By Heini Järvinen

On 27 September, 2014, the Skopje Court of Appeals, Macedonia, confirmed the decision of a lower court, and ordered a critical independent magazine “Fokus” to pay a nearly ten thousand euro fine to a high government official for defamation. The ruling was another setback to country’s media freedom.

Sasho Mijalkov, the Director of the Security and Counter-Intelligence Directorate, and a cousin of Macedonia’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, sued Fokus in January 2013 for defamation after it had published an article including a statement by Igor Ilievski, Macedonia’s former ambassador to the Czech Republic, suggesting Mijalkov’s involvement in various forms of corruption. The court ruled the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jadranka Kostova to pay 5000 euro, and journalist Vlado Apostolov 1000 euro to Mijalkov for non-pecuniary damages, and to jointly cover court costs of 3300 euro. The average monthly net salary in the country is around 350 euro.

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) condemned the verdict, arguing that that it is unfair, directed against critical journalism, and in breach of the Defamation Law in Macedonia. AJM pleaded with Mijalkov to waive the 6000 euro fine. He did not respond directly to the appeal, but announced through his lawyer that the money he would receive from the journalists would be donated to an orphanage.

On 8 October, AJM started a fundraising appealing to journalists and citizens to help the two journalists to pay the fine, which is risking to cause financial ruin both for the journalists and their families, as well as the magazine. Fokus is one of the few publications in the country continuing to publish investigative pieces. The editor-in-chief of the magazine has publicly stated that they have been forced to institute self-censorship, to avoid lawsuits for defamation, such as this one, that threaten to destroy the its finances. The call for solidarity highlights the importance of the support of the press and public to safeguard the freedom of expression in the country. On 21 October, less than two weeks after the launch of the fundraising, AJM announced that the target sum covering the fine and the court costs had been nearly reached.

Macedonian investigative magazine “Fokus” fined thousands of euros in defamation case (16.10.2014)
https://www.ifex.org/macedonia/2014/10/16/fokus_magazine/#.VEDHKRT-3YA.twitter

Call for solidarity for journalists of Macedonian weekly “Focus” (08.10.2014)
http://www.znm.org.mk/drupal-7.7/en/node/805

Macedonian appellate court confirms defamation verdict for independent magazine (07.10.2014)
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/10/07/macedonian-appellate-court-confirms-defamation-verdict-for-independent-magazine/

Macedonian Court Fines Journalist and Magazine for Quoting Source (23.02.2014)
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/02/23/macedonian-court-fines-journalist-and-magazine-for-quoting-source/

Critical Macedonian weekly faces “draconian” fine (20.01.2014)
http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/critical-macedonian-weekly-faces-draconian-sentence

EDRi-gram: Macedonian media freedom in freefall (12.03.2014)
https://edri.org/macedonian-media-freedom-freefall/

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