Legalizing Restrictions of the Freedom of the Press
It is our great pleasure to announce the release of the policy report “Legalizing Restrictions of the Freedom of the Press,” produced by a team of ISSHS researchers with the support of Think Thank Fund-Open Society Institute, Budapest. The report is based on a desk analysis and field research, made in the period June – September 2014. It covers the current situation concerning the media in the Republic of Macedonia as one of the major political issues in the country, affecting both internal aspects of democracy and the status of human rights. See the intro below:
The legal frame which permits sponsoring of the private media by the Government conditions the problem of editorial and journalistic censorship and self-censorship. The sponsoring at issue is not de iure “sponsoring” but rather excessive advertising campaigns which either promote the regular activities of the Government or “ideas” the Government and the ruling parties advocate as beneficial for the society as a whole. Whatever the object of promotion, the campaigns of the Government carried out in the media take the form of awareness raising campaigns. For years, the Government and the ruling party have been running media campaigns which boil down to sheer promotion of demo-Christian values, upon which the doctrine of the ruling party VMRO DPMNE relies.
By the end of 2013 and the beginning 2014, one of the key issues of public and political interest concerning the freedom of the press in the country was the newly adopted law on audio and audiovisual and media services. The adoption of the new law was preceded by a major process of negotiations between the country’s most prominent journalists’ association, namely “The Association of the Journalists of Macedonia” and the Government. The negotiations started in 2011 with the aim of improving the condition of the media in the country. In the course of 2013, they intensified focusing on several draft versions of the proposed law, with increased tensions presented as public confrontations between the leading interlocutors. The new law was introduced and the preceding negotiations took place and lasted for years in spite of the fact that “The Association of the Journalists of Macedonia” (ZNM) had been opposed to the idea of introducing a new law that would regulate media in the first place.
Legal overregulation leads to excessive state control of the media. That is why reservations related to the very need of a law on media had also been expressed by the OSCE (The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). A review of the law drafts commissioned by OSCE argued that, instead of a law on media, the legislating body should introduce a law on audiovisual services following the provisions made by the EU Directive on audiovisual services adopted in 2010. The negotiations between ZNM and the Government, at occasions facilitated by the OSCE, lead to a conditional agreement about a law that was adopted on 25 December 2013 titled “Law on Audiovisual Services.” The law on audiovisual services consisting of 156 articles is filled with abundance of details that would normally be part of secondary legal acts, marked by excessive restrictions of editorial independence. In short, it remains to be over-regulating. One of the conditions of acceptability of the law set by ZNM consisted in demanding the inclusion of articles that would restrict the influence of the government over the media primarily through financial means, i.e., through the government sponsored media campaigns. The law was adopted with the conditional agreement from ZNM, consisting in a trial period of 6 months given to the Government to revise the articles permitting financial control over the media. This condition has not yet been met.
The study at hand is an analysis of the new law on audiovisual services and the political context in which it has been adopted and ought to be implemented. We argue that the law is excessively restricting leaving practically no space for editorial independence. The law is marked by a high number of stipulations that constitute a virtually total technocratic exhaustion of programmatic possibilities for all audiovisual media in the country, leaving minimal margins for editorial decisions. At the same time, the law permits a lot of space for the regulating body to arbitrarily interpret editorial choices with the possibility of enforcing punishment through excessively high fines. The new law on audiovisual services legalizes practices that have been the kernel of the systemic suspension of editorial and journalistic freedom in the country, namely: the ceaseless media campaigning of the Government and the control of the state over the journalistic and editorial content (even format). In this way, the law enables and consolidates the practices of media dependence on finances provided by the government, of censorship and self-censorship and of the precariousness of the journalists and editors in terms of their labor rights as well as human rights.