Author: Katerina Topalova

„Italy and Spain, against each other for the fourth time at the European Football Championships. This time the stake was a place in the „Wembley” final at the end of this year’s 16th European Football Gathering of the Best!”

Dragan Nikolovski, sports commentator and editor in the sports program of the Public Service, is at his job. There is a favorite in this football championship, but it is forgotten when he is in the studio. There is no beer and peanuts with football for him, he must be professional and objective until the end of the match. But his words reach many, both those whose team is losing, and others whose team is winning, and the reactions he receives in the inbox are not uncommon.

„Social networks have created such a situation in the last ten years, so that everyone, even the ordinary television viewer, feels called to speak on every possible issue, and this is especially evident when they think that they should tar and feather the sports television commentators“, says Nikolovski.

Such situations occur in waves, usually when there are big sports competitions.

„They go from extreme to extreme, from being supportive, to saying the harshest words if someone doesn’t like something, probably due to a non-winning ticket (sports forecast) as a result of the defeat of their favorite team or national team. There are no most direct threats with physical consequences, but it can create unrest“ said Nikolovski.

The public profession is specific because you are constantly in the public eye. Insults and accusations also reached Nikolovski’s inbox on social networks. He pointed to only one example when a few years ago, during the commentary on the match between Russia and Croatia, he received swears and insulting messages from two different profiles blaiming him that he was cheering for one or the other team with his work.

He used to get upset and took the insults personally, but lately, as Nikolovski says, he has been trying to ignore them and understand the impulsiveness of the spectator, who at that moment is carried away by the situation that his team is losing.

But his colleague Toni Stojanovski recollects that there were moments when he had to defend himself against physical attacks.

„In Kilkis I commentated handball Greece – Macedonia for Radio Skopje in 2001. The hall in Kilkis is small, there are stands and no typical commentary place. The commentary was in the front row and people were sitting around me. Macedonia played very well at the beginning of the match. I worked in the most regular way – Macedonia attacks, shot, goal for Macedonia … and an older man sitting next to me, suddenly got up from his seat, hit me in the face from the side and broke my commentary set, headphones and microphone. My glasses also fell“ says Stojanovski.

He understood that the attacker got upset because of the words Macedonia, Macedonia … At first he was confused and stopped talking, but then he recovered and told the listeners that he had been hit by a match attendee.

„A policeman came, noticed the incident and sat down next to me. At half time the same man who hit me brought me coffee and water, probably as a token of apology. “There have been more such situations, I remember a similar attack in Gjorce Petrov during a football match, for example“, Stojanovski concludes.

Stojanovski has never reported an attack or insult to the competent institutions. The Independent Trade Union of Journalists say that non-reporting is a common practice in these newsrooms.

„Unfortunately, sports journalists do not report those events. The Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers supports and encourages them to report any attack on them, whether it is a physical attack or an attack on social media, to the union, and the union will respond accordingly with the mechanisms available to them“, says Sashko Dimovski from the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers.

Online harassment must be reported to law enforcement authorities, and they must act in accordance with the law, he said.

The trade union offers to all media workers everything from a statement of support and reporting, to various trainings for recognizing, defending and responding to attacks on journalists, because, as Dimovski says, journalism must be a respected profession.

Sports journalist Branko Kazakovski from Telma TV says that this practice of non-reporting is mostly due to the frequency, especially of the online attacks on them.

„I haven’t had many insults, but I have read statuses for myself and have received messages in the inbox. Some were really shocking, with swearing. You can think whatever you want, but I attribute it to domestic and general culture. It is easy to offend someone on social media, but it is a deeper sociological problem. We as sports journalists can not hide from that. I think that many of my colleagues are already immune to that online bullying“, said Kazakovski.

Provoking and insulting journalists online is a global threat. At a time when the use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms is a prerequisite for hiring media workers, such harassment has become a serious occupational hazard. The relations between the spectators and the commentators are different not only in our country, but also worldwide.

The Regional Platform for the Safety of Journalists in the Western Balkans says any attack must not be ignored or underestimated.

„We are currently following trends, starting from Croatia to Macedonia, to assess the motives for the threats and attacks, to categorize them by groups and to measure by number as a security index what is the trend at the level of each country in the Western Balkans, but also in general as a region“, says Dragan Sekulovski from the Association of Journalists of Macedonia.

The role of this platform is to detect all threats and attacks on journalists that occur in the Western Balkans, to register them, but also to offer mechanisms to prevent them in the future. According to the online data available on this platform, more than 800 cases of attacks on journalists and media workers have been reported in the Western Balkans. Most of them, 318, are in Belgrade, followed by Sarajevo with 188 registered attacks, followed by Pristina with 137, Skopje holds the fourth place with 71 attacks, Zagreb has 70, Podgorica 55 and the least in Tirana – 17.

The published data show that the occurrence of cyber-harassment of journalists is growing in the region as well. For example, in Podgorica, almost every second reported case concerns threats to the lives of journalists and social media editors. From personal insults and humiliation to messages threatening liquidation are published on the website of the regional platform for the safety of journalists.

According to the register of attacks on journalists of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, in 2020 a total of 14 more serious threats to the safety of journalists and media workers were noted, of which more than half were against women journalists. There were only four in the previous year, which means that in one year the attacks and threats tripled.

According to AJM, this poses a real threat to participation, especially of women, in journalism and public communication in the digital age. The State Department, in its 2020 Human Rights Report, also noted that the number of physical assaults on journalists has decreased, but that there is still a growing practice of so-called online, computer harassment and verbal abuse.

The latest report on Reporters Without Borders, media freedom shows that the country must work diligently in this area. It says threats from government officials, online harassment and verbal attacks on journalists on social media have increased. According to them, this practice only „strengthened the anchored culture of impunity”.

After long indications and talks of the journalists organizations with the government, the Minister of Justice, Bojan Marichikj, emphasized that in the future the attack on journalists will be treated the same as an attack on an official, and the prosecution will act ex officio in such cases.

In addition, severe penalties are introduced for both threatening and attacking journalists. At the request of the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, several amendments to the Criminal Code were adopted, which provide specific novelties that significantly increase the safety of journalists and media workers, as well as cameramen and photojournalists in our country. The assembly is expected to adopt them in September.

Worldwide, due to the global situation in this area, in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly declared November 2 the „International Day for the Elimination of Impunity for Crimes against Journalists”.

The story was prepared within the project „Keeping Journalists Safe in Situation of Crisis“; funded by the UNESCO program – „Global Media Defense Fund“, implemented by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia and the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers.

The author is responsible for selecting and presenting the facts contained in this video story and for the opinions expressed, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not bind the Organization.

The references used and the presentation of the material in this video story do not imply the expression of any opinion by UNESCO regarding the legal status of any country, territory, city or district or its authorities, or regarding the boundary delimitation.