Relations between politicians and the media have normalised since the present government took office in September 2002. But the law on defamation is harsh, not up to international standards and allows political figures and the government to sue journalists more easily.
Controversy about the defamation law revived in autumn 2003 after three journalists were hastily tried and given sentences ranging from a year’s probation to a suspended two-month prison term. At the time, the government was working on a reform of the criminal code and the Macedonian Journalists’ Association, amid widespread publicity, had backed the government committee in charge of the reform.
The Association has called for decriminalisation of defamation and insults and for only private individuals, not the government, to be allowed to sue over harming the reputation of the president, state institutions and officials, election candidates and military officers. It also wants proof of the goodwill of journalists or the truth of their assertions to be accepted as grounds to drop such cases. A draft law on access to public data, that journalists have been urgently calling for, is still in the works.
Four journalists physically attacked
Two television crews were attacked by the inhabitants of Aracinovo (near Skopje) during a demonstration on 12 June. Ivona Talevska, of the independent TV Sitel, was threatened with a revolver, her cameraman kicked and the crew’s camera broken. Vanja Stevkovska, of the state-run TV, and her cameraman and driver were dragged out of their car and beaten up. Their camera and car were damaged. They had gone to the Albanian-majority village to cover the demonstration, against the police killing of a villager.
Harassment and obstruction
Zoran Markozanov, of the weekly Zum, was given a two-month suspended prison sentence and a year’s probation on 16 September 2003 for libelling Liberal Party leader Stojan Andov, a former president of parliament. He had written an article on 19 October 2001 about the attempted assassination of President Kiro Gligorov in 1995 headed "What will the new investigation come up with?" and saying Andov might be involved in the crime, which other journalists had already suggested.
Sonja Kramarska, of the daily Utrinski Vesnik, was ordered by a Skopje court on 10 November to pay the equivalent of 330 euros to Andov for implying, in a 22 October 2001 article, that he was "an unscrupulous liar," referring to an interview in the daily Dnevnik four days earlier in which NATO secretary-general Lord Robertson said he hoped Andov was a man of principle who kept his word.
A Skopje court fined Dragan Antonovski, of the independent TV station A-1, the equivalent of 1,600 euros on 12 November for insulting Macedonian army chief of staff Gen. Jovan Andreevski by accusing him of treason during the 2001 war against Albanian rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). Antonovski is appealing against the sentence.