Macedonian journalists say conditions are not ripe for resuming talks with the government following the forced removal of reporters from parliament in December, which left relations in tatters.Macedonia’s Journalists Association, ZNM, said police still had not located and punished those who ordered and carried out the forced removal of reporters from parliament in December, a precondition for resuming talks with the government on meeting journalists’ concerns.
“We have always opted for dialogue [but]… for dialogue to resume, we insist on [the authorities] meeting our demands,” the head of the ZNM, Naser Selmani, said.
The ZNM abandoned talks – that Brussels wants pursued – after government parties on December 24 passed a budget for 2013 in minutes, after journalists and opposition MPs were ejected from the parliament.
Last week, Macedonia’s embattled Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, at loggerheads with the main opposition party over spring local elections, urged journalists to resume dialogue.
“I express readiness to continue the dialogue… to actively support the role and the significance of media freedom as a pillar of democracy,” Gruevski said.
Gruevski held out his olive branch after the head of the EU delegation in Macedonia, Aivo Orav, and other diplomats, called for talks to re-start.
Establishing dialogue with journalists is a precondition for the country as part of its high-level “pre-accession” talks with the EU.
The talks were launched last year to boost the country’s reform process and complement future accession negotiations.
As a result, a joint working group of government officials and media professionals was formed in October last year, tasked with negotiating key issues troubling reporters.
The body so far agreed only to decriminalize libel, a move that many journalists have criticised, as former criminal charges have been replaced with steep fines.
“The journalistic profession and freedom of expression are in free fall, and in such conditions, dialogue is impossible,” Tamara Causidis, head of the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers in Macedonia, said.
Her union abandoned the talks last April, calling them futile.
The dialogue had turned in to “a permanent legalization and camouflage for the downfall of media freedom,” Causidis said.
The impasse in the talks comes at a time when grave expressions of concerns are being made for the future of media freedom in Macedonia.
The World Media Freedom Index 2013, published last month by Reporters Without Borders, ranked Macedonia in 116th place out of 179 countries in the survey, marking a hefty drop of 22 places from the previous year.
Just four years ago, the country was ranked in 34th place in the same media freedom report.