Take action! Dangerous threats to freedom of expression and information in Macedonia

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Par AL pour APCNews

NEW YORK, 29 August 2013

The government of Macedonia is proposing two media bills (Law on Media and the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Service) that, if approved, will severely impact Macedonians’ freedom of information and freedom of expression. These bills come after a strong public opposition to an earlier media reform proposal, where international organisations (including OSCE, Council of Europe, and European Union), civil society organisations and professional associations submitted improvements and corrections. The latest version of the bills fragrantly ignored these recommendations.

“It is evident that the ‘public consultations’ organised by the government were just an alibi needed to provide a veil of legitimacy to a process with an unchangeable outcome, with end result of confirming total government control over media and the internet,” stated Filip Stojanovski from Metamorphosis Foundation, APC member in Macedonia.

In June APC reported on the first version of the law, which already required media, both print and online, to be filtered through a centralised government agency, effectively allowing the government to legally filter and censor content. In Macedonia traditional media is already controlled by the government, and the proposed regulation of internet content will deprive citizens of the only space left to express themselves freely and to access the information they need. APC and Metamorphosis Foundation submitted a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, which will be considered in the upcoming HRC meeting this september.

The proposed Law on Media and the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services are deeply problematic. In a nutshell, they:

1) extend the definition of media to both print and online outlets, and subjects them to a new Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media, eliminating the possibility of a independent regulatory body. This implies a de-facto control of the media by the state.

2) provide for subsidies to national TV stations, which are the biggest official donors of ruling political parties, thereby fostering corruption and silencing other media. Smaller media are also threatened by penal provisions and sanctions which, in addition to prescribing fines too high for Macedonian standards of living, may be subject to arbitrary decisions of a single person, the Director of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media

APC supports civil society organisations and Metamorphosis in their efforts to fight for the internet and human rights of Macedonia’s citizens. We call on others who believe in the value of free speech and a free media to support this struggle by sending a letter to Macedonia’s Minister of Information Society and Administration (see model below).

Image via Flickr by Jaime Pérez

More information
Article 19 statement

Front for Freedom of Expression statement

Position of several media-oriented associations
Statement by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia
Previous statement

Statement by Macedonian Institute for Media

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Statement by EU Delegation, denying Government spins that these laws are made at EU request

Detention of a journalist for an article published five years ago exposing court-police corruption

SAMPLE LETTER

Ivo Ivanovski
Minister of Information Society and Administration, Republic of Macedonia
contact_mis@mis.gov.mk (more contact info available here: http://www.mioa.gov.mk/?q=node/2118)

We are writing to you as representatives of [your organisation] from [your country].

As defenders of freedom of expression and information from across the world, we are deeply concerned about the two bills that have been submitted to the Macedonia’s Parliament: the Media Law and the Audio and Audiovisual Law, both of which do not comply with both European and international human law standards.

These are some aspects of the laws that we find problematic:

1) They extend the definition of media to both print and online outlets, and subjects them to a new Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media, eliminating the possibility of a independent regulatory body. This implies a de-facto control of the media by the state.

2) They provide for subsidies to national TV stations, which are the biggest official donors of ruling political parties, thereby fostering corruption and silencing other media. Smaller media are also threatened by penal provisions and sanctions which, in addition to prescribing fines too high for Macedonian standards of living, may be subject to arbitrary decisions of a single person, the Director of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media.

We urge you to reconsider both laws and to re-draft them through a truly inclusive consultative process in a way that they comply with both Macedonian and international standards for protection of freedom of expression from government interference, incorporating the input by the relevant experts, professional associations and civil society.

(FIN/2013)

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