With the extension of the state of emergency in the country, AJM believes that there must be a way for better communication and transparency in the relationship between government institutions and health centers in order to guarantee freedom of expression and the right to information. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia believes that there are many ways to improve the cooperation between journalists, media and institutions, given all the remarks that have reached us so far from our membership.
We as an organization, as well as many of our members, are dissatisfied with the lack of two-way live communication through video tools during ministerial press conferences. With the current practice, through this communication, journalists are not given enough space to have an additional question or comment on a given answer. This way the interlocutor does not always answer the question, and has an opportunity to be selective in his responses. Therefore, we demand from the Government to leave enough time to journalists to ask additional questions, in order to provide complete information from the interlocutor.
The second option, which we believe has the potential to be implemented, is to hold open-air press conferences when the weather conditions allow (in front of the Government or at another convenient location) with physical distance between journalists, but also between journalists and interlocutors. This is the recommendation of AJM and our partner organization the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), which suggests to all its’ European members. This option should not exclude the first option because it proved to be useful for journalists from other cities.
- In this section we want to send a critique of the last press conference organized in Kumanovo. According to our colleagues, it was organized indoors with the presence of several interlocutors, journalists and media workers, who had physical contact with each other. Then we found out that the mayor was infected with COVID-19, which put our colleagues at risk.
- In addition, one more we reiterate that the Government should not curtail the right to questions and participation in press conferences for online media which are not in the Register of Professional Online Media. We remind that the Registry is a voluntary organization, and it is not designed for that purpose, but in order for the public and the business community to recognize professional media.
- In terms of transparency, the institutions should not share information only with certain journalists and media outlets before the press conferences and thus to ensure exclusiveness to certain media, as opposed to others who are instructed to follow the press conferences. When the whole country faces such a delicate situation, all media should have equal access to information which is important to the public.
- The show, titled “Covid -19 – Questions and Answers: Everything About the Coronavirus” recently organized by the Government, where civil servants appeared as journalists, and thus excluded critical questions is a negative example of communication with citizens and a practice that is an insult to professional journalists. Therefore, such communication formats by government officials need to be avoided in the future.
- In the last period on several occasions government officials announced new legal decrees sanctioning fake news and fight with certain media. We remind that the main task of the institutions at this time should be to ensure maximum transparency over the crisis caused by the pandemic and the economic crisis, and not to deal with restrictions on freedom of expression. The best way to defactorize misinformation is greater transparency and the use of self-regulation in the media.
- Regarding the freedom of movement of journalists during the curfew, we once again point out that the Government should not restrict the movement of journalists from the media who are not part of the Register of the Council for Media Ethics in Macedonia (CEMM) and AJM.
- Due to the fact that journalists, in addition to healthcare professionals, may be at risk for coronavirus infection, we believe that institutions must provide more effective conditions for testing journalists and media workers if requested.
On the other hand, we welcome the Government’s decision to provide a minimum wage for journalists and media workers, a measure we have publicly demanded together with the Journalists’ Union in order to facilitate the work of the media in this difficult period. AJM points to the risk that if the crisis continues in the coming months, it is necessary to consider additional measures to overcome the economic difficulties of the media and avoid firing journalists and media workers. These measures should be effective and include not only traditional media but also online media, because they did not receive any financial assistance in the past month.
Finally, we wish to emphasize that in a global pandemic, today more than ever, we need quality corespondents. It turned out that correspondents in such a situation are very important for both the media and the citizens. Therefore, we believe that additional efforts should be made to secure their place in the newsrooms. We remind of the recommendations of AJM for improving the correspondent networks of MRTV and MIA with legal changes, but also with recommendations to national televisions and daily newspapers.