Macedonian broadcasting in crisis, public service on brink of collapse

According to a new Open Society Institute (OSI) report, broadcasting in
the Republic of Macedonia is still beset by massive structural problems
despite recent legislation to boost the independence of the broadcast
regulator and the public service broadcaster.



The report, prepared by Vesna Šopar of the European University – Republic of Macedonia, is presented today at a public meeting organized by the Foundation Open Society Institute Macedonia (FOSIM).



TV Across Europe:

Marius Dragomir, project manager, OSI Media Program, London identified three important trends based on the reports from the 9 countries, which served as follow up to the 2005 report. The most worrying trends in all the countries is even more agressive politization of the public broadcasters and regulators, and much confusion in the sector, particularly due to overlap between the content and technical regulators. Digitalization brought about relaxation of licensing process, with a move towards the liberal approach. The regulators claim that digital broadcasting enables use of unlimited number of frequences, and use that claim as an excuse – even though the digital range is finite also. They also seem overwhelmed with proliferation of new content. The report recommends that at least a set of minimum standards is maintained in order to ensure pluralism of views in the media.

Concentration of ownership is another trend, and it is important to ensure crossownership through strict regulation to prevent monopolisation by the telecoms and others who might own all the means for distribution within a country.

The third key finding is that public broadcasters in almost all the countries covered by the report have been even more politicized and slow to adapt to technological advances, as well as unable to find ways to finance themselves. The only good example is the public broadcaster in the Czech Republic, which uses a model close to German, and collects license fees, while the case of Macedonia is the worst.

Roberto Belichanec from the Media Development Center outlined that the implementation of the Broadcasting Law is partial and selective, accompanied by attempts for political influence in order to control the independent body and to have complete domination over the Macedonian Radio Television (MRT). After the authorities have reached this second goal, they do not know what to do with the public service broadcaster. According to Belichanec, “the regulator is not functioning” and MRT’s deterioration is obvious if we take into consideration the fact that six months ago it was closed down by the sanitary inspection because of the garbage piling up in the hallways: “MRT is falling apart and eventually we will find it in the river Vardar due to lack of maintenance. On the other hand, all of our society’s factors seem very patriotic when someone mentions MRT and its role in the preservation of the Macedonian language, culture and identity”.

According to Belichanec, the lack of policies and strategy in this sphere takes Macedonia to a level where only basic instincts are working, with reflex reactions to the conditioning of tutors who are using sticks or carrots.

Goran Gavrilov from the Association of Private Broadcasters outlined that during the allocation of licences to the national TV stations the Council is functioning as a business entity with a goal to collect as much money as possible, disregarding the technical and other criteria necessary for awarding licenses. The postponement of the definitions of the regions, as well as the fact that there are already 16 national broadcasters, renders irrelevant the announced issuance of licenses on a regional level. On the other hand, if licenses are being awarded to everyone, then it would be clear that there is no need for a regulator and the existence or absence of the Broadcasting Council would not make a difference vis-à-vis media concentration.

Gavrilov also highlighted the concerning influence of PE “Macedonian Broadcasting” since it is the owner of the key broadcasting systems, as well as the constant tendencies for its politization and privatization.

In Macedonia, due to the political pressure exerted during the last few months, the work of the Agency for Electronic Communications has also been blocked and its efficient working as a regulator is being prevented.

Belichanec emphasized the case with the dismissal of the editor-in-chief of the “Shpic” newspaper by the owner of A1 TV, when the relation of dependency was publicly revealed, and yet the Council did not react. He outlined that in order to solve the problem of failing to undertake investigative actions, there is a need to strictly and legally define the procedures for activating the state mechanisms against media concentration.

He also emphasized that clear rules are necessary for regulating the access to networks “in order to avoid getting ourselves in a situation to see media in Macedonia being established or closed down depending on the will of telecom operators”. In addition, the telecoms are only interested in presenting entertainment contents, thereby leaving no space for all other sorts of contents.

The goal of the event was to debate about the findings of the report, as well as the conditions emerging in the period between its preparation (April 2008) and its publishing. The attending representatives of the Broadcasting Council stated that they would prefer not to comment during the discussion and that they would later present their positions in written.

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