Republic of Macedonia/FYROM - 2014 Media Report

The year 2014 was distinguished by restrictive new media regulation, government control of the small media market through advertising, non-transparent advertising budgets, self-censorship, non-transparent media ownership, detained journalists, spying accusations against journalists by state officials and a strong influence on media and editorial policy by political and business persons.

The government comes between the largest advertisers in the country in 2012 and in 2013 on the first place.

The most important press freedom violation in the Republic of Macedonia/FYROM during 2014 was the Kezarovski case. In 2014, the courts upheld the conviction of journalist Tomislav Kezarovski for allegedly revealing the identity of a protected witness. Kezarovski works for the Skopje-based daily Nova Makedonija. He was arrested in May 2013 and detained for 30 days for allegedly revealing a protected witness’ identity in an article that appeared in Reporter 92 magazine in 2008. His detention was extended several times before October 2013, when the Skopje First Basic Court sentenced him to four-and-a-half years in prison. Kezarovski appealed the decision, and after 172 days in detention, he was transferred to house arrest as a result of domestic and international pressure. The witness that Kezarovski allegedly identified in the 2008 articles testified that he was only granted the status of “protected” witness in 2010, two years after the articles in question were published. The witness had given testimony in a murder trial, but the defendants were later acquitted after the witness said that he gave false testimony after being threatened by police.

On 29 September 2014, someone threw stones at the apartment of Oliver Zhezhov in the Stip region. The journalist, who works for the regional TV Star, suspects that the reason for this attack was his reporting on the eastern part of the Republic of Macedonia. The journalist stated that he would prefer not to assume any reasons for the attack, but suspects that it is related to his reports.

In July 2014 Besim Ibrahimi, a journalist of the daily paper Lajm was arrested on 5 July 2014, while covering a public event in Skopje, on suspicion that he was taking part in the violent protests. He was accused of interfering with police officers while they were performing their duty, which he categorically denies. Ibrahimi claims that he was arrested and beaten with a baton by a police officer, who also offended him on the basis of his nationality. He was released from detention 24 hours later, after strong objections from local and international media and human rights organisations.

In May SEEMO published following statement: The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) condemns the behaviour of the police officers in Republic of Macedonia/FYROM. Journalists working for Nova, Free Europe and Fokus magazine, Saska Cvetkovska, Marija Mitevska and Meri Jordanovska were reporting from a protest in the Gorce Petrov municipality of Skopje, when the local police pressured the journalists to delete their photo and video footage taken during the protest. "It is alarming that we have still police officers who believe that they can prevent journalists from doing the job", Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General said. "Protests and demonstrations are always events of public interest and the public has a right to know what is happening," Vujovic added.

An event of additional concern in 2014 was the arrest of journalist Zoran Bozinovski in Serbia. Bozinovski, was wanted by Skopje police, was arrested in Novi Sad, Serbia and was waiting in 2014 for extradition. On 17 September 2013, the court in Skopje ordered detention for Bozinovski in absentia. He is among a group of people that Macedonian authorities accuse of being part of a spy ring that worked for an unnamed foreign government.

The Progress Report for Macedonia by the European Commission for 2013 said, “There are continued concerns about government advertising spending, which is claimed by many to be directed only towards pro-government media, giving them a significant financial advantage”.

About the legal regulations, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) reported:
"In April 2013, the government announced a draft media law, which had the potential to further negatively affect media independence and freedom of expression. In response AJM organized numerous public debates in Skopje and other cities engaging more than 300 journalists and as a result of this few assessments were given to the authorities. In addition, OSCE HR for Media and Freedom of expression, based in Vienna Office, the Council of Europe and several other international media organization published their assessments of the draft along with recommendations that were in line with the ones of AJM. In June 2013, the first draft had been redrafted into two separate laws one referring on the audio-visual media services and the other as a general media law. The highest concern were: the initiative to introduce a single regulator for all types of media and the assignment of a very powerful role for this regulator; issues concerning political independence; sustainable financing and high and disproportionate fines for the media, as well as the messy attempt to adopt definition of a journalist. The draft laws as such in September in 2013 were submitted by the Ministry of Information Society and Administration to the Parliament but for more than three months there was no political consensus in the Parliament so the laws were put on hold. In December 2013 AJM and the Ministry had a partial agreement on the main concerns regarding the laws. Immediately after this, the laws were passed by the Parliament on 25th of December 2013, the versions as of August 2013 but the Minister had a public pledge that agreed issues with AJM will be incorporated as soon as possible. Consequently, on 22nd January 2014 the Parliament voted new laws for modifying and changing of the ones voted one month earlier including the agreed issues with AJM. According to this, the internet media are completely exempt from the media laws, AJM has a representative in the Agency for Media, any restrictions on media content should be consistent with the practice of the European Court of Human Rights and obligations are reduced to the print media. In addition, in the law has been incorporated a provision emphasizes that the purpose of the law is to promote freedom of expression and media freedom.
However the concerning issues still remain and these are referring to:
1. Lack of independence of the Public Broadcasting Service (MRT) and the media regulator (Agency of Media),
2. No need of regulation of print media,
3. Necessity of regulation of the governing governmental campaigns,
4.Excluding the provided financial support to national broadcasters in the new laws
5. Deleting the definition of a journalist and
6. Changing the part that referrers to high penalty provisions;
In the begging of July 2014 the Law on Audio and Audio-visual Media Service the Ministry for Information Society and Administration proposed amendments to the Parliament that were drafted with any prior consultation from the local civil society organizations nor any other relevant stakeholders. The Law was passed immediately by the Parliament and with the changes the Association of Journalists of Macedonia will have 1 seat instead of 2 seats within the Programme Council of MRT and in addition 39.000 socially disadvantage households are exempt of paying the Broadcasting fee, a measure that is worsening the financial independence of the public broadcaster.”