The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), and Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM) believe that yesterday’s court ruling against Investigative Reporting Lab (IRL) is an undermining of the dignity of the journalistic profession, an attack on the integrity of journalists and freedom of expression in Macedonia.
At yesterday’s court hearing in the Basic Civil Court Skopje, Judge Jovanka Spirovska Paneva announced the verdict related to the lawsuit for establishing civil liability for insult and defamation by Kocho Angjushev, the former Deputy Prime Minister in the RSM Government, in front of those present in the courtroom. The lawsuit was against the Investigative Reporting Lab (IRL) and the editor-in-chief Sashka Cvetkovska.
AJM, SSNM, and CMEM consider that the verdict represents a defeat, which put the private interest of a powerful businessman before the public interest and the interest of the citizens, and when it was passed, the principle of a higher threshold of tolerance for criticism that should exist among public figures was not considered, especially those who held high public offices.
In the courtroom in front of those present, judge Spirovska Paneva, instead of a detailed explanation of the verdict, in an extremely scandalous, shameful, and unprofessional manner, expressed qualifications that “IRL was registered as a citizens’ association” and called the defendant “the journalist who presented herself as an investigative journalist”, alluding to Cvetkovska, to disqualify the media’s journalistic work. In addition to this, judge Spirovska Paneva pointed out that the Association of Journalists of Macedonia created a circus by submitting the petition to the Judicial Council to determine its responsibility while leaving the impression before the audience that precisely with this petition, AJM indicated that it had made the right decision, even though the same a judge in the first judgment with the same evidence found no elements of defamation.
On the other hand, we are unpleasantly surprised by Feroinvest, which, during yesterday’s commercial announcements in the media, tried to settle accounts with journalists, presenting personal insults, as well as calling for an institutional lynching of civil society organizations. We believe that in this way, attempts are made to influence the further decisions of the court.
That is why we have been pointing out for years that strategic lawsuits have a different character; that is, they are used as a mechanism to discourage the media, to devalue journalistic work, and to exhaust the media’s resources before the courts. It is these elements crowned with a verdict in this process that are the epitome of SLAPP lawsuits (strategic lawsuits to prevent public participation). These lawsuits, especially when they are initiated by politicians, economic powerhouses, and public office holders, can cause censorship among journalists, thereby violating the citizens’ right to information. The goal is not to get justice but to harass the defendants to demotivate them or to give up public criticism.
In this case, both the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reacted transparently, but also about the verdict itself. Journalists’ associations continue to monitor the entire process until its completion. That is why we ask the public to remain restrained, not to resort to insulting and slanderous comments, because the outcome is the exhaustion of all legal remedies.