Freedom of the Press
Macedonia’s constitution includes basic protections for freedoms of the press and expression, but government representatives do not uphold them consistently. Journalists remain subject to criminal and civil libel charges, though imprisonment has been eliminated as a punishment. Multiple libel cases against journalists were pending in 2010, and the large number of cases each year continues to encourage self-censorship. One reporter for the weekly Forum was briefly detained in September for failing to pay a fine of 500 euros ($635) from a slander conviction that he said he was never informed of. A 2007 law on open access to public information reportedly has not been fully implemented or enforced. Collection of the fees used to finance the Broadcasting Council, which regulates television and radio outlets, and Macedonian Radio and Television (MRTV), the public broadcaster, noticeably improved in 2010, but the need for sustainable, independent funding for the entities remained a problem. Enforcement of media regulations, including rules on ownership transparency, is weak, and the licensing process is subject to undue political and economic influence.
Most of the country’s private media outlets are tied to political or business interests that influence their content, and state-owned media tend to support government positions. The government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and its media allies have shown growing hostility toward critical or opposition-oriented news outlets. In May 2010, television host Milenko Nedelkovski of Kanal 5, whose owner is the son of a government politician, publicly listed journalists he considered traitors and called for their “liquidation.” The government failed to condemn the statements and took no action against Nedelkovski, and the host later filed a defamation suit against a columnist at the newspaper Dnevnik who rebutted his attacks. Kanal 5 fired eight staff members in July, ostensibly for financial reasons, but some of the dismissed workers accused the government of meddling in editorial matters at the station and engineering their ouster.
There have been occasional cases of physical harassment or intimidation of journalists and media outlets. In early November, the editor of the popular Spic daily complained that the progovernment paper Vecer had repeatedly accused him of wrongdoing and printed his home address, which he saw as a form of intimidation. Later in the month, police and financial inspectors raided the building that houses A1 TV, the country’s leading television channel, which is critical of the government. Though they claimed to be investigating other companies registered at that address and controlled by A1 TV’s owner, Velija Ramkovski, the police prevented journalists from leaving and entering and allegedly manhandled some staff during the incident. Ramkovski, who also apparently owns the daily newspapers Spic, Vreme, and Koha e Re, was arrested along with 13 associates in late December, and they remained in detention at year’s end. The charges against them included money laundering and tax evasion.
Macedonia has a large number of media outlets for its population, including 5 private nationwide television broadcasters and the public MRTV, 57 local and regional television stations, 71 radio stations, and 11 daily newspapers, 7 of which publish in Macedonian and 4 that publish in Albanian. Outlets serving the ethnic Albanian minority remain largely separated from the main media market. Ownership is fairly concentrated, and rules against cross-ownership of broadcast and print outlets are not enforced. There is some foreign investment, with Germany’s WAZ Media Group owning Dnevnik and two other important dailies, although WAZ announced in August its plans to leave the Southeastern European market. The government actively uses advertising to support loyal media outlets, and in August 2010 the former spokesperson for the National Health Fund released an open letter accusing the government of controlling the media through ad spending. Journalists face low salaries, poor job security and working conditions, and editorial pressure from owners.
Access to the internet is restricted only by cost and infrastructural obstacles, with around 52 percent of the population accessing the medium in 2010. However, a law that took effect in June 2010 allows the Interior Ministry to monitor internet and telephone communications on demand without a court order, raising objections from freedom of expression advocates who cited the country’s recent history of improperly wiretapping journalists.