Macedonia is pushing ahead with a controversial law that puts the Foreign Ministry directly in charge of accrediting foreign journalists.After the government this week submitted a draft law on Foreign Press Materials, Foreign Movies and Foreign Information Activity to parliament, a debate is expected to start next week.
According to the draft law, foreign media will only be able to work in Macedonia on the basis of written permits granted by the Foreign Ministry.These permits will also have to be renewed each year.
Foreign correspondents caught interviewing or filming in Macedonia without permits, or with permits that have expired, will face fines ranging from 500 to 1,000 euro.
Foreign media will only be able to open bureaux in Macedonia if their country has signed a relevant agreement with the Macedonian government.
In January, during the first reading, journalists and opposition parties attacked the draft, which is supported by the ruling VMRO DPMNE party.
The government at the time said it would take all views into account.
But the unchanged first draft has aroused concern that the government is determined to exert more control on what foreign media say about and do in the country.
“The law will install absolute control over the information that foreign media report from Macedonia,” Emilijan Stankovic, the spokesperson of the main opposition Social Democratic Party, claimed.
Under the current law, issuing permits to reporters is a mere formality carried out by officials. According to statistics some 50 foreign journalist are accredited in Macedonia.
The Justice Ministry, which submitted the draft, insists that it aims only to introduce more order into this sphere.
“Comparative analysis with most EU countries has shown that the body in charge of accrediting foreign journalists is [normally] the Foreign Ministry,” the Justice Ministry said in a written submission alongside the draft.
The draft law went through expert analysis in the European Commission, the ministry insisted. They added that the advice of a Slovenian legal expert, Sandra Basic Hrvatin, had been solicited, and that some of her remarks had been incorporated into the text.
Macedonia was criticized last year for curbing media freedom. The 2011 European Commission report on Macedonia noted that “the media continue to be subject to interference from political and business interests”.
The Commission’s remarks followed similar concerns raised in the summer of 2011 by a number of media watchdogs, including Amnesty International, the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization, SEEMO, and the France-based organisation Reporters Without Borders.
These followed the closures last summer of A1, a pro-opposition TV station, and three dailies owned by the same owner, Velja Ramkovski – Vreme, Spic and Koha e Re.
The closures were were widely blamed on government pressure.
The government replied that it was not targeting opposition media but tax dodgers. Ramkovski was later sentenced to prison for tax evasion and other financial misdeeds.