The Front for Freedom of Expression, an informal coalition of nine civic associations, demands from the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia to retract the proposed media bills – the Law on Media and the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, which threaten to further undermine the freedom of speech in Macedonia, especially regarding the unjustified decision to cover print and internt-media with new regulation.
The majority of issues allegedly resolved with the proposed bills are already covered in the Broadcasting Law, the Criminal Code, the Law on Civil Liability for Defamation. At the same time, the new media legislation disregards completely a number of key factors that allow the use of public funds to corrupt the media and, which is not a characteristic for democratic societies, interfere in the area of self-regulation of the journalistic profession.
We find unacceptable the applied strategy by the proponent of the new media legislation to fake a public debate and constructive approach, bring over to Macedonia the international experts consulted in the process of preparation of the bills and once they left the country, reinstate all the problematic provisions that were changed or deleted with amendments proposed by MPs from the ruling majority.
The proposed bills, in their current form, can only lead to strengthened control of the government over the majority of media outlets in Macedonia. Furthermore, the decision to entrust the competences over the print and online media to the new, omnipotent Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media, exposes the intent to extend that control over those media sectors.
The proposed bills do nothing to regulate or eliminate the existing practice of distribution of the so-called “government advertising”, which is now the main instrument of corruption of the media scene. Quite to the contrary, the proposed amendment to Article 92 of the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, provide to the Government a new source of funding that can be redirected towards the “friendly” media, using criteria that we don’t know and which are yet to be defined.
For the other media, instead of that carrot, there is the stick in the form of penal provisions and sanctions which, in addition to prescribing fines too high for Macedonian standards of living, may be subject to arbitrary decisions of a single person, the Director of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media. The Director of the Agency has been advanced to the position of a de facto “media tzar” who will hold the fate of media in Macedonia in his or her own hands.
Although the proposed bills never mention the word “censorship”, by their spirit and with the solutions they offer, they make an even more terrifying proposition: they force and push the media and the journalists towards self-censorship, the only guarantee for their survival in the so-called “media market” in Macedonia. From the point of view of freedom of expression, that is a far worse and far more dangerous situation.
The Front for Freedom of Expression (sloboda.kauza.mk) is a wide platform of individuals, organizations, institutions and informal groups that function as an informal network that shares a common goal – to preserve and advance the basic human right of freedom of expression, primarily in the Republic of Macedonia, but also all over the world.
The following civic organizations are involved in the Front: the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in the Republic of Macedonia, the Media Development Centre (MDC), Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society, Civil Centre for Freedom, the Foundation Open Society Macedonia (FOSM), the NGO Infocentre, the Coalition “Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalized Communities” – Skopje, the Macedonian Centre for European Training (MCET), the “Javnost” Centre for New Policies and Freedom of the Media, “Jadro” – Association of the Independent Cultural Scene, and Civic Association “Kontrapunkt”.