Media Freedom in North Macedonia

Violations of media freedom have become commonplace in North Macedonia. Although the country wants to join the European Union (EU), its lack of commitment to media freedom may pose some serious challenges for this process. In its 2019 country report on North Macedonia, the European Commission demands the strengthening of the independence and capacity of the media regulator and the public broadcaster, as well as “ensuring effective operations and management” of the public broadcaster in order to promote its autonomy and reporting quality.

Media freedom slowly improving despite persistent problems

In recent years, North Macedonia’s ranking in the annual Press Freedom Index of the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has steadily improved, rising by 14 positions from 2018 to 2019, now being ranked 95th out of 180 countries. This marks the greatest improvement of any country in the region. Slowly, the country is recovering from a steep decline in media freedom, according to the RWB assessments. Despite the situation stabilising in 2018 after the naming dispute with Greece was resolved, “the new government has yet to amend public broadcast media law”, RWB finds. Up until now, the public broadcaster’s reporting has been perceived as biased and influenced by the political interests of the former ruling conservative party, according to RWB. Freedom House, another NGO monitoring press freedom around the world, currently rates the media freedom in North Macedonia with two out of four possible points. Freedom House cites the country’s media landscape as being “deeply polarized along political lines, and private media outlets are often tied to political or business interests that influence their content”.

Media legislation in need of reforms

The legal framework itself is overall favourable for media freedom to be realised. However, the 2019 IREX Report comes to the conclusion that “implementation is lacking and often depends on the will of political centers of power”. Journalists and media experts are calling for an adaption of the 2013 Law on Audiovisual Media Services and the Law on Media that are in need of “serious intervention”, IREX finds. The independence of the judiciary has improved in recent years. For instance, “defamation has not truly been used as an instrument against freedom of expression and courts have improved their procedural practices and the application of both national law and international standards”, according to the IREX Report. In 2018, the National Assembly adopted several reforms in order to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, for example, misconduct by judges can be detected and sanctioned faster than before. However, “concerns remain about the efficacy and independence of the judiciary”, Freedom House states.

Fragile advertising market generates dependant media outlets

Contributors of the IREX report point to another limitation of the current framework that severely hamper freedom of speech: "North Macedonia’s media regulatory body remains unreformed and politically dominated, in spite of all proposals advocating for transforming the regulator into a truly independent institution.” For instance, the criteria used for deciding whether a TV station receives a national broadcasting license or not seems to not only depend on the regulations given by law. Despite media outlets having to register with the regulatory body and publish information on their ownership, “the formal obligations for transparency of ownership can be circumvented easily, especially for those outlets tied to political parties”, the IREX report states. "Apparently, licensing of broadcast media is not nearly as impartial and transparent as provided for by law and openly pro-government outlets receive preferential treatment. What is more, although government funding in form of advertising campaigns has been abolished by law in late 2018, one cannot deny that politics have a great influence on general reporting. On a local level, especially, media outlets often financially depend on the municipal administration purchasing airtime to promote their activities because it is their only source of advertising income, according to the IREX report. “Major advertisers and agencies seem to have forgotten local and regional media and put their emphasis on the big national broadcasters”, one contributor on the IREX report says. ,

Less reported attacks on journalists

Although North Macedonian journalists continue to be subject to harassment by politicians and the public, watchdog NGOs assess their work atmosphere as having improved noticeably. For instance, in the time span between January and September 2018, the number of reported attacks against journalists (six) dropped by two third compared to the same time period of the previous year (18). However, “the culture of impunity is well-entrenched” (RWB) and “the slow pace of investigations” (IREX report) – a ridiculously low figure of reported cases is investigated and brought to court – fuels self-censorship and does obviously not help discourage perpetrators.

 

Sources:

 

Lina Rusch, KAS Media Programme South East Europe

2016 adjusted by Rebecca Kittel, KAS Media Programme South East Europe

2017 adjusted by Lena von Holt, KAS Media Programme South East Europe

2020 adjusted by Luise Mosig, KAS Media Programme South East Europe