macedonian newspapers to Orka, a local company owned by Orce Kamcev, WAZ said on Monday.
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