At the moment of writing this text, there are intensive negotiations in progress between the leaders of the four biggest political parties in Macedonia regarding the new Law on Media. These negotiations are mediated by diplomats from the EU and USA. The mediation is inevitable because of the inability of Macedonian leaders to come to an agreement about this issue. Corruption in media is a great problem that needs to be solved, but our politicians’ attitude is understandable. They created it, and now they have to find a solution. At the moment, everybody is trying to impose their own norms without caring whether the new law enables fair conditions for objective Media reporting.
Macedonia is facing the greatest corruption scandal in the country’s history. In February 2015, the leader of the opposition party started publishing illegally wiretapped phone conversations, which according to him have been taped by The Administration for Security and Counter Intelligence of the Republic of Macedonia, and he obtained them by whistleblowers who work there. Even though the content of these wiretapped materials serves as an indicator of corruption in all public institutions, and the same content is of interest to every citizen, surveys from the period show that approximately 10% from the population was still unfamiliar with the content of the wiretapped conversations. The reason for this was that those uninformed citizens only followed media close to the government, which did not publish the information found in the content of the materials.
The already existing laws regulating Media are not poor at all and they do not differentiate a lot from media laws in the well-developed democratic countries in Western Europe. However, the problem arises when they are implemented in practice, since there is media corruption and low level of professional ethics amongst most journalists. Therefore, we have come to a situation where professional ethical reporting is to be solved by passing new laws, even though there is lack of mechanisms for self-regulation among journalists and the citizens do not hold elected politicians accountable for their deeds.
There are two reasons for biased media reports on corruption cases in Macedonia: 1) Journalists themselves decided to be biased in their reports due to lucrative motives, 2) Journalists did not have other choice, having in mind the power politicians have and might use against them.
Part of Media in Macedonia decided not to publish information coming from the wiretapped phone conversations. They did not only limit public reports on what was truly happening, but they also took sides-that of the government in power, and they openly attacked the opposition and civil society activists on a daily basis, abusing the influence of their Medium. Part of these Media are owned by people from smaller political parties who are members of the coalition in power, while the rest have been formed recently and are owned by offshore companies registered in Belize. Their main source of revenue are commercials paid by the government or private companies close to the ruling parties. The employments in these Media are made on the bases of a clientelistic principle – only people who are ready to serve the party can receive salaries. Therefore, these Media have become a comfort zone to journalists whose professional priority is to gain financial benefits and not to inform the public.
The easiness of achieving these financial gains is not the only reason why journalists choose to be corrupted, since it’s not easy to survive in this political environment if they report objectively. Furthermore, there are journalists who dare to speak or write about the corrupt behavior of certain members of the government; however, they end up in court for what they have published. This kind of practice began when the former leader of the opposition party got huge reparation of 25000 euros because journalists published information that this politician, then President of the country, had secret bank accounts in Swiss banks.
When the now-ruling-party came to power, they just perfected this practice. Now Macedonian judges care a lot more about politicians’ reputation, and they value their emotional sensitivity when it comes to deciding about the compensation they should receive due to the emotional pain caused by published information about their corrupt behavior. The sums for paying damages are raised significantly in recent years, so that it becomes easier for the government to use the court against Media. It not only happens when the journalists pose certain claims, but also when they pose questions with the sole purpose of instigating a debate in public.
There is even a case in which the Head of the Agency for State Security and Counter Intelligence found himself falsely accused by article in which the journalist questioned Macedonian courts, and contrary to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the journalist was found guilty. Of course, the repatriation was very high and it threatened the newspaper’s existence. (An appeal to the European Court of Human Rights has been submitted, the verdict is still to be brought).
Politicians do not miss a chance to abuse their power in court and gain a defamation verdict against any journalist who dares to inform the public about their corrupt behavior. The court did not even have a problem sentencing a journalist for publishing an alleged official secret in an unrelated text. Law was not respected, and the government managed to send their message to the non-corrupt journalists, that if they do not pay attention to what they publish, they will face the same reality.
Macedonian legislative does not impede Media from informing on corruption cases. The laws and statute guarantee freedom of speech, prohibit censorship, and do not contain provisions that are in conflict with these values. However, citizens still suffer the absence of objective informing from most Media. This has not resulted from deficiency in our laws, but from the artificially created atmosphere of fear by the government, in which the Medium is either oriented towards them and will gain huge sums of money, or the Medium is against them, and will lose large sums of money and the freedom of its journalists. Until a change in the information coming from Macedonian Media is not conceived, there will be a smaller part of Media whose role will remain that of informing public about corruption, and the bigger part whose role will continue being that of helping the party in power hide corruption.