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Amendments to the Electoral Code jeopardize the work and freedom of the media

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM), the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) and the Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia (CMEM) are against the adopted changes and amendments to the Electoral Code, made as result of a political agreement between the Government and the opposition.

These amendments, adopted in a non-transparent way, with a party consensus and behind closed doors, directly endanger the media work in time of an election campaign and are contrary to the previous indications and attitudes of the professional associations.

A position of the AJM, SSNM and the CMEM, already known to the parties, is to abolish paid political advertising in the commercial media in times of election campaigns, and the changes to the Electoral Code both legalize this matter and allow it to be done with public money from citizens.

It is even more absurd that the amendments to the Electoral Code give the State Election Commission an authorization to register the online media that will report on the elections, as well as to monitor and evaluate their work while we are all aware about the Commission’s efficiency in all election cycles.  We remind that there is no European practice for monitoring of the online media reporting and this approach violates the concept of media self-regulation.

In addition, the amendments provide penalties for the traditional and online media in the amount of 4,000 euros for unbalanced and impartial reporting, as provided in article 181a of the Electoral Code. We pose the question: Who are those professionals in the State Election Commission and in what way will they measure the unbalance and impartiality of online media reporting?

We remind that the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services has given up this duty both because of the lack of methodology and an European practice of a state institution dealing with (non) ethical reporting. The last attempt by the Government and the opposition to deal with the media professionalism during the elections was the ad hoc body, which proved to be a completely unsuccessful solution.

We consider article 3, paragraph 11 as a particularly problematic amendment to the Electoral Code, which obliges the participants in the election process to submit media plans for political advertising, which will be then paid from the Budget of the Republic of Macedonia to the commercial media. This is an intrusion to the independence of the editorial policy and program contents of the media at a time of an election campaign, as the political parties will impose the program scheme.

These harmful changes to the Electoral Code are not in favor in a situation of blocked media reforms, and will undoubtedly affect both the work of the media and the overall democratic ambience during the pre-election campaign in a negative way.

AJM, SSNM and the CMEM will inform the foreign missions to the country that care about the freedom of expression and media independence in Macedonia about these non-democratic legal measures.

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