Over the past few days, representatives of five international journalistic and media associations held meetings with key institutions in Macedonia at the invitation of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM). Meetings were held with President Stevo Pendarovski, Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski, President of the Assembly Talat Xhaferi, with the directors of AAAVMS and MRT, with the Minister of Information Society and Administration Azir Aliu, with the Ambassador of the Delegation of European Union in North Macedonia, H.E. Mr David Geer, representatives from the US Embassy in North Macedonia, and with a number of journalists.
The mission wrapped up with a press conference, held today, with an address from the president of AJM, Mladen Chadikovski, after which the experts presented a summary of their experiences and findings from the meetings.
Chadikovski expressed satisfaction that, with the support of foreign partners, a debate is being opened with the Government on establishing a media pluralism fund, and an agreement has been reached to improve the transparency of government institutions by watermarking their announcements, videos, and photos. It is the only way the public can distinguish between journalistic products and government communication. Apart from this, intensified efforts are being made to reform the public service broadcaster and the media regulator, as well as improve the status of local correspondents.
Albana Shala from “Free Press Unlimited” focused her summary on the positive legal changes in the media sector, and she pointed to the problem of impunity when it comes to attacks against media professionals, but also to the problem of potential amendments to the law that refer to the section on government advertising. “The Prime Minister and the Minister of MISA stated that the Government is considering re-introducing state advertising by paying for so-called public interest campaigns in private media. We find this worrying for at least four reasons: The draft proposal for reintroduction is not in line with EU state aid legislation, and it is discriminatory towards small media; state advertising through paid political campaigns increases the risk of political interference in the media and the targeting of public funds in this way would not improve media content” – Shala stated.
Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the largest journalistic organization in Europe (EFJ), expressed concern over the state of journalism in Macedonia and the need to establish a fund for media products to improve media content and promote the public interest.
“We believe journalism in North Macedonia is in danger: polarization, lack of pluralism, interference in editorial policies, poor working conditions, unsustainable media companies… A good practice in EU countries for stimulating high-quality news and more diverse content of public interest is establishing public funds to support media pluralism (such public funds exist in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden…). All private media, community media, or non-profit media, including local media, should have a chance to benefit from this public funding. This should improve the poor working standards faced by media workers in the country and promote high-quality content, ethical journalism, and editorial content diversity. “The public fund for media pluralism should not be created to strengthen media tycoons further, but to ensure independence and diversity, and to serve the public interest,” Gutiérrez pointed out.
Laurens Hueting, from the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), focused on the incidents where politicians tried to discredit journalists through inappropriate statements publicly.
“We discussed with the government representatives the urgent need for politicians and public office holders to refrain from statements contributing to a hostile climate for and towards journalists. It is positive that our interlocutors confirmed the importance of creating an environment conducive to a pluralistic, free press that can report in the public interest without fear or favour. However, we are disappointed by the lack of commitment to concrete actions that will lead to improvements. In general, this behaviour of politicians undermines trust in the media and indicates to others that journalists are a justified target for social media harassment, for strategic lawsuits against public participation, or even worse,” Hueting said.
The meetings were carried out as part of the fact-finding mission aimed at a better understanding of the country’s media environment and the journalists’ safety. In the coming period, a detailed report with recommendations for improving the situation of media workers’ rights and the media in Macedonia will be published.
The activity was carried out within the project “Protection of Freedom of Expression and Independence of the Media as Pillars of Democracy in the Republic of North Macedonia,” financed by the European Union. The views and opinions expressed at the event do not represent the official views and opinions of the European Union. The responsibility for the views and expressed opinions lies entirely with the organizer and the participants.