The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but government pressure on the media continued to be a problem. There were multiple claims during the year that the government selectively prosecuted opposition and media figures and interfered in high-profile defamation cases instigated by high-ranking government officials.
Many members of the media community, including the Association of Journalists in Macedonia (AJM), frequently accused the government of failing to respect freedom of speech and the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits speech that incites national, religious, or ethnic hatred and provides penalties for violations. Individuals may criticize the government publicly or privately, but there were credible reports that the government attempted to impede media criticism by directing advertising purchases toward progovernment outlets. According to the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, the government was the top advertiser on private television stations with national coverage.
Press Freedoms: Individuals or organizations that appeared close to the current government owned most of the mainstream media. A very limited number of independent media voices actively expressed a variety of views without restriction. Media outlets and reporting continued to be divided along ethnic and political lines. The laws that restrict speech inciting national, religious, or ethnic hatred also cover the media. The mainstream media rarely criticized the government. As the government was the largest purchaser of advertising in the country, many media outlets were financially dependent on the government and therefore subject to pressure to avoid criticism of the government. During the spring presidential and parliamentary election campaigns, most of the monitored media displayed significant bias in favor of the governing parties, according to the OSCE/ODIHR Observation Mission’s final report.
In January parliament amended the December 2013 media laws, exempting internet portals from government registration requirements. The amendments improved the alignment of media censorship rules with ECHR standards and added an extra seat to the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services to allow the AJM to be represented. The AJM acknowledged the amendments as a step forward and expressed hope that the government would address remaining media freedom issues, including governmental advertising, the independence of the public broadcaster MRT and the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, and excessively high fines for media in the new media laws.
The OSCE representative for freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatovic, emphasized the need for the inclusive and effective implementation of the new media legislation. In addition, she expressed concern about government spending on advertising and civil defamation cases that have resulted in disproportionately high fines for media. Mijatovic also urged the establishment of an independent and inclusive self-regulatory body.
In July parliament again amended the media law through a fast-track procedure that allowed each of the two largest journalists’ associations, the AJM and the Macedonian Association of Journalists (MAN) to nominate one member of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Services. The AJM criticized the opaque fast-track procedure and lack of input from stakeholders, alleging that the real purpose of the amendment was to promote government control by ensuring a seat for MAN, which was perceived as progovernment.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to report pressure to adopt progovernment viewpoints in their reporting or risk losing their jobs. Several journalists who allegedly had not adhered to the government’s guidance, including the editor in chief of daily newspaper Nova Makedonija, were dismissed, allegedly for political reasons.
On April 16, the Constitutional Court ruled that the forcible removal of journalists from parliament’s gallery during a 2012 altercation--when security personnel removed opposition members of parliament (MPs) from the plenary hall--was for the journalists’ own safety and led to restoring order in the parliament. The ruling came 14 months after the AJM and several individual journalists filed freedom of expression petitions in February 2013. The Helsinki Human Rights Committee in Macedonia noted that the Constitutional Court ruling reflected the justifications for the action offered by ruling party MPs, which increased the perception that the court was not independent of the executive. The Macedonia Center for Media Development also claimed that the Constitutional Court decision was politically motivated.
Tomislav Kezarovski, a journalist convicted in 2013 of revealing the identity of a protected witness and sentenced to four and one-half years in prison, continued serving his sentence under house arrest, pending appeal. According to Kezarovski, the court has not responded in a timely manner to his attorney’s request for out-of-home medical appointments, obliging him to obtain substandard in-home care. Both his six-month pretrial detention and his long sentence, which numerous local and international analysts considered excessive, drew a strong rebuke from the OSCE representative for freedom of the media, the European Federation of Journalists, NGOs, and journalist associations.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports that the government pressured journalists into self-censorship. Journalists reported far greater self-censorship when covering issues sensitive to the government. Privately owned media claimed that they routinely received calls from authorities at the highest levels of government dictating how and what to report with regard to political issues.
Libel Laws/National Security: Persons found guilty of defamation, libel, and slander were subject to fines according to a schedule based on non-material damage. Some editors and media owners expressed concern that the steep fines would promote further self-censorship. There were claims that the government used the statute as a tool to target political opponents. In September the Skopje Court of Appeals upheld the January decision of Skopje Basic Court ordering the defunct daily newspaper Fokus to pay 9,300 euros ($11,625) for “damaging the reputation” of Security and Counterintelligence Director Saso Mijalkov by printing quotes of a former Macedonian ambassador to the Czech Republic questioning the propriety of Mijalkov’s business dealings in the Czech Republic.
On September 3, the Skopje Basic Court ordered opposition political party leader Zoran Zaev to pay Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski 50,000 euros ($62,500) for “harming his reputation and honor” by claiming that in 2004 Gruevski abused his official position illegally to receive 1.5 million euros ($1.88 million) from the sale of Makedonska Bank. Zaev’s attorneys criticized the court for refusing without explanation to permit the introduction of relevant evidence central to Zaev’s defense.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without judicial oversight. The State Statistical Office estimated that 65 percent of the population used the internet in 2013, up from 63 percent the previous year.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.