,,IRL is not a media and may face a work ban”, these are paraphrased quotes in part of the written explanation of the judgment of the judge Jovanka Spirovska Paneva, who ruled in the case “Feroinvest against IRL”. The verdict, pertaining to the “Conspiracy against the air” story, was disclosed on October 24, and today, the written explanation has been received, utilizing a series of problematic qualifications that verge on censorship and pose threats of shutting down the media.
Specifically, in the rationale provided in judgment 8P5-33/23, Judge Paneva challenges the status of journalists within IRL, asserting that IRL does not qualify as a media entity. In essence, she contends that IRL is not an association focused on “journalistic reports.”
“The IRL does not even have the status of a media, as a means of public information according to the Law on Media, and its members do not have the status of journalists, nor can they, for the purpose of informing the public, make journalistic shows, present themselves as journalists or deal with the genre of investigative journalism and to publish all this through the means of public information“.
Notably, Judge Paneva asserts that Cvetkovska, a globally acclaimed investigative journalist, lacks journalist status within the IRL association. Judge Paneva says that “in the association (meaning IRL), she does not have the role of a journalist, so she cannot appear in the shows that are recorded there, neither as an editor nor as a journalist, because such shows are not considered journalistic product”. In this context, the court concludes that colleague Cvetkovska’s “statements are irrelevant” regarding why IRL, as an organization, was prohibited from publishing the research at all.
This judgment challenges the notion that civil associations are permitted to function as media entities in Macedonia, suggesting that they ought not to exist at all. Notably, the explanation includes a directive empowering the Ministry of Justice to potentially enforce a work ban on IRL.
The statement reads, “In any case, the defendant association (referring to IRL) has likely outlined in its status the actions it can undertake to achieve its objectives. In the event of scrutiny by an authorized body, in accordance with Article 65 of the aforementioned law, it can lead to the prohibition of the civil organization’s (meaning IRL) activities if, among other things, their actions infringe upon the freedoms and rights of others.”
This interpretation suggests that Judge Paneva may be urging the executive power to engage in an institutional confrontation with the critical media.
This dangerous judicial precedent undermines media independence and is at odds with the principles set forth by the Council of Europe. Specifically, it runs counter to Recommendation CM/Rec(2011)7, which recognizes the unique nature of the Internet. According to this recommendation, the “obligations and responsibilities” assigned to an informational Internet portal under Article 10 of the ECHR may vary somewhat from those of a traditional publisher.
In response to this concerning development, AJM intends to initiate a report on the court proceedings to the Platform of the Council of Europe, which advocates for the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists. The Platform reports on serious threats to the safety of journalists and media freedom in Europe in order to reinforce the Council of Europe’s response to the threats and member states’ accountability.
We would like to emphasize that for the documentary “Conspiracy against the air,” which was also aired on MRTV, IRL was honored with two journalistic awards. Notably, both the Council of Honor and the Council of Ethics, in response to previous complaints, have determined that this media product aligns with the Ethical Code of Journalists.
It is crucial to highlight that on October 19,AJM formally submitted a petition to the Judicial Council concerning Judge Spirovska Paneva’s alleged unfair exclusion of the public from the hearing related to this court procedure. The petition urges the judge to be held accountable for the proceedings, and it calls on the Judicial Council of the RNM to initiate a disciplinary procedure based on the evidence presented and the relevant legal provisions against Judge Jovanka Spirovska Paneva. The petition specifically requests the imposition of a disciplinary measure in accordance with the Law on the Courts of the RNM due to the hindrance of journalists in reporting on the hearing, emphasizing the need for public awareness regarding this court proceeding.