The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), believes that the proposed changes to the membership structure of the Broadcasting Council in the Republic of Macedonia / Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will politicize this regulatory body, curtail media freedom, and reduce pluralism within the country.
The Broadcasting Council, a regulatory body that monitors electronic media and issues broadcasting licenses, thereby exerting crucial influence on shaping the country’s media landscape, is currently composed of nine members: two representatives from journalists’ associations, two from Skopje´s Cyril and Methodius University, two from the Academy of Sciences, and three representing Parliament. Until now, the Council has enjoyed independence and credibility, despite political pressure.
However, last week, several deputies from the ruling party (VMRO-DPMNE) suggested changes to the composition of the Council. They proposed that six new members should be added: two representing the President, two local authorities and two from other regulatory bodies. All of these institutions are controlled by the governing party. In practice, the proposed increase in Council members would mean that pro-government members would have the majority and be able to control all electronic media.
The parliament in Skopje is expected to approve these changes within two weeks, following the formation of the new government. Parliamentary elections took place on 5 June 2011. Accelerated procedures have been adopted.
This unexpected initiative regarding the reformation of the Broadcasting Council coincides with the closure of three daily newspapers: Shpic, Vreme and Koha e Re. As SEEMO reported on 12 July 2011, these papers allegedly owe one million Euros in unpaid taxes. The revenue office closed their accounts, which left them with no means to pay wages and basic printing costs. In addition, A1 TV, the popular critically-oriented private television station, has already reduced its programming, and faces possible closure. A1 TV allegedly owes nine million Euros in unpaid taxes. The owner of A1 TV, Velija Ramkovski, was detained in December 2010 and accused of tax evasion and financial irregularities
“I urge those who proposed the Council changes to rethink their decision. The Broadcasting Council should remain an independent body. Democracy needs pluralism, and I see pluralism disappearing in the Republic of Macedonia / Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General.