The Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2017 for Macedonia, prepared by the US State Department, itemizes numerous instances of threats and attacks to journalists, media subordinated to the politics and the economic interests, but also public distrust of the media.
“The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, but government pressure on the media, impunity for perpetrators of violence against journalists and other members of media, and a media market divided along political party lines continued to be a problem”, reads the report.
It higlights that a 2016-17 Metamorphosis Foundation survey found that only 5 percent of citizens said they fully trusted the media.
The State Department then cites the reaction from April 28 of six media organizations, including the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and the European Federation of Journalists, which accused the previous government of failing to respect freedom of speech and the press and of taking no responsibility for the protection of journalists.
“A limited number of independent media voices actively expressed a variety of views without explicit restriction. Media outlets and reporting continued to be divided along political lines”, reads the report citing observations made by Freedom House on February 2, “Many private outlets are owned by business people who used their media holdings as tools to promote commercial interests or curry favor with the government.”
In the remark on the report of AJM from April, on the media situation until the formation of the new government cabinet, the State Department details that it denounced the extensive influx of public money from the central and the local level in the media. Regarding the new government, the report says that since August 22 it discontinued its advertising in the media, apart from social networks, and advised the local authorities to do the same. It also cites that the broadcasting fee was abrogated on 19 September.
The report also mentions the European Commission Senior Experts Group’s overview from September 14 last year, which points out that journalists often fail to comply with the ethical standards, citing allegations of self-censorship and selective reporting by some journalists as a result of corrupt practices and lack of necessary professional skills.
The report then repeats their concern regarding threats and intimidation, absence of good labor conditions for journalists and financial instability of media companies.
Concerning the threats and violence against journalists, “there is a clear sign of aggression used to silence journalists” said the report referring to the incident of June 7, 2018 when unknown individuals threatened Elida Zylbeari, the chief editor of “Portalb” news website, which is part of “Metamorphosis”, after she published an article on alleged fraud of Blerim Bexheti during his term as mayor of Saraj. An investigation into the case had not been completed by September, the report accentuates.
The State Department then addresses the obstructions for the journalists in their attempts to perform their work, including the beatings of six journalists in the violence on April 27 in Parliament. One of them, who was probably the most badly beaten, was the then journalist with the Meta News Agency (also a project of Metamorphosis), Dimitar Tanurov, whose statements were relayed by the State Department’s report.
“Dimitar Tanurov, a reporter for the independent Meta news agency told the Committee to Protect Journalists that angry protesters threatened him and instructed him to stop taking pictures during the April 27 demonstration at the parliament. According to Tanurov, “when they saw my press card and the media outlet I worked for, they called me a traitor, took my phone, and continued to beat and kick me while I was lying on the floor”, reads the State Departments report, which also mentions the attacks on reporters on February 27 and March 10 during the “For a United Macedonia” protests.
Regarding libel and slander, the report states that by November 23 last year, there were approximately 39 defamation cases involving journalists, editors, and/or media managers or owners pending before the courts. Information about pending cases from previous years was incomplete.