North Macedonia: Where did media

freedoms go?

Author: Lela Jurukova

Freedom of the media is a value that has emerged since the time of liberalism, and from then on it’ been all about freedom of the press, because other media appeared later. Through that, the citizens sought to establish control over the political power. We must admit that no matter how hard we try, there is no complete freedom of the media, just as there is no complete freedom of human activism. Freedom of the media does not mean that any kind of information should be published. There is no society where the media are allowed to publish information that endanger the security of the state. The purpose of freedom of the press is to strike a balance between freedom of the media and freedom of expression. The media have great social power.

Today, there is no state that does not advocate the idea of media freedom, but on the other hand there is no state that does not control the media.

In its third decade of existence as an equal international legal entity, the Republic of North Macedonia and the electronic media are undergoing a significant transformation. In the first years of independence, the control of the ruling political parties over the national state-owned television service (MRT) was particularly visible, and due to the small number of media houses with a national concession, this strongly influenced the electorate. In the years leading up to the new millennium, a process of strong democratization and pluralism of the media space followed. This is equally reflected in the print and electronic media, and freedom of speech seemed to be a normal phenomenon, which strongly influenced the raising of democratic standards in the entire Macedonian society. 

Gradually, two processes were marked. The first refers to the technological revolution and the strengthening of the Internet, which due to the freedom of the Internet space, as well as the need for small financial resources to run such a medium, should have meant a precondition for intensifying media democratization. But the last did not happen. On the contrary, the intensification of political mobilization by conducting permanent political campaigns is usurping the internet space. Similar retrograde processes could be observed in the mainstream media, where, in the absence of a media market, media owners openly turned to the ruling elites. 

At the same time, the awareness of political entities, whether pro-government or pro-opposition, about the importance of control over the media space was gradually strengthened. Such processes led to the centralization of editorial policy in the media, deprofessionalisation, political clientelism, but also concrete political control, which overall reduced the democratic potential of the Macedonian media and led to the loss of their freedom and independence in editorial policy.

Right now, according to the Agency for audio and audio-visual media services2 in North Macedonia there are around 100 TV stations that are registered and 21 entities currently registered within the Register of Print Media Publishers.

Republic of North Macedonia is one of the countries trying to reach a higher place on the list of media freedom. According to a report by Reporters Without Borders1, a Paris-based NGO, Republic of North Macedonia since last year has climbed three places on the 2020 list of media freedom. From 95th place, the country climbed to 92nd place with an average score of 31.28 points, out of a total of 180 countries and territories covered by the analysis.

The section describing the current situation in North Macedonia explains that the current government has reduced media advertising, which was previously a powerful tool for media control. What remains as a tool of pressure is that local municipalities are allowed to advertise in the local media.

 

As a positive example of achievements in the field of strengthening self-regulation and working standards of professional journalists, the research highlights the creation of a register of professional online media, which has about 70 members, and which was created by the Media Ethics Council and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia. It promotes self-regulation of the online media by obliging them to respect the code of journalists and the decisions for publication of the Media Ethics Council. Another positive example is the draft agreement on fair employment for journalists and media workers, which was signed by the Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers in cooperation with the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the Media Ethics Council, where a bond was set to respect the labour rights of all journalists and media workers, their freedom of expression and ethical and professional standards.

 

Information and freedom of expression are the foundation of democracy. Therefore, the contribution to the development of media freedom is of significant value in a society.