FYR Macedonia: Widespread surveillance against more than 100 journalists that were critically oriented toward the Government
Countries Gray Macedonia
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Translation: Fairpress

More than 20,000 people, including top politicians, opposition leaders, NGO activists, journalists, businessmen, top academics, religious leaders and members of the judiciary have been subjected to widespread surveillance, which was ordered by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the head of Counter-intelligence Agency, Saso Mijalkov, said the leader of SDSM opposition party, Zoran Zaev at a press conference that took place on the 9th of February. Until now, five batches of phone-taped materials have been presented! Macedonian journalists have not been spared in this scandal. During the public presentation of two batches, the opposition presented clear evidence of existence of political manipulation of media, as per words of Mr Zaev. Bombed with questions from the opposition in the Macedonian Parliament, Macedonian Prime minister Gruevski stated, “It is early to pull any conclusions, for this case needs thorough investigation and analysis”.

During the press conference that took place on the 20th of February, evidence on ordering content and delegated instructions to the editors in chief of two most influential media in Macedonia, TV Sitel and the owner of Kanal 5 TV given by the head of Counter-intelligence Agency were presented. As it is said the aim was to diminish the reputation and destroy Ljubomir Boskoski, former leader of political party, currently serving prison sentence of 10 years and 6 months for illegal political campaign funding. Boskovski is one of two Macedonian prisoners who were in Hague. He was welcomed with high honour by the Prime minister but only months after that he turned against the ruling party using extreme vocabulary in the elections campaign. He was arrested the same night the elections were over, in the spectacular police raid in the city center at the beginning of June 2011.  

Evidence on ordering media content were also presented against the current Minister of Interior, Gordana Jankulovska and PM Gruevski’s Chief of Cabinet Martin Protuger, who were audibly discussing that Kanal 5 TV should serve media story that Boskovski had tried to “sell the Name ” of the country.  According to the economic analysis published by the regulatory body, the Agency for audio and audio visual media services, TV Sitel and Kanal 5 TV had the major market share in 2013, with viewership rates of 28.60% and 12.80%.

On the 25thof February, the fourth batch of phone-taped materials was presented, providing material on widespread surveillance against more than 100 journalists that were critically oriented toward the Government. As revealed during the press conference, Nikola Mladenov, one of its most prominent and fearless journalists, founder and owner of Fokus, the most popular political weekly in the country and of the daily newspaper with the same name, has been followed for more than four years. Mladenov died in the car accident on the 27thof March 2013, but it was indicated in the last UN report on human rights multiple interlocutors, including persons that worked closely with Mr. Mladenov, that he had been murdered. In March 2013, both the daily and the weekly Focus were temporarily shut down because of the sudden death of Nikola Mladenov, its editor-in-chief and founder. The weekly Focus re-launched in

July 2013 under the leadership of Jadranka Kostova. She was found guilty in a civil proceeding for insult and defamation in a case initiated by the head of Counter-intelligence Agency, SasoMijalkov, and charged with a total fee of approximately 9.000 Euros (5.000 EUR for the editor Kostova, 1.000 EUR for the journalist Vlado Apostolov and 3.312 EUR for court costs of Mijalkov) and the daily Focus was officially closed for financial reasons and several pending defamation lawsuits.

The presented audio materials between ministers and government officials with media owners and editors explicitly showcased direct orders of media articles connected to arrests of politically engaged persons, censorship orders etc..

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and its Macedonian affiliates, the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM) and the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) expressed grave concern about the publicly announced allegations of mass and unauthorized surveillance of journalists and citizens. The Association of journalists of Macedonia publicly called the Public Prosecution to seriously review the published evidence for wiretapping of journalists and to initiate appropriate actions. Moreover they called the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Minister of Interior Gordana Jankulovska and director of ASC Sasho Mijalkov to resign, no matter who ordered the wiretapping, since they are obliged to prevent such massive violation of constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens. In their press release, the Council for ethics in the media expressed their concern for the serious violations of freedom of expression in Macedonia and that wire-tapping of journalists is totally unacceptable in a free and democratic society. In their work journalists should not be subjected to pressures and be forced to act contrary to their opinions or beliefs. Council believes that journalism as a profession has a major role in the protection of democratic values, and in the work of journalists it is necessary to create all conditions for informing the public in a fair, impartial and comprehensive manner. Meanwhile, Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, in his Sunday interview with Radio Free Europe recommended the wiretapping problem to be resolved by those who are, in legal terms, in charge and if necessary, a parliamentary committee should also be set up to investigate this issue. However, this depends on the presence of all political parties in parliament.

While some of the media opened the wide debate on the ongoing scandal and its multiple effects on the democracy and freedom of speech, bias reporting and ignorance can be noticed among media, meaning not all journalists are concerned with the issue of wire-tapping.  TV Sitel and its editor in chief have been directly involved in most of the presented audio recordings, and the independence of this media has been seriously brought into question. The TV station with major market share and major income from governmental advertising, publicly accused the opposition leader Zaev for constant attacks over the integrity of this media and its journalists.

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