SDSM presented proposals and changes to the Law on Audio and Audio-visual Media Services, in which they propose the abolition of the broadcasting fee and finance MRT directly from the budget. For us, as Association of Journalists, this proposal from SDSM is absolutely unacceptable for different reasons.
First, it is proposed at the wrong time. MRT’s bank account is blocked and the government through the Public Revenue Office is blackmailing the public service broadcaster. Instead of proposing changes to the way MRT is financed, political parties to propose to government a deal to forgive all the debts of the public service. Those debts are not incurred from the public service’s fault, but because of the inability or reluctance of the Public Revenue Office to collect the broadcasting fee.
Secondly, it is unacceptable to us to abandon the current format of negotiations between the parties on media reforms, where decisions on all points of the agreement were made by consensus. What is the guarantee that this proposal in this form will be voted in the Parliament unless the political parties from the government and opposition have made a secret agreement to transfer the negotiations on media from the Club of Deputies to the assembly.
Third, with this partial draft SDSM refuses the proposal of the European mediator Peter Vanhoutte and it will gamble this unique opportunity to have serious reforms in the media. Thus the media and journalists will go thirsty beside the well.
In the proposal of Vanhoutte except solutions to MRT’s financing there are also solutions for de-politicization of the management of MRT and the Media Agency, ban of government advertising, abolishing the unnecessary obligations towards national private television, reduce penalties for media outlets and increase the transparency of institutions.
Fourth, by abandoning the proposal of Vanhoutte, whom SDSM has verbally supported thus far, they are entering the government scenario to pretend false activism in the parliament for alleged media reform. Basically the changes to the media laws will be only cosmetic, which will not have any positive changes in the media, but on the contrary it will help the government to strengthen its control over the media and the media regulator.
And fifth, this proposal of SDSM does not provide a stable and sustainable source of financing for the public broadcaster. This changes only the way of financing without actually increasing revenues to MRT. An estimated 0.5 percent of the national budget is about 15 million euros. According to official information from the government, MRT had a similar budget in 2014 and it was proved that that is not a guarantee for the smooth running of the public service.
The proposal of AJM dating from 2012, which was also supported by the European mediator, is one percent of the budget or about 30 million euros to be allocated for funding purposes for the public broadcaster. Only then the public service will be an independent public service, and it will serve to the public interests of citizens and not an instrument in the hands of political parties.
We urge the political parties to sincerely engage themselves for real reforms in the media, and not to use this issue for hunting votes for the upcoming elections in June. The parties may betray the journalists and the media as well as manipulate the public, but this will do nothing to improve the image of Macedonia in the world as a country with mass violations of media freedoms, same as in African countries where authoritarian regimes are in government. With this kind of manipulations it is sure they will not change the assessment of the European Commission either, which this year showed a decline in terms of freedom of expression and media freedom.
We would like to remind the parties and the public that Macedonia can never start negotiations for membership in the European Union, if it does not dramatically improve the situation with media freedom.