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INITIATIVE FOR EDITORIAL FREEDOM: NEW POLICIES AND DATA DRIVEN ADVOCACY

INITIATIVE FOR EDITORIAL FREEDOM: NEW POLICIES AND DATA DRIVEN ADVOCACY

DESK ANALYSIS
– The project engaged in comparative analysis of national legislation of 22 EU countries, against the backdrop of the EU Directive. Subject to measurement: how much control does the executive branch exercise with regard to program planning, presupposing that even if technical issues are concerned the overly detailed regulation and control inscribed in the law itself can limit editorial and journalistic freedom.

ISSHS researchers undertook analytical reading of lawmaking in countries of the EU that are considered as leaning toward hybrid regimes or “illiberal democracy” (e.g., Hungary) and Macedonia, on the one hand, and Western democracies on the other hand. A summary presupposition was that the latter rely on the European tradition of lawmaking that assumes its Citizen is honest and seeks to pre- serve it from abuse, whereas the former seems to depart from the assumption that its Citizen is a potential criminal whose actions are to be prevented. Thus, the same corollary produces two opposite or inverse images of application and implementation of the EU directive. The general conclusion is that “illiberal democracy” tend to overregulate the legal acts which affects the editorial freedom, whereas classical European democracies allow autonomy by way of prompting outlets to produce their own bylaws.

– Number of laws studied: 34

– Number of laws processed: 27

– Number of articles regarding detailing program issues processed: 475

FIELD RESEARCH
– Ensuring participation to provide feedback by outlets and journalists from throughout the country, as well as ensuring representative participation according to the criteria of local, regional and national outlets, their ideological leaning and property (private or public).
– Producing guides for focus groups and interviews, subjected to internal peer-review by the teams of ISSHS and ZNM in addition to the feedback of other experts.
– All national TV outlets contacted including the major radio and TV regional outlets
– Most of the outlets through their ZNM (AJM) representatives took part in the field research

OUTREACH of the research findings
Two visualisations:
– Comparative data on overregulation in European legislation concerning programmatic issues: http://tinyurl.com/y5wjc634
– Representation on fining and control concerning programmatic issues in the European outlets in comparison to Macedonia: http://tinyurl.com/yxmpykxd
– Online campaigning to promote visualisations. (Twitter and Facebook)
– Analysis of laws, bylaws and policy documents has resulted in conclusions that served the basis for the RIA document providing the backdrop against which one was able to produce recommendations concerning: reducing the control of the executive branch and the regulatory body in a constructing manner, allowing the outlets to self-regulate by way of bylaws and/or policy documents concerning standards, quality, values such as social inclusion and similar.
Number of bylaws and policy documents studied/processed: 47

FIELD RESEARCH
– Interviews and focus groups conducted by way of ensuring representative sample as described above
– Transcription of interviews and focus groups.
– Coding of responses from field research to match the findings of desk analyses.

Number of respondents in interviews: 20

Number of respondents in focus groups: 30

Number of pages of transcribed interviews and focus groups: 100

Measures of ensuring quality: peer-review reading of experts and policy makers the first results presented in the form of an initial draft RIA draft.

Advocacy to promote policy analysis findings
Presentation of the draft to the policy makers by seeking their feedback in written and oral form through individual/direct meetings and public presentations.
– Online consultation and meetings with AMVU experts – 2 public presentations of the project in front of AVMU.
– Presentation of the initial RIA findings in front of the Ministry

Visibility
– Preparation of workshops/trainings for evidence based policy advocacy in the area of media freedoms and freedom of expression: 1) curricula for the trainings, 2) methodological preparation, 3) preparation of calls for participation, 4) preparation of materials in local languages in order to introduce the participants to the basic techniques of data processing for evidence based advocacy.
– Ensuring quality of the process: assessing the needs of the activists and NGO’s active in the area at issue which showed that although the techniques of visualization are something they are familiar with, the skills of data mining, wrangling and processing in order to visualize is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled.

Continuing desk research: the findings of RIA were combined with the first and the second analysis of Priebe’s report in order to put the document in the context of the processes of “decapturing of state” initiated by the change in government in 2017. The discussion on editorial freedoms has been expanded and put in the wider context of an analysis of policy making in illiberal or hybrid regimes with a special focus on the values of freedoms of expression and media
– Field research: peer-feedback from ZNM and other experts have provided practical corroboration for the conclusions in the comprehensive study.

– Number of page of draft study: 170

– Number of pages of published study: 49 (Bilingual)

– Number of pages of supporting data: 523

POLICY FEEDBACK:
The context analysis shows that the decline in media freedom is a constant assessment in the past years, and for the second year in a row, Macedonia receives the status of “not free” according to Freedom House. The European Parliament’s Progress Report on Macedonia for 2016 and the 2017 Report and recommendations of the Senior Experts Group for Macedonia, point to the causes of the problem: systematic political interference in editorial policy and pressure, unbalanced reporting, the absence of self-regulation and lack of transparency in the public broadcasting service.

The general conclusion from our Regulatory Impact Assessment based on the findings below is that current state of programmatic freedom in the media is the result of the phenomenon of a “captured state” of a kind specific for Macedonia (and comparable to other “illiberal democracies”):
– through excessive regulation coupled with unprecedented number of sanctions (fines) in the legislation itself the executive branch controls the entire area of media and audio and audiovisual services.
– The fact that the contents, which is normally regulated in the European legislation in the form of bylaws adopted by the media outlets themselves or the regulatory body, is part of the Macedonian law itself puts the executive branch in control and it also allows it to punish (administratively) without recourse to the judiciary; bylaws and other less binding policy documents are the only means of ensuring effective instead of declarative autonomy and self-regulation.

The latter is precisely what Reinhard Priebe and the Senior Experts’ Group’s state as the essence of the systemic deficiency of the Macedonian institutions:

This has been described as a type of “state capture” but is perhaps more precisely characterised as the capture of the judiciary and prosecution by the executive power. (Second SEG Report, p. 5)

The Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services specifies in detail the program structure requiring adherence to rules of “chronological order” of broadcasting, duration of specific types of program and envisages sanctions for “violating” articles that state the order of shows and news. The article 92 is rich in detail beyond comparison to any European law concerning technical aspects of program planning and broadcasting, and although it does not regulate the program explicitly it does so implicitly. Our findings for the RIA presented below show that most of the sanctions and warnings issued by the Regulatory body are in relation to article 92. (An update of this paragraph in 2020: this article was eventually deleted from the law, near the end of this project).

The designated regulatory body, the Agency of Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, although formally an independent body is reduced to mere executor of the excessive control of the executive branch ensured by the overly detailed law. The role of the Council to enact that declarative independence is mere façade as the Law authorizes the Director of the Agency to take the decisions concerning sanctions by himself. Our comparative desk analysis of the overall legislation and the relevant media policy documents of the EU Member States and the strategic documents of the regulatory bodies as well as the monitoring reports carried out by the authorized agencies or regulatory bodies show that such a degree of control by the central government does not exist not even to an approximate level in any of the EU countries.

The European Directive (Article 4) stipulates an obligation for self-regulation and/or co-regulation at national level in the area of audio and audio visual services to the extent permitted by the national legislation of each of the member states. Self-regulation is possible only on the basis of bylaws adopted by the outlets, the regulatory body as well as other less legally binding types of documents such as policy statements, policy strategies, a charter of professional values and criteria and similar. In short, specific policy changes are required, in particular concerning what could and should be part of the laws and what belongs to bylaws and other policy documents, that will reduce the excessive control and sanctioning power of the executive branch over editorial policies and effectuate the commitments to self-regulation.

POLICY ADVOCACY based on the research findings
– Initial contacts with the program council of MRTV regarding the production of the bylaw: agreement on the basic premises of the bylaw.
– Regular meetings with the Ministry

OUTREACH
– Press conference at which the main findings have been presented in order to expose the public opinion to the possibility of greater liberalization (autonomy of the media) without the fear that rule of law may be undermined. This has been done by public appearances in the media by representatives of ZNM and ISSHS.

IN-DEPTH DESK RESEARCH that served as the basis for policy solutions to be built in the potential bylaw of the National TV and Radio Broadcaster:
– Comparative policy analysis of bylaws and other forms of self-regulation in line with the EU Directive
– Comparative policy analysis of legislation in the EU member countries which allows as much freedom from the executive branch as possible and accountability in front of the parliament of the regulatory bodies as well as national audio-visual outlets
ISSHS and ZNM experts discussed the policy solutions identified in the EU member states’ national legislation and elaborated modes of adjustment suited for our local, national context. This cooperation took the form of discussion, comments and revisions of proposed policy solutions.

DIRECT ADVOCACY
ISSHS and ZNM have discussed the prospects of the self-regulating solutions and their compliance with the EU directive with both the Ministry of Communication and the Agency for audio and audio-visual media services. The communication was intensive, constructive and dynamic. The input from the institutions has been taken into consideration when we devised our draft of a bylaw. On the other hand, we managed to present to the Ministry and to the Agency the advantages of an increased (not absolute) level of self-regulation as the means of ensuring autonomy for the media.

OUTREACH
TV appearances off ISSHS and ZNM (AJM) representatives in TV debates at Telma TV, 1TV and others.
Research continued with analysis of bylaws and consultation with the National Broadcaster and also with the Agency of audio and audiovisual services was conducted in order to come up with a concept of a bylaw suited for the Macedonian National Broadcaster. Continuous consultation with the members of ZNM and other professionals in the areas of media and reporting were part of their field research that built into the results of the overall analysis, integrating both desk analysis and field analysis.

VISIBILITY AND ADVOCACY:
The second panel was held at the premises of ZNM (AJM) and received a broad media coverage on national level.

RESEARCH AND POLICY OUTPUT
Based on our field research, which included active consultation with the members of the Program Council of the National broadcaster as well as various regional centers of ZNM but also individual editors from other outlets (in order to be able to establish criteria that could emulated by other national concession holders), started drafting their analysis that served the basis for their final product – the bylaw of programmatic self-regulation to be adopted and implemented by the National Broadcaster. In their analysis the two experts took into consideration the previous studies on policy making that is in line with European values concerning media and editorial freedom as well as producing legislation relying on the assumption of the “honest citizen” as the point of reference, rather than “potential offender” (typical of authoritarian policy making, which seems to assume that the subject of law, individual and collective, is always already aiming at breaking the law rather than the other way around). Therefore, the philosophy of braking away with policy making that is typical of illiberal democracies and its methods “state capture,” was employed in the drafting of the bylaw for the National Broadcaster.

Indicators of field research input as well as integration of direct stakeholders

It underwent several revisions that took into consideration the views of the Program Council with which our experts met 6 times in the 8th quarter of the project as well as once, for preliminary consultation, in the 7th quarter until it reached a form that was final (and penultimate from the aspect of the National Broadcaster that is finalizing it from nomothetic aspect).

The final version of the Draft-Bylaw was produced and ready to be presented to the informed public and various stakeholders.

VISIBILITY
ISSHS and ZNM organized a roundtable (public event) of high visibility combined with press briefings and press conference in order to raise visibility concerning the importance of adopting specific policies, such as self-regulation in the form of bylaws, to ensure autonomy of media is real, tangible yet in line with the legislation and the EU Directive. The event was very well attended and covered by various media.

In addition to that, ISSHS produced various user-friendly policy products – adapted for a various stake-holders instead of for expert public only – to raise awareness of the issue and carry out a campaign around its central commitments through the promotional materials sent out to a number of NGO’s, editors, professional organizations and decision makers. ISSHS data driven advocacy and visualizations for policy advocacy outputs called “Toolkits for media and editorial freedom.”

DIRECT ADVOCACY
In front of the Management of the National Broadcaster, ISSHS carried out direct advocacy in cooperation with the Program Council. ISSHS actively participated as a mediator in this internal process, as much as possible considering the internal procedures of the National Broadcaster are not something ISSHS can intervene in. In the end, let us note, the National Broadcaster adopted the bylaw drafted as part of this project and is currently implementing it (year of update 2020). Article 92 subject to scrutiny of this project was finally deleted from the law on audiovisual services helping the country to considerably improve its ranking in media freedoms produced by Freedom House (year of update 2020).