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Macedonia: When Censorship is Being Introduced

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In this analysis, which is a part of the series of analysis of media reporting and coverage of important topics and events, published on the blog-site mediumi.kauza.mk, human rights expert Žarko Trajanovski writes about media manipulation on the topic of the new Draft-Law on Media.

The Draft-Law is seen by the majority of journalists and the media community in Macedonia as a rigid and restrictive attempt to introduce censorship in the country. Following is the full text of the analysis, translated into English by the staff of Metamorphosis foundation.

Flickr - khalid AlbaihFlickr - khalid Albaih

"Practice indicates that responsible and ethical journalism is never the result of state legislation and regulations, but of the voluntary compliance with the code created by the media community itself." (Guide on Ethics in Journalism)

We need to particularly address media manipulations on the topic of "Media Law".

Was there a public presentation of the Media law in 2011?
On December 6, 2011, Sitel TV’s web-portal posted the newscast "Public presentation of the new Media Law". The title of the newscast suggested that there was some kind of a "new media law" which was publicly presented. However, the newscast also included the following statement of minister Mile Janakieski (it has not been transcribed):

"The need for a new Media Law was presented today at a public debate by the Minister for transport and communications Mile Janakieski, whose portfolio is in charge of drafting the law: ‘On this occasion I would like to deny that the Ministry of transport and communications has completed the text of the Media Law, and that today we are only presenting the need for adopting ..., i.e. the need for amending the regulation’".

However, the title "Public presentation of the new Media Law" is "refuted" not only by the minister (who publicly denies that the "final text of the Media Law" is presented), but also by the journalist who emphasizes that the “need for a new Media Law” was presented at a public debate.

The newscast begins with reference to the claims of some sort of an "expert community" contrary to the position of AJM, without specifying the source of these claims, which are not included in the presented statements:
"They complain that they have problems, but don’t want to resolve them. This is how the expert public comments on the position of the Association of Journalists according to which Macedonia does not need a new Media Law, as there were already several laws regulating the media sphere."

In the newscast, the source who directly opposes AJM is Sitel TV’s editor in chief, who is presented as “having many years of experience in newsrooms”:
"Unlike the Association of Journalists, people with many years of experience in newsrooms consider the regulation of the work of journalists to be essential because journalism is the only profession in the country which is not regulated by law." (The symptomatic typo in the transcription of journalism (“neovinarstvoto”) has not been corrected deliberately. Undoubtedly, "neovinarstvoto” is the only profession in the country which is not regulated by law.")


TV Sitel’s editor, as a source, is abusing his media for confronting and discrediting his colleagues:
"The Association of Journalists showed that even after 10-15 years it is still guided by the interests of the Soros Foundation and SDSM and wants to be an opposition spitting upon the government, instead of being the creator of the new Media Law, which is a punishment for the journalists. AJM punished the journalists by abstaining from the creation of a law that must exist, only to remain to function as an opposition and be a political factor, rather than an expert factor."

The analyzed newscast of Sitel TV shows that the most vigorous advocates for the adoption of a new Media Law since 2011 are exactly the journalists and editors flagrantly violating the ethical norms of the journalist code: by distorting facts, by referring to some unspecified "expert" public and by flagrantly abusing their editor positions, in the role of a discrediting source of information.

Hasty generalizations
The first public debate on "Media Law and Audiovisual Media Services" was held on April 8, 2013. Several media reporting on this event published generalizing titles leaving an impression that all journalists have boycotted the event. For example:
Journalists left the debate on Media Law as an act of protest
Journalists boycott the Media Law
No journalists at the debate on Media Law

However, despite the generalizing title "Journalists boycott the Media Law", the newscast contained information that not all journalists left the debate:
"Journalists from the state agency MIA, public broadcaster MRTV and the Nova Makedonija daily didn’t leave the debate."

Is the "Media Law extremely good"?
Excellent proof that some journalists fanatically support and promote the proposed Media Law is the text "The Media Law is extremely good!".

The text includes the following manipulative statements:
"Despite all the benefits of the new Media Law, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, the Independent Union of Journalists of Macedonia, the Macedonian Institute for Media and the Media Development Centre are against its adoption. Last week, the representatives of these organizations walked out during the presentation of the draft-law which they haven’t even read. Unlike them, the Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAN) fully supports this legislation and announced that it will participate in its adoption. "

Why are the statements manipulative?
First, it is stated that the organizations are against the adoption of the law, but in the next paragraph something else is pointed out:
"These organizations suggest that the Government should publish the Media Law and postpone the deadline for its adoption for three to five months, and in the meantime a serious debate should take place and the conclusions derived from it should become an integral part of the law."

Rather than explaining why the organizations that are reportedly against the law require time for a serious debate (resulting with conclusions that would "become an integral part of the law"), the journalist continues to praise the secretly drafted law, and to criticize organizations for failing to read it, although they had no opportunity whatsoever to read it before the debate:

"What they do not know, because they have not read it, is that the Media law is extremely good!"

Second, the arguments of the aforementioned associations are completely ignored; according to these arguments the Media Law which is now open to the public was written in a completely different atmosphere, unlike the other previous laws drafted with direct participation of the stakeholders:
"The law was completely prepared by the Government, and it is being offered to the public as a final and closed concept open for comments" (Journalists requesting an open debate on the Media Law).

The protest of the associations is presented as pointless and meaningless, and the key question is completely ignored: Why are the associations of journalists included in a consultative process only after the draft-law has already been prepared?

Third, an ungrounded assertion unsupported by any source is being presented:
"Unlike them, the Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAN) fully supports this legislation and announced that it will participate in its adoption."

A few paragraphs further, a different assertion is presented, from which we can conclude that it’s not true that "MAN fully supports this legislation":
"The Macedonian Association of Journalists, on the other hand, requires the establishment of an Agency for issuing licenses for electronic media instead of the Broadcasting Council, in order to establish certain standards."

Finally, the article "Media Law is extremely good!" is also criticizing the "extremely good" law. Despite fierce criticism for the financing of MRT ("MRTV will once again be fed by 'three mothers'"), the article also presents the following proposal:
"Changes are necessary in the penal provisions as well, because the low fines in case of a violation of the law often leave space for citizens not to abide by the law."

And we can see how “low” the penalties are if we take a look at the draft-law, stipulating “a fine of 2-3% of the total annual income of the legal person" on 60 grounds and "a fine of 1,000 to 3,000 euros in MKD counter-value... for the person in charge of the legal entity or sole proprietor. " A fine of up to 2% of the total annual income of the legal entity is stipulated in case the legal person “does not publish announcements or official statements from competent state authorities and bodies" on 25 more grounds.

Is Macedonia the only European country without a Media Law?
The unethical reporting on the "Media Law" continued in the TV newscast titled "MAN supported the Media Law and engaged in the negotiations with the government". The newscast reports that:
"The Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAN) supports the draft-law because Macedonia is the only European country without a Media Law."

This statement is attributed to MAN, and it is not disputed at all, although it is absolutely false. In fact, there are only a few EU countries with unitary laws that extend to the public broadcasters and print media and their electronic publications.

However, the TV newscast is particularly symptomatic because there is no transcription of the confusing statement of minister Minister Ivanovski related to MAN’s proposals:
"Minister Ivanovski believes that MAN’s proposals were a good basis for further improvement of the text of the law: 'Today the Macedonian Association of Journalists reacted to the introduction of censorship, and we would like to clarify that we have accepted their suggestion, because this is our view as well. The Convention on Human Rights, which is reflected in this principle about the operation of the media, along with their proposal was in the interest of all parties, so that it would be even more clear and precise'".

Minister Ivanovski made a confusing statement that MAN reacted “to the introduction of censorship," and the journalist did not pose the question: How is it possible to legally introduce censorship, when according to Article 16 of the Constitution "Censorship is forbidden?"

However, not even the minister’s statements indicating the danger of introducing censorship bother the pro-government journalists supporting the Media Law. Immediately after the statement about “introduction of censorship” the media was misused for a discrediting attack on AJM as an "association created by SDSM, and acting in accordance with all their public views..."

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This analysis was created within the framework of the USAID Media Strengthening in Macedonia Project - Media Fact-Checking Service Component, implemented by Metamorphosis. The analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Metamorphosis, USAID or the United States Government. For more information on the work of USAID in Macedonia please visit its website (http://macedonia.usaid.gov) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/USAIDMacedonia).

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