The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors and media executives, and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), are extremely alarmed at the Draft Law on Informing the Public which has reportedly been approved by the Macedonian Government with a view to replacing a number of repressive and outdated laws still in force from the period when Macedonia was still part of Yugoslavia.
In particular, IPI and SEEMO are concerned that the Draft Law on Informing the Public contains restrictions on freedom of expression, which are in breach of international standards in this area. Furthermore, if adopted by Parliament, the law would constitute an unacceptable government interference in media regulation and undermine the fundamental independence of the media.
According to the information received by IPI, a previous draft of this law (12 May 2000) has been analysed by European media law experts, who recommended changes in order to bring the law in line with European standards. However, the 12 January 2001 Draft Law on Informing the Public appears to be even more repressive than the previous one.
The concerns expressed in this statement highlight just a few of the fundamental flaws in the Macedonian Draft Law on Informing the Public.
A fundamental concern of IPI is about Article 3 of the draft law which provides for restrictions to freedom of expression. The European Convention on Human Rights does permit some restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and information in order to protect the private and public interests as listed in paragraph 2 of Article 10. However, Article 10 (2) makes it clear that any restriction must be “necessary in a democratic society”; Furthermore, the case law related to Article 10 (2) limits the scope of these restrictions and clearly shows that there should be a general presumption in favour of freedom of expression; restrictions can only be permitted if they do not undermine the public debate and free flow of information which is necessary for a democracy to function and for a government to be held accountable to the people it represents and serves.
Articles 17 and 18 of the draft law require that journalists hold identification cards issued by a government-appointed Council. Licensing of journalists by government authorities is contrary to international law and gives the authorities the opportunity to decide who is allowed to practice as a journalist. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and any restrictions on this right, including via government-regulated identification cards, are unacceptable. IPI recognises that journalists’ ID may serve legitimate purposes but strongly recommends that the issuing of ID is left to independent professional journalists associations in a self-regulatory manner.
Articles 21 to 23 of the draft requires that all media to register with the Agency of Information and receive confirmation from this Agency. Compulsory registration or media outlets is not only un-necessary but can effectively hinder press freedom and provides government with an opportunity to interfere by preventing media outlets from publishing.
Most worrying is Article 40 of the draft law that states that the misuse of press freedom should be punished in accordance with the criminal law of Macedonia. Journalists should not be punished for carrying out their work and the threat of harsh criminal sanctions exerts a profound chilling effect on freedom of expression. Such sanctions clearly cannot be justified, particularly in light of the adequacy of non-criminal sanctions in redressing any harm to individuals’ reputations. Furthermore, the criminal liability established in Article 40 runs counter to the European trend that any breaches of restrictions on freedom of expression should be regulated by civil law.
IPI and SEEMO, therefore, urge the Macedonian government to amend the draft of the Law on Informing the Public after consultation with independent Macedonian and European legal experts and media professionals.
We thank you for your attention.
SEEMO Secretary General