By Tamara Causidis
If, not long ago, we spoke of the jeopardized state of media in Macedonia, today it is fair to say that values such as freedom of speech as well as the role of the journalist as a critical observer of the political processes are disappearing from the public discourse. For many journalist colleagues, impartiality, professionalism, principle, and transparency have become a luxury they cannot afford, provided they want to keep their jobs.
The pressures on the journalists come from different sides – media owners, government, political parties and business/economy centres. Yet, they all have one main modus operandi – exploiting the economic situation of media workers.
In a situation of high unemployment rate in the country, the number of journalists on the labour market is much higher than needed. In terms of employment, we have exceeded 800 lost jobs in three years. This is an alarmingly high number, considering the total number of media workers in Macedonia is estimated between 2000 and 3000.
The media owners are using this situation to decrease the journalists’ labour price, to misuse them and set unfair employment and working conditions. Employment and wages change with the tides, leaving journalists vulnerable to pressures, wherever they come from. It is difficult for an underpaid journalist to resist the pressures of power when it forces them to disseminate biased or even false information. Moreover, journalists often have few options other than self-censorship to avoid losing their positions.
The trade union believes that the best way to prevent this practice and build professional and free media is not to persuade politicians and media owners to stop abusing their power, as they never truly will, but rather to force them to do so.
This can best be achieved by emancipating journalists and disabling the ways in which they are controlled, creating fair and professional working conditions. The journalists’ work – their professionalism, criticism or lack-there-of, have become currency which media owners use in their transactions with politics and political elites. Our job is to disable this “trade” that directly affects the freedom of information and expression, which are the basis of all other freedoms as well as the foundations of human dignity.
Tamara Causidis is the President of the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists.