Written by: Petar Klincharski, Slavica Filipovska
When former head of the Administration for Security and Counter Intelligence Saso Mijalkov was released on December 29, prison police pushed away media teams to walk him to his private car. „Why such a push?“, asked several times the journalist from „a1on.mk“, Kristijan Landov, who was on duty in front of the prison gate in Suto Orizari.
„The policeman prevented us from getting closer to Mijalkov and recording his answer, outside the space for which he is in charge when doing his job. It is not the first time an official carrying a weapon to determine what should or should not be filmed or what should be asked. This is a common problem with police officers, who probably need to be educated that they do not have the authority to tell journalists what, where and how they will work“, Landov said.
The Sanctions Enforcement Administration opened disciplinary proceedings against two officials.
„The disciplinary procedure alone will not change anything, if the authorities do not provide the necessary education and inform their employees that they do not have the authority to deal with the media, especially not to defend anyone from them“, Landov said.
This is not an isolated example in the past year, when journalists were prevented from performing their duties and their safety was endangered. In the local elections in October 2021, the journalist Ferikan Iljazi from „Euronews“ Albania, instead of reporting on the election day in Tetovo, had to explain to the members of the election board and to a police officer why she is actually there.
„Members of the election commission in Tetovo did not allow us to record how the process was going, claiming that we have no right to turn on a camera in the classroom at all. We were even reported to the police that we had disturbed the order due to an argument, which occurred during that misunderstanding inside the classroom. The person was reported to the State Election Commission (SEC) and they announced that they would take measures. In the second case, also in Tetovo, a police officer at a polling station asked us for identification and accreditation from the SEC, which did not exist in these elections, and threatened not to allow us to record with the words „I am the law here“. The policeman who did not allow us to record live was also reported to the authorities in the Ministry of Interior“, said Iljazi.
The journalists hope for the adoption of the amendments to the Criminal Code as soon as possible, which will consider the attack on them as an attack on an official.
„Only with a legal solution can the perpetrators be properly punished, and we will feel safer“, Iljazi said.
CHANGES IN THE CRIMINAL CODE ARE WAITING FOR THE NEW GOVERNMENT
At the end of July last year, the outgoing Minister of Justice, Bojan Marichikj, said that the Government had passed the amendments to the Criminal Code, which should raise the protection of media workers to a higher level. Almost three weeks later, the proposed amendments reached the Legislature. The law was submitted on August 18, 2021 in a regular procedure, with a European flag and the parent institution is the Committee on European Affairs. As informed by the Office of the President of the Assembly, the amendments to the Criminal Code did not pass even the first reading, because the session scheduled by the Committee on European Affairs on September 21, 2021 has been postponed.
„After the vote of the new government, the Government will have to submit a notification whether the proposed laws will be adhered to so that those laws that remain in the parliamentary procedure can be adopted“, Xhaferi’s Cabinet responded.
So far, the only step forward regarding the Law is the public debate organized by the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men a month ago.
The announced amendments in the Criminal Code are a result of many years of efforts of AJM and the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), to adopt systemic solutions to protect the rights of journalists. According to the executive director of AJM, Dragan Sekulovski, none of the parliamentary groups is against the adoption of the amendments, but, as he notes, no one takes the initiative for it to be put in parliamentary procedure.
„According to our information, the law was to be adopted by the end of the year. It is still in a phase, which does not promise that it will be adopted by the Assembly. If this government and the Parliament really have a sincere will to protect journalists, the first step that needs to be done is to encourage the adoption of this law“, Sekulovski said.
DUI MP Arbr Ademi, who is chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Affairs, says that a commission session will be convened after the election of the new government.
In principle, the law will be supported by VMRO-DPMNE, says the coordinator of the parliamentary group, Nikola Micevski.
„There should be no problem“, Micevski said, unless the law undergoes new amendments in the meantime, which would be controversial for them.
ERBR ADEMI AND NIKOLA MICEVSKI
AJM: THE LAW WILL PROTECT US AS WORKERS
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) explains why the legal amendments are necessary.
„If there was an attack on a journalist or a person close to a journalist, then the prosecution would prosecute the perpetrators ex officio. At the same time, prison sentences would be higher. In that way, not only will the safety of the media workers be protected, but also the right of the citizens to be informed. The prosecution in our country is very rarely proactive when there is an attack on journalists and that is why the effect of this law is expected to be positive“, said AJM Executive Director Dragan Sekulovski.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has statistics and status of cases, in which journalists appear as victims, according to the numbers regularly sent by AJM. They say that they do not keep detailed statistics by the occupation of the victims, so they can not exclude the possibility that in some prosecutor’s offices there are other cases, in which it is not recorded that the victims are journalists. However, as the institution responded, they are ready to implement the amendments to the Criminal Code.
„If the announced amendments to the Criminal Code are adopted, the Public Prosecutor’s Office will immediately start applying the amended criminal provisions. However, until now, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has ex officio prosecuted the perpetrators of attacks on journalists and media workers if elements of a crime are identified and if the specific perpetrators are identified. All competent public prosecutors, in the interest of protecting the right to free expression and the right of the public to be informed, act extremely dedicatedly and actively in cases in which journalists appear as victims“, said the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
And, according to the AJM register, there is not a year without cases of violation of journalists rights. In the last three years alone, the injuries have been related to verbal and physical assaults and threats against journalists, as well as threats to life.
Cases of violation of journalists’ rights
– Physical assault -Verbal assault -Threats
„In 2021, compared to 2020, according to our statistics, we have a smaller number of more serious threats and attacks on journalists, i.e. they are five, but we generally assess the whole year as stressful and tense for the entire media community, because there were more events of a high risk, there were local elections, the pandemic continued to happen in the society and in a way it resulted in a situation in which the journalists were still under stress“ Sekulovski said.
Meanwhile, AJM urges journalists not to remain silent about any form of violence or threat to their safety. The Ministry of Interior, which also receives reports, agrees with this.
„During 2021, a total of 8 charges were filed, of which 5 were completely cleared and rounded up with 3 criminal charges, of which one against 7 persons, one written notification to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and 1 misdemeanor sanction against 2 persons, while in all three cases the charges refer to unknown persons and measures are taken to clear them. In 2020, 10 such cases were reported to the Ministry of Interior, of which 9 have already been completely cleared, and for one case measures are still being taken for its complete clearing“, said the Ministry of Interior.
The Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services also appeals for the adoption of the legal amendments as soon as possible. Therefore, they say that only in that way will the violation of the rights of journalists be prevented and their security and uninterrupted work will be ensured, which is a necessary precondition for freedom of information.
The story was prepared within the project „Кeeping Journalists Safe in Situation of Crisis“; funded by the UNESCO program – „Global Media Defense Fund“ and 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 delimitation of boundaries.