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, frequently accused the government of failing to respect freedom of speech and the press.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: 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 its advertising purchases toward progovernment outlets. The Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services’ 2015 report did not provide information about the top advertisers in the country for 2014. The 2014 report identified the government as the top advertiser on private television stations with national coverage.
Press and Media Freedoms: Individuals or organizations that appeared close to the government owned most of the mainstream media. A very limited number of independent media voices actively expressed a variety of views without explicit 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 has been one of the largest purchasers of advertising in the country, many media outlets were financially dependent on it and therefore subject to pressure to avoid criticism of the government. There were credible reports the government abused its market power in this manner.
According to the European Commission Senior Experts Group’s June report, the media environment deprived journalists of their ability to perform professionally and without fear. Media experts reported that a chilling effect dominated the media environment, as intimidation, absence of good labor conditions for journalists, and financial instability for media companies made them vulnerable to government pressure and reliant on government advertising. Experts reported an environment of fear surrounding the media that encouraged self-censorship. The country’s political crisis also highlighted serious concerns over selective reporting and lack of editorial independence on the part of the public service broadcaster, Macedonian Radio Television (MRT).
Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported pressure to adopt progovernment viewpoints or risk losing their jobs. Several journalists reported threats and intimidation directed against them, including allegedly by government officials.
On March 26, the Lustration Commission named the editor-in-chief of the independent weekly newspaper Fokus, Jadranka Kostova, as a collaborator of the former secret services during the 1990s, when she worked as a journalist for MRT. The ruling banned her from running for or holding public office. Kostova claimed she was selectively targeted for lustration as revenge for Fokus’ criticism of the government.
On January 15, the Skopje Appellate Court reduced convicted journalist Tomislav Kezarovski’s 2013 sentence for allegedly revealing the identity of a protected witness from four and one-half years to two years. On January 16, police took Kezarovski, who had been serving the sentence under house arrest, to prison to serve the remaining three and one-half months of the now two-year prison sentence. Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative on freedom of the media, condemned Kezarovski’s imprisonment and called on the authorities to relieve pressure against the media. Mijatovic also stated that Kezarovski’s imprisonment was unacceptable in a democracy, disappointing, and disproportionate to the crime. On January 22, the Basic Court Skopje 1 granted Kezarovski’s motion for parole and released him, ostensibly for health reasons. Journalist associations and human rights activists staged a series of protests demanding that authorities fully abolish Kezarovski’s conviction and proclaim him innocent. Both his six-month pretrial detention and his multi-year sentence, which numerous local and international analysts considered excessive, had drawn strong rebukes from the OSCE, 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 official interference when covering topics sensitive to the government. Privately owned media claimed they routinely received calls from authorities at the highest levels of government dictating how and what to report with regard to political issues.
On February 3, the Public Prosecution Office issued a statement warning media not to publish videos or other material connected to an investigation into opposition leader Zoran Zaev, stating that anyone publishing these materials “may be subject to further criminal proceedings,” and that doing so “is punishable by law.” The statement had a chilling effect on the media. Goran Petreski, the editor in chief of MRT, cited the statement when explaining why MRT was not covering the opposition’s “bombs” (periodic releases of recorded conversations depicting alleged government wrongdoing) (see section 1.f.). Other media outlets reported on the “bombs” and did not face criminal charges.
On February 16, journalist Ivana Kostovska, editor-in-chief of web portals Telegraf and Independent and acting president of the Media Ethics Council, resigned as editor, citing pressure from management to publish politically directed articles and censorship preventing professional reporting on the “bombs.”
On March 13, MRT security agents entered the studio of Radio Kanal 103 (an independent radio station that leased office space in MRT’s building) during a show and asked the host to present identification. The television channel Telma and the online news site Independent.mk reported that the security agents terminated the program because opposition politician and former police general Stojance Angelov was scheduled to appear on the show and discuss the wiretapping scandal.
Libel/Slander Laws: Persons found guilty of defamation, libel, and slander were subject to fines according to a schedule based on nonmaterial 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 2014 the Basic Court Skopje 1 ordered opposition SDSM political party leader Zoran Zaev to pay Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski 50,000 euros ($55,000) for “harming his reputation and honor” by claiming that in 2004 Gruevski abused his official position illegally to receive 1.5 million euros ($1.65 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. Zaev appealed the judgment, and the appeal was pending at year’s end.
According to the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, 39 libel or defamation lawsuits involving journalists were filed between October 2014 and 2015. Of those, 17 cases involved journalists suing other journalists for libel or defamation. Of the 39 cases, eight cases were adjudicated, with the court dismissing seven cases and partially upholding the plaintiff’s claim in the eighth case. As of August 31, the complaints were still pending before the civil courts.
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 appropriate legal authority. The State Statistical Office estimated that 69.4 percent of households had access to the internet in the first quarter of the year, up from 68 percent in 2014.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.