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Macedonia Draft Law to Regulate and Restrict the "Last Arena for Freedom of Speech"

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, June 12 2013

Skopje, Republic of Macedonia, (Wikipedia)

The draft of a media regulation law in Macedonia has journalists and press freedom watchdogs up in arms. The proposed Law on Media and Audiovisual Media Services was written by the government behind closed doors and without input from the media or NGOs. It has been interpreted as a decisive move on the part of the government to limit speech online in a country where press freedoms are already limited. Until now, Internet-based news sites were not regulated like print media.

The draft of the law was made public on April 8, which began a 60-day public consultation period that ended June 8. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) interpreted the legalese of the law in a post on Metamorphosis, the Foundation for Internet and Society:

Article 1 of the proposed new Media Law states, “this Law shall regulate the rights, obligations and responsibilities of media publishers, providers of audiovisual services and providers of programme [sic] packages.” In other words, the law will decide that the roles and responsibilities are of journalists, editors and bloggers and other members of the media. It will also require “people who want to inform the public” via print and electronic publications to be registered under the assigned government agency with arbitrary power to interpret the law. For example, due to the vague definition of media publishers, individuals and NGOs run the risk of not to be able to register news portals. If they do create these news portals anyway, they could be fined.

“The government is threatening the last arena for freedom of speech,” said Bardhyl Jashari of the Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society.

The Centre for Media Development organized a conversation between journalists and media organizations to discuss the need for the law. “We do not need this kind of law,” Tamara Chausidis, the head of the Independent Union of Journalists and Media workers, told Balkan Insight. “We do not need regulation of the media. We need freedom of the media.”

In 2009, Macedonia ranked a respectable 34 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. Last year, in 2012, it ranked 94. It fell another 22 spots this January, all the way down to 116. If this law goes into effect without the changes proposed by journalists and other authorities, it could drop further.

Other potentially problematic specifications in the law, reports Balkan Insight, are “the provisions concerning “the preservation of health and morality,” which fail to define what that includes.”

The law also defines journalists as regular employees of media organizations. Dr. Katrin Nyman-Metcalf analyzed the law and found “There should not be any definition of journalists and editors in the law, and this may have a limiting effect and in any case does not serve any necessary purpose.”

The list of disconcerting details could go on and on. A summary of media expert Peter Noorlander's analysis is available here, and a lengthy report by USAid and the Media Development Center, with specific recommendations and proposed changes for the law, available here.

If Macedonia implements this law, the country will join the ranks of Singapore, which recently made licenses a requirement for online media outlets, and Jordan, which began blocking websites earlier this month, not to mention Russia, which now selectively censors online content. For a country that used to rank 34 on the Press Freedom Index, it seems like strange company to keep.

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