Instead of building a bridge of reconciliation, the Macedonian Radio Television has built lingual walls between its viewers as high as the building itself.
Milena Atanasovska – Manasieva – PINA
The programmes aired by the Albanian, Turkish, Vlach and other communities in the country do not reach the entire audience because even five years after the digitalization has been introduced, the national service hasn’t provided a possibility for multiple audio programming options and subtitles for the other languages.
The debate show Argument, educational, informative and documentary as well as entertainment programs produced by the Albanian newsroom, can be viewed and understood only by the Albanian-speaking population. A secondary audio programming, that is, option to select a preferred language, is available during Parliament’s sessions only, and according to our interlocutors, this would be the solution for making MTV’s programmes available to the entire audience.
“Most of all, I would like everyone to see and understand what we do, and of course, that can be solved by adding subtitles and a secondary audio, just like the Parliament’s channel has, but for now, we need more people to pull that off, although the equipment-wise possibility exists. I, for example, as the editor of the second channel, cannot understand the programme of the Turkish ethnic community,” says Migena Gorenca, editor-in-chief of MTV’s second channel.
She told PINA that the second channel needs more people, and there is one absurd situation as well – the systematization does not include a translator into Macedonian.
“I have wanted to invite a Macedonian guest in the debate or entertainment shows many times before, but we do not have a translator, I’d have to pay them out my own pocket,” she says.
According to the recommendations of the Council of Europe, one of public service’s core tasks is to strengthen the cohesion of the society, as Naser Selmani, the head of the Association of Journalists, explains.
“The MRT has to find a way to translate the programmes of the ethnic communities into Macedonian, and by doing so it will contribute mutual understanding and familiarity,” Selmani says.
As a journalist, he cannot understand why MRT’s newsrooms send multiple journalists to the same event. A journalist and a camera is enough.
“A journalist from any newsroom makes a news piece and it can be aired by all newsrooms. If a newsroom wishes to cover the event from a different angle, then it can do so because everyone has the same gross-material from the event,” Selmani says.
MRTV is in dire shortage of young staff
“The sky is the limit” is the maxim that best describes the capabilities of the digitalization. Multiple audios, subtitles, specialized channels, teletext, are just some of the things the user can choose from. MRTV doesn’t use any of that, as if the time has stopped for it.
Why does this happen when we know that the state has provided about 10 million euros for the digitalization process? Will the crystal clear picture, that doesn’t reach all users, be the sole benefit?
Cane Petrushevski, head of MRT’s TV-equipment sector, says the 30-year-old equipment has been replaced by a modern one over the course of the last five years. However, the consequences caused by being idle, cannot be fixed so easily.
“What we did with the equipment, I would describe like this: We didn’t have underwear, so we bought it, but the tie, the suit have to be bought as well so we can live up to the task. We need young people. We have technical capabilities for graphics that would look extraordinary, but that is not seen on screen because we need young people who think that way. We need fresh, new ideas,” Petrushevski thinks.
He also shares the position that the MRT doesn’t use the capabilities of digitalization fully. He says that there are no impediments for implementing parallel audio in other languages, a new equipment might have to be bought additionally, but the focus should be laid on human resources.
“That means translators, technical staff, someone who will control the whole process,” he says.
Petrushevski highlights that the digitalization offers possibilities for opening new specialized channels, something that the public service is missing. He explained that they have nowhere to air sports and entertainment content, because the first channel broadcasts programmes that the private ones do not, such as programmes for various age groups, culture, education…
“And when a World Cup or the Olympics is on, we don’t have where to air programme. We need a sport and entertainment channel and logically, such channel should be at least bilingual. When an important sports event is on, it’s aired both on the first and the second channel, because the secondary audio programming is not available,” he says.
At the roundtable organized by OSCE, Jonathan Stoneman, a media expert and a former BBC journalist, also highlighted the need of subtitling the programs in other languages on MTV. As he puts it, people would become familiar with the other language communities more easily which will result in greater closeness.
On the other hand, Petrushevski, adds that it may seem that staff swarms the TV station, but that’s not the case in real life.
“Many people have left. We have only two remote broadcasting vehicles and a smaller one, but we don’t have people to do the work. We have three mobile studios, but in the best case scenario we have 10 events a week. We can do a lot more, but we don’t have people for live reporting. The positions are numbered and some of them are empty,” he says.
According to MTV’s work reports up to and including 2016, it employs 864 people, 46.4 percent of whom have completed secondary education only. The Director of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), Dragan Sekulovski, says MTV’s crisis is not just related with money, but with staff too.
“Half of the employees have completed secondary education only, there are no new jobs, and the average staff age is 58 years, especially in the radio,” Sekulovski says.
Level of education of MRT’s employees as of 31 December 2016
Special channels are needed
The very need for opening specialized channels was highlighted by Professor Snezhana Trpevska of the Institute of Communication Studies. She explains that the networks managed by the Macedonian Broadcasting have been already digitalized, and that is a great opportunity for the MRT to fulfil its functions as a public service in a better manner.
“That means that now it can air more program services to fulfill the obligation to emit different content for different audiences,” she says.
According to her, the process of digitalization is lagging behind because MRT has been struggling to survive for years. This is leading to the question whether MRT has resources (financial, staff, production) to air more programmes on digitalized networks.
“Many years ago, MRT had two channels in Macedonian language, if you recall. To fulfill its function as a public service (in Macedonian language) MRT’s former second channel has to be restored, which was taken away when the Parliament’s channel started operating. The first channel has to inform (news, current information, documentaries and specialized programs), while the second one should air sport, movies, entertainment shows for young people,” Trpevska says.
Mario Makraduli, a professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering & Information Technologies (FEIT), thinks that MTV has the equipment for multiple audio programming options but it lacks resources and staff.
“Of course, digital television offers that opportunity, four audios can be broadcast in one moment. By the nature of things, the digital signal allows more subtitles, but that requires bigger human resource capacities and of course better equipment,” Makraduli avers.
However, he is skeptical about the process of translation.
“It’s hard to monitor whether every translator has translated accurately in real time or has made a blunder. It is complex and risky, the chances for human error are big. The translation “coughs” in the Parliament, that’s why I am skeptical about this,” Makraduli says.
MRTV was supposed to air a 24-hour-programme in Albanian since June
The small family that works on the programmes for the other ethnic communities in the public broadcasting service’s building is about to face problems because in the future it will have to provide a 24-hour-programme in Albanian, as well as a new channel for the other nationalities. In fact, they are legally obligated to do that since June, but they do so only 16 hours a day.
“It is true that we have to broadcast a 24-hour-programme in Albanian. But, where are we supposed to place the shows for the other communities? I was asked the exact same thing at a meeting of the program council this morning. I said I cannot throw other newsrooms out on the street. Where we would broadcast the content in Turkish, Vlach, Bosnian, Serbian that currently run on the second channel. Am I the one who has to tell them,” Gorenca says.
The amendments to the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, passed by the former government, prescribe that the MRT needs to provide another TV channel in the language spoken by at least 20 percent of the citizens other than the Macedonian, which will broadcast a 24-hour-programme every day of the week, as well as a TV channel that will air programme in the languages of the other non-majority communities. This Government, that is drafting the new law, is working on this specific part of the law. The Minister of Information Society and Administration, Damjan Manchevski, announced the opening of a fourth channel.
We enquired whether MTV is obliged to broadcast a 24-hour-programme in Albanian. We were told that the particular article will not be amended, but they made it clear that MTV will not be obligated to broadcast a new production of their own in Albanian for 24 hours each day.
“The AAAMS is obligated to conduct oversight of the reporting dynamics, that is, whether it complies with the stipulated principles of reporting,” was the response of Manchevski’s cabinet.
The second channel needs at least 90 new employees
The editor MTV’s second channel explained that after the amendments to the broadcasting of 24-hour-programme in Albanian were passed in June, they immediately submitted a report to the Government regarding the situation with the staff and equipment, as well as everything else needed for successful implementation of the programme.
“In that report, made before we knew that there is going to be a fourth channel, we stated that we need at least 90 new employees. So now, MTV will probably have re-estimate the situation because we are asked to do much more,” Gorenca says.
She explains that the television has only two large recording studios, and they are literary struggling for available time slots.
“We all want the prime time slots for the debate shows, the morning programs, and what will happen if we initiate a forth channel? How are we going to work if we don’t invest in equipment and staff?” she asks.
The Albanian newsroom consists of 52 employees, and if the morning program on MTV1 is made by six journalists, here, it’s made by two part-timers.
“This is the state of play with the staff in a nutshell. When we will be required to fully cover one channel, we will need much more of what we have at the moment,” Gorenca says.
According to the TV’s work reports, at the end of 2016 it employed 624 Macedonians, 156 Albanians, 32 Turks. Unlike the year before, there are approximately forty employees fewer.
Selmani: MTV is a coma patient
The Macedonian television has incurred a debt of 20 million euros, which is bigger than its budget for 2018. The new funding of the public service (0.7 percent of the state budget) will not bring more money that it has hitherto. On the contrary, there will be less money considering the fact that in the last years MRT has had a budget of 21 to 19 million euros. The Minister Manchevski has told PINA that 0.7 percent of the state budget means that MRT will receive more than 19 million euros. However, according to the Law, the MRT will receive 74.5 percent of the cake, because the rest of it goes for the Macedonian Broadcasting and the AAAMS. In other words, the television will receive 14.4 million euros. Is this enough for covering the expenses, the debts, for opening a new forth channel and 24-hour-programme in Albanian?
“It’s not enough, no matter how you look at it,” Gorenca says.
Her position is shared by Naser Selmani, who explains that the new legislation will cause regression in terms of the model of funding the MRT. AJM believes that MTV should be receive 1 percent of the budget, and the next year it will five million euros less than this year.
“Picture this, with five million euros less in the budget, the MRT has to fulfill all of the old obligations and on top of that to open two new channels, one with a 24-hour-programme in Albanian language, while the other with programme for the smaller ethnic communities. It is clear the MTV is not ready, neither staff-wise nor equipment-wise, to answer these new challenges,” says Selmani.
He presumes that the programme for the smaller communities will be of poor quality and probably the space will be filled with old reruns.
Selmani reveals that the program council of MRT has adopted a proposed plan this month on implementing the second channel in Albanian language, which will be funded by nearly two million euros. If at least one million euros is spent on the forth channel for the smaller communities, MRT will start 2018 with 12 million euros, Selmani thinks.
Minister Manchevski’s cabinet confirmed that there are no additional funds for the fourth channel.
“The funds for this channel are provided from the budget as well, as a part of the 0.7 percent from the budget transferred to the bank account of MRTV,” read the statement of Manchevski’s cabinet.
Selmani is certain that MRT has no chances of fulfilling its obligations.
“It will be like a patient connected to a breathing machine. The government wants to play the role of the doctor, who practically decides whether the patient will continue breathing or not. With this unserious and dishonest approach of the Government, MRT will never grow to be a serious public service of the citizens. Instead, it will exist just so we can say that we have a public service because we have to have it due to the European Union,” Selmani says.
Apart from the notes for reforming the MRT contained in Priebe’s last report, it is also ascertained that the media landscape in this country is characterized by a large number of actors, 130 radio and television channels, and the media outlets are mainly divided on political or ethnical grounds.
“Like society, like media. We are divided completely as a society on ethnical grounds, and the situation with the media is the same. We don’t know what happens to people around us, we go to the same events, everyone covers the story from their own point of view. The public service has a chance to change that, but the Government needs to be willing and above all to provide us with working conditions,” says the editor Gorenca.
The text is made within the framework of the project “Media Reform Observatory”, implemented by the Foundation for Internet and Society Metamorphosis, “Agora” Center for Promoting Civil Values and the Platform for Investigative Journalism and Analyzes – PINA, with the financial support of the “Foundation Open” Society – Macedonia “. The content of the text is the sole responsibility of the authors and can in no way be considered to reflect the views of the “Open Society Foundation – Macedonia”.