Macedonia’s Media Potemkin Villages

The Journalistic Union has uncovered evidence that shows that parallel organisations have been founded or revived in order to counter the work of the existing media organizations.   

The terms government-organized non-governmental organizations GONGO and party-organized non-governmental organizations PONGO are rarely used in Macedonia. Instead, words like “parallel” and “counter-organizations” are the preferred choice. But, regardless of the description, the key purpose of these organizations is same everywhere – to counter, neutralize the work of the existing critical organizations or that a certain party deems as problematic.

In our country, this method, which culminated with the formation of the infamous organization Stop Operation Soros, seems to have appeared right in the media sector.

The documents and testimonies on which SSNM bases its research on this topic show that the parallel media organizations in Macedonia have been revived or established for the sole purpose of silencing the voice of media organizations critical of the government.

Since its Foundation, MAN is the Opponent of ZNM

In the middle of the debate and the resistance against media laws in 2013, an inactive journalist association – MAN, registered in 2002, after more than a decade of hibernation was revived and firmly stood behind the government`s initiative to adopt a media law.

The Macedonian Association of Journalists was founded in November 2002, two months after the parliamentary elections which brought a change in the government and turned the then governing VMRO-DPMNE into opposition. By the words of the colleagues who participated in the foundation of MAN, this association was a result of the dissatisfaction within the media community with the operation of ZNM at the time.

The pacification of the existing critical organizations considered problematic by the government stared right in the media sector.

The address of this association has not been changed since then – Blvd. “St. Kliment Ohridski” bb in Skopje or, as specified in the registration published in the Official Gazette, it is the same address as that of the now non-existent weekly “Nacional”.

The first elected president of MAN was Ilija Maksimovski, who was also the owner of the weekly “Nacional” at which address the association was registered. The offices are located in the building of the former “Nova Makedonija”, the current location of the European University of Bojo Andreevski, who is also the owner of the daily Vecer with offices in the same building.

This address remains the official address of MAN. However, if you search for this protector of the “seventh force” at the given address, you will find no board or sign with its name. We also tried to locate the offices though the phonebook of Telekom, but we were informed that there was no journalist association at the given address. At MAN`s website, the only contact phone number is the mobile phone number of the president Slagjana Dimishkova.

The e-mail latas@me.com is given as the contact address for the official website of the organization. Pavlovikj – Latas is the general secretary of MAN from its foundation, as indicated at the old website of the association.

In the Executive Board of MAN since its foundations is also Dejan Nikolovski (NETPRES).

The current board, according to MAN`s website, includes Ivona Talevska (TV Sitel), Maja Damjanovska (TV Kanal 5), Gradimir Markovski (TV Nova), Katerina Neshkova (Dnevnik), Gjorgji Tomikj (TV Kanal 5), Martin Pushevski (MRTV) and Filip Momirovski (TV Sitel). Vice-presidents are Cvetin Chilimanov (MIA) and Petar Tsalev (MRTV). President is Slagjana Dimishkovska (VEST).

We reached the president Dimishkova on her mobile phone and we send her questions which she agreed to answer in relation to the operation of MAN and the media situation in the country. However, we received no reply from her or anyone else.

The Dialogue and the Media Laws Brought MAN TO Life

Relying on the available documents such as the Statute of MAN published on their website, it is evident that the last Assembly was held on 16 March 2012.

Around twenty journalists participated in the reactivation, including Mirka Velinovska, Janko Ilkovski, Dejan Nikolovski and Gradimir Markovski.

After less than a month, on 14 April 2012, the new management of MAN claims that they have “numerous journalistic membership” and sends a letter to the Government requesting conditions for “their adequate representation”.

More precisely, they demanded to take part in the dialogue between ZNM and the Government and the right to nominate their member in the Broadcasting Council (BC) or to have their member share the mandate with the member proposed by ZNM.

The reasons and motives for the revival of MAN are hidden in the wiretapped conversations consisted in Zaev`s “bombs”. At the time he was disclosing them, Zaev confirmed to members of SSNM and ZNM that there were conversations which make clear that the foundation and the operation of MAN had been in coordination with the Government.

According to SSNM`s information, among the materials handed over to the Special Prosecutor`s Office, there is a separate folder titled “MAN” which contains wiretapped conversations of higher government officials which took part in the establishment of this association as an opponent to ZNM.

At the time he was disclosing them, Zaev confirmed to members of SSNM and ZNM that there were conversations which make clear that the foundation and the operation of MAN had been in coordination with the Government

However, even without such evidence, which is for now hidden from the public eye, the time of foundation and the manner of operation are sufficient indicators of the nature of this parallel association.

Namely, the revival of MAN coincides with the period of the planned adoption of the first Law on Media, at the time under the competence of the Ministry of Transport and Connections, the Minister of which was Mile Janakievski.

The attempt for the semi-hidden passing of this law faced a united resistance from media organizations at the public debate held in the sports hall “Boris Trajkovski” in December 2011. Then the Government apparently withdrew the proposal, but at the beginning of 2012 started leaking information that the law was being drafted and would be placed under public scrutiny.

The first of the two planned debates was in April. “Several media organizations, NGOs and the Government will take part in the debates”, said Janakievski in 2012.

MAN was reactivated just before the public debate announced by Janakievski.

At the session held on 16 March 2012, presided by Dragan Pavlovikj Latas, as the reason for the reactivation and reorganization of the association is given, among other things, “the current events related to the legislation regarding journalistic work”.

The plans for the new Law on Media however did not realize in April, as the issue took the back seat, i.e. until the beginning of 2013, when the Minister for Information Society Ivo Ivanovski devoted his attention completely to the adoption of the media laws and when MAN with unhidden support from the Government imposed itself as a parallel factor to Association of Journalists and other media organizations that resisted the legal text.

An Inactive Organization Stipulated in the Law

Our search for information about the operation of MAN brought us to the document from the Central Registry according to which in 2013 the status of MAN was – inactive. Such status probably arises from the failure to submit the annual financial statement.

Today MAN is an active organization, so it seems that the “inactivity” was not even then considered a serious obstacle. It didn`t, for example, stop the Ministry of Information Society to not only hold consultations with this association, but also to fight for it to get a guaranteed seat in the constitution of the new regulative body – The Agency for Media and the Council of MRTV, including in all conferences and meetings the topic of discussion of which was the media, one of which was the public debate about laws in the Parliament.

Towards the end of 2013, MAN gets financial help from the Mayor of the Municipality of Karposh, Stevcho Jakimovski who, after entering into coalition with VMRO DMPNE, decided to donate 500.000 denars or around 8 thousand euros for acquisition of IT equipment for the association

ZNM issued a public reaction at the time following complaints from the regional centers about pressure being exerted on the employees to become members in the other journalist organization.

In November 2014, ZNM and MAN became legally bound to submit their membership information to the Ministry of Information Society in order to determine how representative they are.

How MAN acquired their members is best described by a colleague form TV Sitel, who asked to remain anonymous.

“One of the editors came and distributed admission forms to all journalists, which meant that we all had to sign them. If somebody refused, there was a problem”, he said.

The epilogue from MAN`s revival is that the new media laws gave them the right to propose one member for the new Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services and the Program Council of MRT each.

We Don`t Need Media Reforms

MAN`s activity didn`t stop with the adoption with the new media laws in 2014. This organization played a key part in the negotiations for media reforms led after the Przino Agreement by aggressively exhausting the critical though and by defocusing from the real arguments.

The last announcement to the public published on the website of the Macedonian Association of Journalists is from 14 March last year as a reaction to the joint position of five media organizations which united in their demand of immediate media reforms.

“As 90 percent of the media workers in the TV stations are members of the Macedonian Association of Journalists, MAN thinks that there is no need for reforms in the media sector.”

MAN urgently demands “AJM and the Trade Union of Journalists as exponents of SDSD to stop pressuring the media and to stop acting as a censor in order to come to power without elections” says the last public announcement of MAN.

After the efforts for inter-party negotiations for the media were reduced to candidates for the ad-hoc regulatory body for monitoring of the elections, which was rejected by AJM and the other media organizations, the president of MAN Dimishkovska and the vice-president Chilimanov became members of this interim body, upon proposal from VRMO DMPNE.

After the expiration of the mandate, the president of MAN, a journalist in the Macedonian Information Agency, becomes part of the main threesome of the ambitious operation for destroying the NGO sector under the code name “desorosoization”.

VanhoutteA Motiv for a Parallel Trade Union

Since, during the negotiations for the media of the “Przino Four”, and upon the proposal of the facilitator Peter Vanhoutte, the union of journalists was among the organizations which could nominate members of the Council of the Agency for Audiovisual Services, the intention to establish is counterpart materialized.

The proposal presented at the meeting with journalists of 30 November expressly resulted into “founding” assemblies of unions in the portal “Kurir” on Friday, 18 December, and in TV Sitel and the weekly Republika on Monday, 21 December 2015.

For president of the union in TV Sitel was elected the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Vecer – Ivona Talevska, also member of the Executive Board of MAN. In the weekly Republika, president of the union was the editor-in-chief Biljana Babikj, while in “EM Media” i.e. “Kurir”, the website of which contains the information that all journalists of “Kurir” are members of MAN, the key person was Ivana Efremovska.

It is impossible to determine from the documents SSNM has at its disposal whether these assemblies did actually take place or there is only one founding act i.e. an identical text with empty space for the name of the media, and even the same date.

After the foundation of the affiliates in “Kurir”, TV Sitel and Republika, there were more complaints from colleagues form several pro-government media about the pressure exerted on them to become members of the new union, for which SSNM issued a public reaction.

The parallel trade union is the fastest registered organization in the union history in Macedonia.

The three affiliates are formally structured in a branch union led by Gradimir Markovikj, a journalist in TV NOVA and member of the EB of MAN, on Saturday 16 April 2016, two days after the dramatic announcement of MAN in which ZNM and SSNM are labeled as “exponents of SDSM”.

However, what is interesting is that the new organization for protection of workers` rights of journalists is not rushing to register. The registration documents are submitted to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy on 28 June 2016.

At that time, staff form VMRO DPMNE is returning to the Ministry, namely the Minister Dime Spasov after the resignation of Frosina Remenski who was leading the institution, as decided in the Przino Agreement, until May.

The freshly returned minister from within VMRO DPMNE, Dime Spasov, issues a decision for registration of the union ten days after the submitted request. Thus, the Independent Union of Journalists is the fastest registered organization in the union history in Macedonia.

This new union does not have a website and its founding assembly was neither public nor transparent. The address of the seat is St. 1732 number 2 in Skopje, dividing the Chinese Wall in the City Park and the River Vardar bank.

We tried to find the office of the Independent Union, but there was no sign of the new association. The same address is shared by “Ladna’ and “Dobra Voda”, i.e. the company “Margoni DOO Skopje” related to the owner of TV Sitel, Ljubisav Ivanov Tsingo.

So far, the new union association has issued no announcement or a press conference in order to present their mission and the objective of their formation.

The Close Ties of MAN with the New Union

Despite the fact that the first people of the new union are also members of the management of MAN, the closeness of these media organizations is obvious from their statutes.

Namely, is seems that the only difference between them is the name of the organization, the address and the laws under which they are formed – MAN under the Law on Associations and the Union (NSNM) under the Law on Labor Relations

Journalists from pro-government media say that the manner of acquiring members in the union was identical to that of MAN.

“The editor-in-chief came and said that all admission forms to the last must be signed and returned” says one witness about the way members were recruited in the new union organization.

Both NSNM and MAN refer to the International and the European Federations of Journalists in their statutes. MAN even went a step further and put the IFJ`s logo on its website, which is allowed only to the members of this organization.

 

Following the intervention from Brussels, MAN removed the logo of the biggest federation of journalist unions and association in which ZNM and SSNM are fulltime members. Since, despite referring to their principles in the Statute, the International Federation of Journalists is framed in a negative context.

Is the Council of Ethics Next?

The Council of Ethics is the youngest media organization, formed in December 2013. Only a few years after its foundation, the Council of Ethics becomes a protagonist in the parallel media reality, is labeled as “another one of the clones or products of SDSM and the Foundation SOROS in Macedonia”.

This results from the attempt in November 2016, when more than 80 mainly local and regional media become members, to overtake the control over this self-regulatory body. The motives for that are not being hidden.

“If all these media and organizations got accepted, they would have representatives in the Assembly of the Council and could vote and overvote decisions of the managements under the complete control of SOROS”, writes Vecer at the beginning of December 2016.

This text coincides with the information leaked in the media community that formation of a new counter-council of ethics is already planned.

In this way, practically the three organizations dealing with freedom of expression, professional and workers` rights and journalistic standards would be covered with parallel organizations which, like Potemkin villages”, are more or less successful facades of the government`s ambition to cover authentic media voices.