Continued concern for free speech and the press as several attacks against journalists reported
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia strongly condemns the attack of the journalist Armand Braho, who works in the online media https://t.co/kecchWiZot. The attack happened earlier this week in Hotel “Drim” in Struga. https://t.co/HDWyulW37G— Safe Journalists (@WBjournalists) January 27, 2018
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the conditions for journalists in Macedonia remain a concern. On 22nd January 2018, an Albanian journalist was physically attacked by four people in Macedonia's Struga municipality. Armand Braho, who works for the online media portal strugalajm.org, was attacked while covering a conference convened by the Macedonian political party - the Alliance for Albanians (AA). According to reports, despite having been invited to the conference, Braho was accosted by participants after interviewing the president of AA, Zijadin Sela. The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) reacted by strongly condemning the attack and calling on the Macedonian authorities to promptly bring the perpetrators to justice. In a statement, a spokesperson for AJM said:
"If the new Government wants to send a clear message that it will not tolerate attacks on journalists, then it must investigate this case as soon as possible and bring the perpetrators to justice”.
Reports from Macedonia note that one individual was later summoned by police for questioning.
In another worrying episode, on 8th February 2018 a journalist's car was torched in Prilep. Zoran Milošeski the owner of web portal Publikum and journalist for several national news outlets was a victim of an arson attack. According to reports. Milošeski's car was sprayed in petrol before being set alight by unknown perpetrators. Macedonian fire services and police were alerted after a neighbour heard the car explode. The vehicle was completely destroyed. This was not the first time Milošeski had been targeted. In 2017, the journalist's garage was set alight in another attack on his home in which the perpetrators where never prosecuted. That incident is one of many examples of a worrying increase in threats against journalists in Macedonia.
In a separate incident on 2nd February 2018, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson threatened a journalist during a press conference. Tensions were running high at the conference with UN mediator Matthew Nimetz, who was visiting Skopje as part of his diplomatic mission to ease tensions between Macedonia and Greece over the "name" dispute. The dispute surrounds Greece’s assertion that use of the word “Macedonia” implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name. During the press conference, TV21 journalist Furkan Saliu was prevented from directing a question to Nimetz by Ministry spokesperson Jane Lazevski. Despite Lazevski's attempts to silence the journalist, UN mediator, Nimetz intervened and asked Saliu to continue asking his question. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs later issued a written apology, a number of media watchdog groups in Macedonia strongly condemned the attempt to prevent a journalist from participating in the press conference.
Legal Amendments Regarding Freedom of Expression
After holding consultations, the Ministry of Justice proposed some changes to the legal framework regarding freedom of expression. On 21st February 2018, the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, which would regulate the board and financing of public broadcasters, was sent to the National Assembly. The amendments have been viewed positively by civil society groups.
In a welcome report, a positive attitude from the government towards civil society has been recently reported in Macedonia. Civil society organisations (CSOs) has requested and held meetings with government officials including the prime minister, while also participating in working groups formed within ministries. On 22nd January 2018, the Office for Cooperation with CSOs published a report on registered CSOs to field candidates to serve as members of the recently-established Council for Cooperation and Development of Civil Society Sector. The Office for Cooperation with CSOs issued a call for participation in a working group to draft a new Strategy for Cooperation between the government and civil society.