The media system in Macedonia has been in deep crisis for years, which is more a reflection of the deep political crisis, but also of the economic, moral and so on. This system is highly politicized, and the function of this thesis is the mutual links between the owners of some media with political parties. Even in some of them, defacto their owners are party leaders, although not formally legal.
The same media owners own large businesses and thus the political-business-media connectivity is often fatal to professional standards and ethical norms. However, in some commercial media in Albanian language, although this direct connection between parties and the media does not exist, it works indirectly, in a subtle and sophisticated way.
The Government does not advertise in televisions, it subsidizes newspapers
Only one-step has already been taken in reforming the media system. Government advertising is not done any more, being one of the biggest, perhaps even crucial problems that caused the major party influence on the editorial policy of the majority of Medias. The Government approved the decision to remove the distribution of funds provided in the name of public campaigns, but on the other hand did not remove paid political advertising during pre-election campaigns, which according to the Electoral Code amendments adopted in 2018 do not pay political entities, but the state budget respectively citizens’ public money. Political parties themselves are allowed to decide which media they want to pay for their publicity, putting the media in an unequal position! Moreover, political advertising in the online media and their monitoring by the State Election Commission is not a European practice, since media self-regulation precludes state interference with the media, in any form above all their funding. .
While the Government banned government advertising in the media, the same decided to support the printing and distribution of print media in the country by 50 million denars or about 810 thousand euros. The funds provided are allocated to newspapers and magazines in Macedonian and Albanian. Subsidies are allocated to print media of general information nature that publish content on political, economic, social, cultural etc. The Medias that earn Government money must fulfill all obligations to the state and its employees. The Press Association has been involved in the process of reaching an agreement with the Government, while the Association of Journalists of Macedonia has made proposals.
The list of subsidies allowed for newspapers in 2018 is as follows:
-Nova Macedonia – 6,183,000 denars (100,000 euros)
-Sloboden Pecat ‒14.280.000 denars (238.000 euros)
-Bitolski vesnik‒ 244,500 denars (4,000 euros)
-Zen, Prilep ‒ 288,000 denars (4,500 euros)
-Capital ‒ 2,115,000 denars (35,000 euros)
-Koha – 4.930.000 denars (EUR 82.000)
– Vecer ‒7.255.000 denars (120.000 euros)
-Lajm – 1,045,000 denars (17,000 euros)
-Focus ‒ 4,625,000 denars (75,000 euros)
-Economy and Business ‒ 748,000 denars (12,500 euros)
Zaev’s Government released data suggesting that at least 38 milion euros were spent on campaigns and propaganda in electronic and print media from 2008-2015, while Sitel Television received 7 milion euros. It is about money that has been allocated by the Government alone, not counting the money of municipalities, Government agencies and public enterprises. According to Government’s data, the power of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has spent an average of seven to nine million euros in the Media, mainly in pro-government ones close to VMRO-DPMNE. With few exceptions, very little money has been poured into the media that has been critical of the former Government. Telma and Alsat-M have received 35 times less than power-related televisions.
Media Agency and RTVM- institutions in “status quo”
On the other hand, we cannot expect to have free media when we have a partisan Media Agency whose members are party members, except for the member proposed by the Association of Journalists, a former journalist.
Declaratively there have been explicit commitments from the new Government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev that priority will be the media reforms. Along with the abolition of the radio diffusion tax around which the dilemmas remain, the new legal solutions reforms legally, i.e. on paper provided a transparent process of selecting new members of the RTVM Council and the Media Agency Council, as regulatory body. The concept of authorized nominees has already gone down in history and the new model of selection is implemented through public competition and organized public debate with candidates running for council members. Candidates running for council members are required to submit at least two letters of support from various media freedom organizations, including journalist associations, human rights organizations and university education institutions in the field of journalism and communication. The Parliamentary Committee on Elections and Appointments according to the law was obliged to organize a public debate within a month at the end of the contest, which opened in late January, but unfortunately, it did not happen. Until now in the council meetings are concluded only the names of candidates meeting the conditions set out in Article 16 of the Audio and Audiovisual Media Services Law. The head of the commission from people of VMRO-DPMNE, Ilija Dimovski, said that he could not organize a debate, since there is no agreement between the political parties represented in the Assembly, since the election of candidates, both in committee and in plenary session is adopted by two-thirds of the votes of the Members of the Assembly. This means that North Macedonia will go to elections with the current composition of the Council of the Media Agency and its current director, Zoran Trajcevski, a proven VMRO-DPMNE staff. 28 candidates have applied for seven positions on the Council of the Media Agency, while the same have not received any notification from the Assembly about their candidacy and whether the 2019 contest will be valid after the early parliamentary elections in April.
The same is the case in the public broadcasting service – North Macedonian Radio and Television, as due to the blocking of the Election and Appointment Committee, new members of the RTVM Program Council cannot be elected, who will then elect new bodies, especially the director and deputy executive director. 18 candidates are running for the 13 positions on the RTVM Council.
In fact, RTVM, even 30 years after the legal-normative transformation of the country’s political system, remains an unformed institution, with very poor programming, with an average age of 56 years, with great influence of political parties and a passive accommodation of employees within the “status quo” institution that has been prevalent all these years.
How to reform the public broadcasting service – RTVM?
The first and indisputable is the reinforcement of RTVM’s institutional and financial autonomy and independence, as only its public service naming indicates that it is in public service, publicly funded, although in the case of our country the money is allocated from the state budget and must be in the service of the public interest.
In the RTVM Programming Council, in order to be more functional, only people close to the ruling political party should not be “delegated”. The competencies of the Albanian Deputy Director should be enhanced, because currently the RTVM Deputy Director does not have the right to sign. Even this function, like the director, should be departmentalized, because people close to the ruling party have always been sitting in this position so far. The public broadcasting service, namely the second program service should be more cooperative with the civil society, because only in this way will it become a public service and there will be no Government-party service.
The idea for the Albanian Language Program to be broadcast in 24 hours is a good idea, but before that a clear and detailed analysis of the functionality of the idea should be done, which is primarily about funding, selecting the editor responsible for the public competition, hiring more staff, but without party cards, providing technical-technological conditions, field shooting machines and so on. The RTVM program must radiate professionalism, objectivity and political impartiality, it must produce diverse cultural, artistic and documentary programs that preserve and reinforce the ethnic identity of its citizens, as this is its obligation. After all, it is the citizens who fill the state budget, from which RTVM is funded as a public service!
Commercial Media fits the public taste
We really have pluralism in the commercial television sector, because we have five televisions with earth broadcasting licenses, and there are other televisions that have national-cable licenses. However, in terms of programming, they are all generalist televisions and there is no one specialized in any particular program segment or dedicated to a segmented audience. Programmatic renovations are needed, and as a starting point, the investigative journalism needs to be strengthened. In addition, programs should be created that to focus on the citizen, their problems and daily concerns, while news and other programs should reduce the large presence of politicians and heads of institutions. It would be preferable, despite the fact that we understand the commercial logic, to try to reduce the enormous presence of Turkish soap operas and other light and entertaining content. The commercial air of television needs cultural substance, although this is an obligation of the public service broadcaster – RTVM, but in the time of institutional collapse and a lack of institutional care for aesthetic, artistic and cultural values, commercial media must play its role. However, these programs must be supported by the business as they are for the benefit of the general good. The status of journalists within newsrooms needs to be improved, both by raising salaries and providing better working conditions, but also by providing vocational trainings.
Nevertheless, how is the situation in the local media? Most of them face existential problems, and consequently a small number of employees, which is reflected in the programming. Kitsch and dubious cultural values are an integral part of the program, which is largely musical, with no news releases, debates, documentary shows or reports, with telenovelas being Bollywood productions or any production from Turkey, Spain, Brazil, Venezuela and so on. Unless there is a mode for subsidizing them, a large part of the local media will be forced to shut down.
Online media – a real challenge for democratic society!
The online media in North Macedonia are not included in the media laws – the Media Law and the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services. But this does not mean that this media sector is by no means defined in the normative-legal aspect, as many other laws, which do not belong to the media sphere, contain provisions that indirectly regulate the media field, work and their behavior, content creation and distribution to the online public. In order to strengthen self-regulation in the media, the Ethics Council created a voluntary online media register for its members, consisting of almost 70 portals. Subject to the terms of membership of the EMC, web portals must meet certain conditions, such as: publishing impresum (editor-in-chief, editor), founder or owner, and contact information.
They should agree that they respect the Code of Journalists and therefore have banderol posted on their website, and that the published texts must be signed by their authors etc. “In the context of the parliamentary elections to be held on April 12, the Registry will be a test for political parties. They will be seen promoting themselves in professional online media or in their propaganda media, ”said Mladen Cadikovski, president of the Association of Journalists in North Macedonia. Similarly, the business community will be clear that it will advertise in professional media or in media that do not meet the registration criteria.
This media landscape, mainly in electronic, print and online media, is an indication that North Macedonia has not made the right reforms and the proposed ones by international expert, Peter Van Haute, in 2015.
In all reports of respected organizations, it is ranked as partially free country, in a group with African and Asian states. According to the Reporters Without Borders media freedom index, North Macedonia is ranked in 95th place out of 180 countries. For several years, especially during VMRO-DPMNE’s rule, North Macedonia was ranked last in the Balkans and in the penultimate Europe in the international indexes of freedom of the press. The fact that a large part of the media is in the service of party-political and economic interests has been confirmed by the European Commission, while the imbalance and bias in favor of the government during the electoral processes have been highlighted by the OSCE-ODIHR Mission and the Council of Europe. Europe.
The complete erosion of the media system has taken a full decade, and its recovery, as seen by the pace of reform implementation, will not need a decade! It will take more than that.