SEEMO Worried by Media Closures, State Pressure in MacedoniaWorld | July 13, 2011, Wednesday // 08:19| views
Pictured: Macedonian special police forces escort arrested media tycoon Velija Ramkovski (C) and 14 employees of his private A1 television channel, from the police station to take them to court in Skopje, 24 Dec 2010. EPA/BGNES
The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), has expressed concern over the latest media developments in Macedonia.
SEEMO is worried in particular by the closure of critically-oriented media outlets; it points out that currently Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski can count on friendly coverage by the majority of the Macedonia's national print and broadcast media.
At the same time, the journalists face increasing pressure from politicians and media owners, and independence and pluralism are seriously endangered, the organization points out.
SEEMO believes that a healthy democracy can only function properly if there are critical media and public broadcasters that serve the public interest.
Since the beginning of 2011, critical voices in the Republic of Macedonia have been silenced through media closures, selective tax-related investigations against media owners, the selective allocation of government-sponsored advertising, pressure by companies, labor disputes, self-censorship, fear of job loss and other forms of pressure, according to SEEMO.
On 3 July 2011, three dailies - Shpic, Vreme and Koha e Re - closed down. The newspapers allegedly owe the state EUR 1 M in unpaid taxes. The revenue office closed their accounts, which left them with no means to pay wages and basic printing costs.
In addition, A1 TV, the popular critically-oriented private television station, has already reduced its programming as a first step towards rationalizing operations and possible closure. A1 TV allegedly owes nine million Euros in unpaid taxes. The owner of A1 TV, Velija Ramkovski, was detained in December 2010 and accused of tax evasion and financial irregularities.
As a result of international pressure on the authorities in Skopje, several media outlets supportive of government policies jointly signed an open letter calling on the authorities not to bow to pressure exerted by the European Commission, OSCE and Amnesty International, among others. These institutions had urged the government to allow the indebted media companies to pay their bills in installments, so they could continue to work. The Gruevski government earlier ruled out letting them pay their debts in installments.
According to SEEMO, another form of political pressure on the Macedonian media is exerted through the selective allocation of government advertising. In small and fragile economies, public institutions tend to be major advertisers and therefore important contributors to companies' revenues. Where governments place their ads is of major importance for media outlets and government-friendly media are often favoured over others.
The recent closures prompted Macedonia's Journalists Union and the Journalists Association to stage a joint protest on 4 July 2011.The goal was to remind state institutions and media owners of repeated breaches of journalists' rights.
"SEEMO calls on Prime Minister Gruevski and all state institutions to guarantee press freedom and abstain from indirect pressure on critical media outlets. Democracy cannot be constructed with an obedient media and uninformed public," said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic.