What do the amendments to the Criminal Code prescribe for attacks and threats against journalists and media workers? Does the legal framework provide sufficient protection for journalists to carry out their professional tasks unimpeded? Will the courts enforce the legal provisions? What are the most common types of attacks and threats against journalists/media workers for this year? How did the Ministry of Interior and the Public Prosecutor’s Office react to the attacks? What were the reactions of AJM and the media community? Does the state have the capacity to provide protection of media freedom?
Written by: Arta TAHIRI
Unexpected, but the facts are stubborn! There is no end to assaults and physical threats against journalists and cameramen, despite the legal amendments to the Criminal Code, adopted by the Assembly of the Republic of North Macedonia on February 14, 2023, which prescribe prison sentences for the attackers of journalists and media workers…
“According to the amendments to the Criminal Code, for threats to the life of media workers, the offenders shall pay a fine or serve a prison sentence of up to 6 months. If the threat causes a feeling of fear or insecurity, the penalty can be up to one year in prison. In the event that violence is committed against these persons, then the prison sentence ranges from three months to three years”, reported the “Meta” portal.
Four attacks against journalists occurred during and after the summer period of this year.
Attack on TV 24 cameraman
On July 18 of this year, TV 24 cameraman Ivan Kamchev, returning from filming with a colleague from MRTV, witnessed a traffic accident on the Gradsko – Prilep road, near Rosoman. “In an attempt to document the event, cameraman Kamchev was verbally and then physically attacked, during which his equipment was damaged. The case was reported to the Ministry of Interior, SVR Veles, where, immediately after the report, measures were taken to clear it up,” TV 24 reported.
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia strongly condemned the verbal and physical attack on the TV 24 cameraman. It asked the Ministry of Interior and the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office to conduct a quick and efficient investigation in the interest of finding and sanctioning the offender.
The Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Kavadarci filed an indictment against a 43-year-old resident of Rosoman for the crime of preventing an official from performing an official action under Article 382 of the Criminal Code.
Barber attempts to curtail the freedom of Alsat journalists
On August 21, in the Old Bazaar in Skopje, a 53-year-old barber physically attacked the crew of Alsat TV, and before that he made threats and insulted them. Without any reason, he hit the cameraman on the head and on the body, while causing distress and fear for the two women journalists.
Era Gjakova and Sara Hoxha are two young women who got into journalism with enthusiasm and a strong desire to make a future for themselves in that profession. They are engaged in the non-news part of Alsat television’s programming scheme.
Their work is in the studio, but also out in the field. They, together with Alsat’s cameraman Burhan Yusufi, went out to “earn their daily bread” in the Skopje bazaar on August 21 of this year, but suddenly, first verbally, and then physically, they were attacked by a “barber”! We say “barber” in quotation marks, because the profession barber and many others belong to a guild, and a guild member, i.e., “esnaf”, implies a just, honest and noble person.
Era Gjakova gave the following statement in relation to the event: “While we were filming, the attacker started insulting us, swearing and threatening our lives, while holding a sharp object (scissors) in his hands. We thought it was all over, when the attacker returned to his shop. The people who were at the scene helped us to calm down, but there were many of them who convinced us not to report it to the police. Nevertheless, I called it in, and the police immediately came to the scene and gathered information about the case,” Gjakova said. She clarified that they went to the City Hospital where they did a physical exam of the cameraman, and the inspectors were informed about all the details. “I think that the police, as well as the inspectors, acted promptly and professionally in this case,” Gjakova said.
In the Bazaar, apart from cameraman Yusufi and journalist Gjakova, journalist Hoxha was also attacked. She told us that the event caused a lot of stress for her. “We didn’t have any professional contact with the person, we were not asking him any questions. The police officers did their job well and very professionally,” Hoxha told us. And she, like her colleague, do not want to make any presumptions about the motive of the attack, which they hope will be revealed during the court proceedings. Alsat journalist Era Gjakova said that the attacker did not threaten her after the attack; however, after reporting it to the police, she received phone calls urging her to withdraw the report.
Hoxha, too, did not personally receive any threats after the event. Gjakova and Hoxha hope that there will be a court decision, with which the offender will be convicted, in order to send a message to everyone that they must not attack journalists, that is, if they do so, they will go to prison. They believe that the institutions should provide conditions for their unobstructed work in the field.
The prosecution reacted on time
Immediately after the attack, the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office demanded that the person who attacked the Alsat television crew be issued a precautionary measure, for his travel documents be temporarily confiscated and contact with the witnesses and the victim be prohibited.
The basic public prosecutor’s office in Skopje filed an indictment against the 53-year-old man for a crime of violence to the competent court. The indictment states that: “While a cameraman and two women journalists were filming for the needs of television station, the defendant first came out of the barber shop and started cursing them out loudly. Then he went inside and grabbed scissors, after which he returned to the injured parties and directly threatened to kill them. They started to retreat to another location, but at that moment, the defendant approached the cameraman from behind and punched him on the head.”
AJM and journalistic organizations condemn the assault
The Association of Journalists published a reminder that death threats are criminal acts and requested that the case be urgently investigated and processed, so that such acts are not repeated in the future. The Council of Media Ethics also reacted, underlining that the attacker must be sanctioned, because this is the only way to send out the message that freedom of expression is for the common good.
The Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers strongly condemned the attack on the Alsat television cameraman and journalists. The union demands that the assault be treated in accordance with the Criminal Code as an assault on an official.
Landfill owner does not want the public to know whether the landfill is poisoning the surrounding area!
One week after the assault on the Alsat team, the owner of the landfill in Brvenica Municipality threatened and insulted media teams, not allowing them to record a video of the fire at the landfill. But TV 21 journalist Senat Zilbehari was persistent, and regardless of the owner’s attempts to prevent him, he stood firmly on the stand that he had the right and professional responsibility to film the landfill, which is located near the village of Stenche in the Tetovo region. “In the early hours of August 23, the air in Tetovo was very polluted. Colleagues who were filming in the field before me, warned me not to approach the landfill, because the owner is very aggressive. I started filming and then the owner started shouting and making threats, but I insisted that I have the right to film”, Zilbehari said. He believes that the owner, an employee of the Army of North Macedonia, knew that at an assault against a journalist is an assault against an official and therefore avoided a physical attack.
The journalist of TV 21 informed us that the person who prevented the crew from filming received a misdemeanor penalty. But the attacker did not stop there. “Because he owns a cable company, in retaliation, after the news broke, he removed the two television stations, TV 21 and the local Koha TV,” Zilbehari told us.
Instead of the owner apologizing, he, through his lawyer, informed Zilbehari that he would press charges. The same information, i.e., request reached the Koha TV cameraman, which, according to Zilbehari, is a form of direct pressure on the media.
The head of the Market Inspection prevents a “journalistic inspection” for cigarette packs without tax stamps
The fourth physical threat against a journalist happened on October 12 of this year. The journalist of the “Tetova sot” web portal, Nevrij Ademi, revealed that cigarettes are sold in Tetovo without tax stamps, and the head of the Market Inspection in Tetovo argued with the journalist. “As can be seen in the video, the head of the Tetovo branch of the State Market Inspectorate, Lilbert Memeti, tried in every way to stop us from doing our work. He said that we would never set foot in the door of the Inspectorate again and that we would not be welcome. This institution is used to functioning that way, without giving any information to the public,” Ademi points out.
He reveals that the director reported the case to the police due to unauthorized recording. “I’m expecting the police to call me in for an interview, which will be another way of showing how state officials put pressure on the media and journalists.”
Ademi said that he was also offered money not to publish this story, an offer he categorically refused to talk about.
The colleague is satisfied with the behaviour of the police, although he said that, when it comes to the judiciary, we would have to wait for a long time because “justice is far from the courts in our country”.
Assaults on journalists shown through AJM’s statistical data
Freedom of speech and the safety of journalists are intrinsically linked topics. According to the publication “Assaults against journalists and media workers 2017 – 2021, trends and recommendations“, prepared by the authors Deniz Sulejman and Ivan Breshkovski: “In the past six years, journalists and media workers faced numerous physical and verbal assaults, but also pressures from public officials. Such assaults and pressures have come in various forms. The creativity of those who want to put pressure on journalists often takes new forms, the techniques of applying pressure evolve at a tremendous speed and if there is no swift and efficient justice in the country, the damage that can be caused by the attacks can be catastrophic”, the publication says.
The safety of journalists and media workers is a priority of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, which maintains a Register of attacks on journalists, which is publicly available on AJM’s website.
In 2022, 7 attacks against journalists/media workers were registered
In 2021, 5 attacks against journalists/media workers were registered
In 2020, 14 attacks against journalists/media workers were registered
In 2019, 4 attacks against journalists/media workers were registered
In 2018, 3 attacks against journalists/media workers were registered
In 2017, 16 attacks against journalists/media workers were registered
In the period from 2017 to 2022, as many as 42 attacks against journalists and media workers were recorded in AJM’s Register. Of them, the most common form of endangering their safety are verbal threats.
Out of 42 cases of attacks against journalists, as many as 25 are cases of verbal threats against journalists, 14 are physical attacks on journalists, two are attacks on media/media organisations and one attack is in the form of restraining the ability of moving freely, i.e., detainment.
Text: Attacks against journalists and media workers 2017 – 2021
- Verbal threats against journalists
- Physical assaults against journalists
- Detainment of journalists
- Attacks against the media/media organisations
The (un)safety of journalists, an indicator of the World Press Freedom Index
The safety of journalists and media workers in the performance of their tasks is a prerequisite for good-quality, objective and professional journalism. The level of democracy in a country depends on the quality of information, on the freedom to investigate and report on various topics, as well as on the freedom of the media. Attacks against journalists and media workers in general are not only an individual, but also a collective violation of civil rights, because they represent a violation of the right to information, which is a constitutional category in our country (Article 16).
The publication “Improving the safety of journalists through amending the Criminal Code – analysis of international and domestic standards regulation” prepared by the authors Kostadin Bogdanov, Ivan Breshkovski and Dragan Sekulovski, concludes that the safety of journalists, threatened by violation of their freedoms and rights at work, is a problem that has persevered in North Macedonia for a long time, culminating in 2014. “This year, the country fell to the 123rd place, out of a total of 180 countries, on the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. For comparison, RNM, according to the same index, in 2007 was highly ranked at the 36th place and during that period the country was in a better position than some western democracies. One of the reasons why, after 2014, the country fell to the bottom of the world indices for freedom of expression and received serious criticism in the reports of the European Commission is precisely the violation of the rights related to the safety of journalists.”
In the publication titled “Monitoring the European integration process: reforms in the media sector, half-way completed reforms “, authored by Teofil Blazhevski, it is stated that the country is moving forward in this area. “Amendments to the Criminal Code, with which assault and threats against media workers are considered a criminal offense, which can be prosecuted ex officio, is an important prerequisite to significantly increase the safety of journalists and media workers.”
Now it is the state’s turn. In order for journalists and media workers to be safe and able to freely perform their duties, the state, that is, the institutions, must ensure the implementation of the legal framework through the efficient operation of the executive and judicial authorities. This is a test for the institutions to show whether the legal changes will remain on paper or will be implemented. Imprisonment for anyone who raises a hand against journalists and media workers should serve as a good lesson, sending the message that anyone contemplating a violent attack is facing jail time.
The state is on trial – will it protect the freedom of speech or come to the defence of violence!
This article was prepared within the project "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are a slap in the face to citizens and the public interest", supported by UNESCO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The authors are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts contained in this article and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.