Macedonia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Macedonia

Macedonia

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

47

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

19

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

16

The legal framework contains most of the basic laws protecting freedom of the press and of expression, and government representatives generally respect these rights. Freedom of information legislation was enacted in 2006, but an Open Society Institute report released in late 2007 found that roughly half of all information requests over the preceding year had been ignored by state institutions with impunity. Another measure passed by the parliament in 2006 eliminated imprisonment as a penalty for libel and defamation. The offenses remain punishable by fines, however, and the institutional weakness of the judiciary enhances journalists’ vulnerability to prosecutions and lawsuits. The Broadcasting Council, which regulates television and radio outlets, is ineffective and subject to political influence. The collection of broadcast licensing fees broke down entirely in early 2007, adding to the council’s funding problems. Separately, a court in June awarded a total of 100,000 Euros (US$150,000) to 17 journalists whose telephones had been tapped illegally by the Interior Ministry and the telecom company MT in 2000. However, the reporters had initially sought 180,000 Euros (US$290,000) each; both the journalists and the government later appealed the awarded amount. No government officials were ever tried for the larger eavesdropping scandal, which came to light in 2001; the interior minister at the time received a presidential pardon.

Most of the country’s numerous and diverse private media outlets are tied to political or business interests that influence their content, and the state-owned media tend to support government positions. Journalists faced a series of violent incidents and threats in 2007. Much of the trouble began with a September brawl in parliament among members of rival ethnic Albanian parties. Some reporters covering the disturbance and subsequent police actions were assaulted by security guards or police, and video recordings of the events were confiscated. A number of journalists later protested the abuses by walking out on a subsequent government press conference. In November, the bilingual private television station Alsat-M alleged that the authorities had consistently pressured it since the September unrest, in which two of its cameramen were harassed and temporarily detained by police and a third was severely beaten, leaving him with two fractured ribs. The station cited repeated labor and financial inspections, unexplained break-ins, and damage to its transmission equipment, as well as government threats to pull its license and prosecute it for its coverage of a recent police raid in which six people had been killed. In a separate incident in May, a column by Iso Rusi in the Albanian-language daily newspaper Koha prompted a statement by the Democratic Party of Albanians—part of the ruling coalition—that contained ethnic and religious slurs as well as threats of violence.

Macedonia has a high density of media outlets for its population, including five private nationwide television broadcasters (as well as one public one) and dozens of local television and radio stations. Journalists’ salaries are low, professionalism and advertising revenue are scarce, and financial weakness often leads outlets to conform to their owners’ political and economic interests. A number of major television stations and newspapers are owned by or linked to political party leaders, and outlets are typically divided along ethnic lines. Ownership of the top print publications is concentrated in the hands of a few firms, including Germany’s Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which holds three leading dailies. The government is a major advertiser and reportedly favors outlets it perceives as friendly. Access to the internet is restricted only by cost and infrastructural obstacles; as a result, usage remains relatively low at just under 20 percent of the population.