Association suspended after alleged sex education scandal; journalists targeted at local elections
A sex education scandal about an alleged scout “sex camp” hosted by civic association First Skopje Scout Squad garnered media attention for weeks. The association stated that the media reports, which quoted testimonies from parents, were taken out of context. The Macedonian Scouts Association condemned the unprofessional and sensationalist media reporting which damaged the reputation of the association and the scout movement in the country, while the media aimed to gain more traffic to their websites. As a result of the controversy around the camp, the First Skopje Scout Squad was suspended from the Scouts Association and subsequently lost funding as the City of Skopje terminated their contract. The association has worked in the capital for over a decade.
Following protests by the residents of the Bardovci settlement, Skopje, against the announced construction of a new reception centre for foreigners, the government revoked the decision in response to the demands of locals, who called for the relocation of the centre.
Protests were organised in Tetovo after a modular COVID-19 hospital in the city caught fire on 8th September 2021, killing 14 patients. Residents of Tetovo demanded responsibility from the authorities, emphasising that the investigation has been dragging on too long without any result. Demonstrators also threw eggs at the municipal building and tried to reach the Democratic Union for Intergration (DUI) political party headquarters, where they clashed with police. As police cordons were deployed in the streets, they did not allow the protest to reach the headquarters. The protest was marked by a tense atmosphere, with five people detained during the protest, whose detentions were extended by a court for 30 days. A few days after the protests, a peaceful march was organised to pay respect to the fire victims. While the Minister of Health resigned from office over the fire tragedy, his resignation was rejected.
Farmers from the Kocani region blocked the main road between Kocani and Stip to protest the high prices of raw materials and the low purchase price of rice and harp. This is the fifth protest organised by rice producers in the last two years, as the same demands remain.
Several smaller peaceful protests also took place during the reporting period, such as the protest by surgeonsin the “8 Septemvri” hospital, employees in the Macedonian Post Office in Ohrid, and locals from the Dame Gruev settlement in Skopje protesting the long construction process.
During the local elections, several journalists faced insults, verbal attacks and attempts at public discrediting. In several separate incidents, journalists Dzumadije Ibraimi from Klan TV, Salije Sadiku from TV 21 and Ferikan Arifi from Euronews Albania and others were obstructed in their work by election committee members, political party members or police officers while covering the election process. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) strongly condemned these obstructions and asked the State Election Commission and the Ministry of Interior to act immediately and resolve all reported incidents. The President of AJM, Mladen Chadikovski said:
"We are entering the final and most intense phase of the election campaign - we clearly and loudly warn that all this must stop immediately. The Ministry of Interior, the State Election Commission and the prosecution must react immediately to show that attacks on free thought are inadmissible. All these developments leave scars on the media scene and on the democratic atmosphere throughout the country. That is why we demand a reaction from the authorities immediately, not tomorrow, but now.”- translated from Macedonian.
North Macedonia noted some progress in the area of freedom of expression, according to the European Commission’s 2021 Enlargement Package, which assesses the state of play and the progress made by the Western Balkans and Turkey on their respective paths towards the European Union. The general context in the country is favourable towards media freedom and freedom of expression, allowing for critical media reporting, despite the increased tensions during the COVID-19 crisis. As the report notes, instances of physical and verbal violence, and threats against journalists and media workers increased. The EC recommends that:
“Authorities should demonstrate a more proactive and systematic condemnation of attacks. Only a small percentage of the perpetrators of physical attacks against journalists have been brought to justice. Further efforts are needed to address issues related to disinformation and hate speech, including online.”
Initiated by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM), journalists and MPs will meet to discuss how to improve the transparency of the Assembly's work towards journalists and the media, and to summarise the impressions from the Assembly's work with journalists and the media during the COVID-19 crisis. ZNM also met with the Minister of Justice to discuss effective implementation of legislation geared towards improved journalists' safety.