Saturday, May 12, 2007

Media in Macedonia partly free

Macedonian legal framework contains most of the basic laws protecting freedom of the press and of expression, and government representatives generally respect these rights.

The study "Freedom of the Press 2007", released today by Freedom House on the occasion of Free Media Day, May 3, shows that media in Macedonia are partly free.

In January 2006, the parliament approved a freedom of information law that required government agencies to release information so long as the public interest is greater than any harm that might result. The law gave some protection to whistleblowers, limiting punishments for public employees who reported corruption or a significant threat to human health or the environment, the report says.

The parliament in May 2006 passed legislation that eliminated imprisonment as a penalty for libel and defamation. Nevertheless, investigative journalist Zoran Bozinovski was sentenced that month to three months in jail for defamation in a December 2003 newspaper article.

He spent several days behind bars in November before being released, reportedly as a result of intervention by the European Union. Bozinovski, who still faced the possibility of a retrial as well as numerous other pending libel cases, had been physically attacked in the past for his reporting.

While the number of libel and defamation cases are of particular concern to press freedom advocates, Macedonian journalists have been relatively free from physical harassment and abuse since 2001.

Nonetheless, most of the country’s numerous and diverse private media outlets are tied to political or business interests that influence their content, and the state-owned media tend to support government positions, Freedom House says in the report.

Macedonia has a high density of media outlets for its population, including five private nationwide television broadcasters, more than 50 local stations, some 160 radio stations, and nearly 20 newspapers. The resulting competition for advertising revenue and audiences has led to low pay, small staffs, and a general lack of professionalism.

Observers have noted the prevalence of speculative reporting and anonymous sources.
Minority-language media have relied primarily on foreign aid, which has not proven to be sustainable. There are no major state-controlled print media, but private ownership is concentrated, with the German group WAZ owning the three major dailies.

Even though the government does not place any restrictions on access to the internet, its usage remains relatively low, at just under 20 percent of the population, owing to lack of access and high prices, Freedom House said in its annual report.

Press freedom suffered continued global decline in 2006, with particularly troubling trends evident in Asia, the former Soviet Union and Latin America. A major study of the state of media freedom released today by Freedom House also warned of a growing effort to place restrictions on internet freedom by censoring, harassing, or shutting down sites that provide alternate sources of political commentary.

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