The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press institute (IPI), is dismayed by public criticism voiced by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia / Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, at the journalist Borjan Jovanovski. In an interview with the state news agency, MIA, published on 18 October 2011, Gruevski criticized Jovanovski for posing a particular question during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, on 12 October 2011.
At the press conference, European Commissioner Stefan Füle had presented the European Commission’s annual report on several countries in southeast Europe. Authorities in Skopje were allegedly not pleased with the report’s assessment of the media situation in their country.
According to the official transcript of the press conference, Jovanovski asked the following question: “Commissioner, do you think that the report from last year is almost the same, especially with regard to the freedom of media in the judiciary? If not, worse. Do you think that Macedonia could start the negotiation with such a situation, especially in the field of freedom of the media and if the situation continues like this, do you think that Macedonia could preserve the recommendation to start negotiations?”
According to the official transcript, EU Commissioner Füle then replied: “I have visited Skopje at the beginning of September to participate in the conference celebrating 10 years anniversary since the whole framework document being signed. And at that time, and it is no secret, I sent a message to the authorities that with the current pace of reform, or actually the lack of the reform, I was only half-heartened approach the implementation they should not take it for granted that the next year our recommendation would stay as this year even if the main issue has been solved [sic].”
One week later, Prime Minister Gruevski accused the journalist of asking a “prearranged question,” intended “to prepare the terrain” for next year’s “withdrawal of the recommendation [to start accession talks], if the name dispute [with Greece] is not solved by then.”
Gruevski asked why Jovanovski was sitting in the press room, and why it was him and not another journalist who had the right to ask a question. Jovanovski previously worked for the now defunct A1 TV, and was the editor of the “Eurozum” magazine show, which is funded by Brussels and tackles European issues.
Macedonia’s Journalists’ Association (ZNM) condemned the prime minister’s comments and stressed that in a country that respects media freedom, the prime minister should not be the one to decide who is a journalist and which questions they are allowed to ask.
“I am concerned at the statement of the Prime Minister said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General. “A SEEMO delegation met with him during our official visit to Skopje from 4 to 6 October 2011, and Mr. Gruevski told us that the Government would respect press freedom. I hope that his public criticism of Borjan Jovanovski is an isolated incident and that the public shaming of journalists will not be repeated in the future. These practices violate the international standards of press freedom.”