Skopje, 27 October 2011 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, concluded today her first official visit to Skopje where she discussed the country’s media freedom situation with journalists and government officials.
“Following a series of worrying developments this year, it was important for me to get first hand information and to work together in identifying solutions,” Mijatovic said.
During her visit, the Representative met with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki, Vice-Prime Minister in charge of European Affairs Teuta Arifi, Communication and Transport Minister Mile Janakieski, as well as the President of the Broadcasting Council Zoran Stefanovski, the President of the Association of Journalists Naser Selmani, the President of the Journalists’ Trade Union Tamara Causidis, the Director of the Media Institute Biljana Petkovska, as well as other media professionals.
Not fully-implemented media freedom legislative framework; transformation of the national broadcaster MRTV into a professional and sustainable public service broadcaster, safeguarding the independence of the regulatory authority; political and economic pressure on media and journalists, as well as the lack of solidarity within the media community and its division along political lines are the biggest challenges facing media freedom in the country, concluded Mijatovic.
“In order to start getting out of the present serious crisis, everyone, including politicians, media owners and journalists have to understand that mass media must serve the public and society at large, and not act in the interests of a particular party, a public figure or business,” Mijatovic said. “It must be clear that it is not the role of politicians or government officials to tell journalists how to do their jobs. Media and journalists must simply be ‘pro-public’.”
Mijatovic welcomed the joint initiative by the Vice Prime Minister Teuta Arifi and the Association of Journalists to establish a working group that will identify the main shortcomings in the field of media freedom and will prepare an action plan to overcome the problems.
The country should first fully decriminalize defamation, she said: “It is not acceptable that there are 165 defamation cases against journalists. Criminal proceedings and the threat of high fines pose a serious chilling effect on the media.”
In a recent case, a parliamentarian demanded 15,000 euros in moral damages from a journalist for posing “an offensive question” in a headline.
“Posing questions, including provocative ones, is not an option for journalists; it is in fact their duty. Politicians, precisely for the public function they assume, must display a higher degree of tolerance,” Mijatovic said.
She added that the creation of a self-regulatory body would help improve professional standards and prevent journalists from filing defamation lawsuits against each other.
Mijatovic urged authorities to improve the implementation of laws on media ownership to avoid illegal cross-ownership and political influence in media outlets, as well as create provisions on transparency of government advertising.
Mijatovic offered her Office’s assistance in reviewing media-related legislation to bring it in line with European standards and OSCE commitments on media freedom.