Another journalist attacked as Macedonia prepares for elections
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, conditions for journalists in Macedonia have been difficult throughout 2016, and now look set to worsen in the run up to the county's elections in December. On 20th October, a journalist was attacked while reporting near the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Pavle Belovski, a journalist with media house Telma, was attacked outside the ministry while preparing for an interview. While the Macedonian authorities conducted a prompt investigation and swiftly arrested the perpetrator, the Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) noted that this is the sixth attack on a journalist while reporting from outside the government building this year. In a statement, they stated:
'We welcome the swift reaction of the police officers who apprehended the attacker, but at the same time we express our extreme dissatisfaction with the slow reaction of the institutions that ultimately do not resolve these cases neither quickly nor satisfactorily in terms of justice. The public knows and institutions should be aware that physical or other threats to a journalist, especially when they are given a task is an attack on the freedom of information and ultimately an attack on the democratic organisation of the country."
In the run up to parliamentary elections, many civic groups in Macedonia note that hate speech is on the rise. Slurs against civil society, critics of the government and the LGBTI community have become more prevalent over the past few months. As Macedonians prepare to go to the polls on the 11th December, campaigns by political parties have grown increasingly hostile. With politicians appealing to populist and nationalist sentiments, many are fearful of worsening relations between different ethnic communities in Macedonia. A recent proclamation by the head of VMRO DPMNE and former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski smeared political opposition, the Social Democrats (SDSM) by alleging that they will make Albanian an official language if elected. The divisive use of inflammatory nationalist rhetoric is seen by many as damaging to Macedonia's social fabric; with some fearing a backlash against minority groups as a result.
Rhetoric is not the only device employed by Macedonian politicians to smear the opposition. A recent exposé by Macedonian journalists found that several fake news sites linked to the ruling party (VMRO DPMNE) were releasing false and unfounded information about the political opposition. Two sites, "saznajemo.rs" and "alo.com.hr" registered in Croatia and Serbia were uncovered as part of an investigation by NOVA TV and linked to high ranking members of VMRO DPMNE. The allegations come at a time when Macedonia has been in the centre of a global scandal of fake news duping voters in the US presidential election. Over 100 fake news sites, covering various aspects of Trump's election campaign were linked back to a single town in Macedonia. Many freedom of speech activists fear that this new trend of fake news in Macedonia is damaging the reputation of real journalists conducting investigative reporting.
The Association for Protection of Music Copyrights banned the broadcasting of Macedonian music from 6,000 artists due to a conflict with the Ministry of Culture and the formation of a parallel association. Under threat of tariff and concerns over the proposed revocation of their license, the association has taken retaliatory action. Copyright associations from Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia joined the boycott.
On 8th November a memorandum for collaboration between CSOs working on advancing women’s rights and the Minister of Labor and Social Policy was signed. The Governing party has signed a Memorandum of understanding with 4 pro-governmental CSOs and has been heralded by many a positive example of cooperation between civil society and Macedonian government.
Between October 6th – November 30th, protests on a variety issues have been held albeit with a slightly lower intensity in relation to previous reporting periods.
- Thousands joined anti-government assembly celebrating 75 years since the start of the anti-fascist uprising during World War II;
- 'Jugohrom' staff protested against the Environmental Inspectorate decision to shut down the plant furnaces;
- Citizens protested against flat electricity bills;
- Policemen candidates protested because they have not been employed after passing their entrance exams;
- Village residents within Kumanovo municipality blocked the city entrance preventing the Albanian governing party leader from executing party activities;
- CSOs and activists held a protest performance against the HIV budget cut, while others played Bach in Tetovo, surrounded by piles of trash protesting pollution.
- 15 cities around Macedonia have seen mobilisations as part of the CSO initiative “We Decide” which is an anti corruption platform seeking to hold Macedonian politicians to account;
- Numerous political parties’ rallies have taken place ahead of the December 11th elections.
- Alleged pressure on public administration employees to join the governing party rallies have appeared in the media.
- Prilep Prosecution filed charges against the ‘Colourful Revolution’ participant for painting graffiti in front of the municipal building during a protest.
- Helsinki Committee for Human Rights filed a criminal complaint against officials at the Ministry of Interior against the violations of freedom of assembly and of expression of students.