The NGO Info-centre, Transparency Macedonia and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), on July 1, 2020, held a workshop to discuss government policies in the context of the health crisis and whether they actually help the work of the media, journalists and media workers or are a source of corruption, which further damages the media sector.
Mladen Chadikovski, President of AJM, Damjan Manchevski, Minister of Information Society and Administration (MISA), Zvezdan Georgievski, ActingPresident of the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), as well as Mirce Adamcevski, President of the Complaints Commission of the Council for Media Ethics in Macedonia (SEMM)conducted introductory presentations. Other participants who contributed to the debate were representatives of civil, professional and media organizations, journalists that follow media policies, media experts with many years of experience in the sector, as well as a council member of the media regulatory in the country.
On the first topic, titled “What has the Government Done for the Media and Freedom of Expression – Aid or Corruption?”, Cadikovski noted that there has been general improvement in the media sector, especially in regard of pressure on journalists and media workers (something noted and in international reports on freedom of expression and media independence). However, the underlying problems remained, and they became particularly apparent during the state of emergency. The media is still trying to exist in a small media market, where parties and business centres of power can easily influence. The implementation of the laws in the area of public broadcaster and the regulatory body, even after three years, is stalled, and the economic security of journalists and media workers is generally weak. All of this is reflected in the generally poor supply of content by most media.
“First of all, any type of horizontal non-selective tax exemption for all media, non-monetary assistance, is fine and can help overcome the situation. Direct money in the media – no. Second, creating a kind of channel through which you can help create a program of public interest; Documentary program, feature program, research stories, are what can directly help journalism and raising the quality of journalism – yes. In such conditions, we have never been against any kind of assistance that will help not for the survival of the media, but for elevating the journalism, “said Chadikovski.
Minister Manchevski referred to actions towards media by MISA and the technical government during the state of emergency. According to him, the government tried to help the media through adopted decrees, as one of the sectors most affected by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Although, perhaps some of these measures were hasty or adopted without sufficient consultation, Manchevski believes that the environment in which they were adopted, as well as the need to achieve effects as soon as possible, i.e. minimizing the consequences, required quick interventions. However, Manchevski stated that the final results of these interventions will be measured additionally. One of the indicators taken into account will be how many journalists lost their jobs or were fired, because the purpose of these economic measures is primarily to enable the media to continue working without having to reduce their staff. .
“The pressure is not now on the government towards the media and cable operators, but vice versa, although we have taken measures to help both, and a number of other measures that were not financial, but actually help their work. We are still, probably due to the elections, under a lot of pressure, from both, media and cable operators. If they are united as they usually do, we will have results.” stated Manchevski.
In the context of the election of the new candidates for the Council at AVMS and the Program Council at MRT, he said that at this moment it is not known whether the choice will be made based on the already registered candidates in February 2019 or the new state assembly will announce a new call.
Zvezdan Georgievski, Acting President of SSNM, spoke on the second topic titled “Assessment of workers’ rights of journalists and media workers”. He presented some of the results of the latest survey on the economic situation of journalists and media workers. Georgievski pointed out that journalists suffer the most from the crisis, and consequently the citizens in terms of the quality of information. According to him, the Government’s measures should be aimed on helping professional journalism, journalists and media workers, and should not be focused only on financing the media.
“We are happy that we were able, through the Government’s measures, to provide 100% payment of contributions, i.e. pension and social insurance for journalists and media workers for a period of three months, only for media that did not fire journalists or did not reduce their salaries. That is, those who reduced employees were given time to correct the numbers at the level they had before the crisis, if they want to use this measure, “said Georgievski. He added: “The compromise we made with online media is that they must have at least three employees in order to use this measure, but what is unclear to me is how the Government managed to implement this measure in conditions when it did not plan or foreseen in the budget, and could not do it in normal circumstances? “
On the last topic in the working part entitled “Whether and How Much Professional and Ethical Standards in Reporting Were Respected ?”, The President of the Complaints Commission at SEMM, Mirce Adamcevski reviewed the work of the body for media self-regulation in the crisis caused by KOVID – 19. He pointed to the fact that the Council has increased workload in recent weeks, not only because of the crisis, but also because of the pre-election period in which some media outlets report in a manner contrary to the Code of Ethics.
“Based on submitted complaints, texts from the media are republished for granted, and the ordinary reader is misled. Although we have cases where in the text there is a video that negates the initial information from the same text, “said Adamcevski and pointed out several examples from local media that were not only unprofessional, but there were also examples of abuse of freedom of expression. That is why, according to Adamcevski, it is necessary to support media self-regulation and SEMM as a concept that will reveal these contents based on the involvement of citizens.
The second part of the webinar was dedicated to a debate moderated by Dragan Sekulovski, director of AJM. The following conclusions are relevant to the topic:
- Professional media and journalist organizations will continue to act together in order to create policies for full implementation of the obstructed media reforms, primarily in the area of MRT and the Media Agency. Immediately, after the early parliamentary elections, they will approach the new parliamentary composition.
- The new government is expected to form a reference list of priorities in terms of amendments to media laws and possible measures for economic support to the media and journalists, in cooperation with professional media and journalist organizations.
- It is expected to assess the effects and results of the support received so far by the media directly from the Government, through economic measures, but also from the media regulator, as well as from the Agency for Electronic Communications. This assessment will apply to all types of assistance used by the media, including print media receiving direct subsidies. Based on the results of the evaluation of the effects, it will be possible to see if there was a corrupt or clientelistic approach.
- In the future, MISA will organize similar consultative meetings with representatives of the media and civil society, in order to improve transparency and inclusiveness in decision-making that affects all media, journalists, media workers and the public at large.
- Media self-regulation is a useful way to improve ethical standards in the media and to separate professional versus non-professional media. That is why all the announcements of the political parties for creating a self-regulatory body within the media regulator are completely unacceptable and dangerous.
- The economic security of journalists and media workers, based on recent surveys, is deteriorating even more in the context of the crisis, and this may further affect the already generally poor supply of media content. Therefore, all stakeholders should take measures to support professional journalism, not just the media.
This activity is part of the project “Civil Society Organizations and Media Against Corruption – Coalition for Zero Tolerance”, funded by the European Union through the program to support the civil society and media freedom 2016 – 2017, implemented by Transparency Macedonia and NGO Info-centre, and in cooperation with AJM.