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 freedom of speech in Macedonia, especially due to the unjustified decision to cover both print and internet-media with new regulations.
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 measures that permit the use of public funds to undermine the freedom of the media and, contrary to best practice democratic societies and to regulate self-regulation of the journalists.
We reject the strategy of proponents of the new media legislation, which consisted of creating the impression of a public debate and constructive approach, bringing international experts to Macedonia, consulting with them during the process of preparation of the bills and then, once they left the country, reinstating the problematic provisions that were amended or deleted through amendments proposed by parliamentarians from the ruling majority.
The proposed legislation, in its current form, can only lead to increased control of the government over the majority of media outlets in Macedonia. Furthermore, the decision to entrust regulation of both print and online media to the powerful new Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media, reveals a desire to extend control over those media sectors.
The proposed legislation does nothing to regulate or eliminate the existing practice of distribution of the so-called “government advertising”, which is now the main instrument used to manipulate the independence of the media. Instead, 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 undefined and unspecified criteria.
For other media, instead of that carrot, there is a stick in the form of penal provisions and sanctions which, in addition to prescribing fines that are too high in the Macedonian economic context, 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 becomes 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”, they create all of the conditions to push the media and journalists into quasi-compulsory self-censorship, as the only means of guaranteeing 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 than outright censorship.
The Front for Freedom of Expression (sloboda.kauza.mk) is a wide platform of individuals, organizations, institutions and informal groups 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”.