Macedonia: Freedom of expression endangered by new law

By EDRi · June 5, 2013

The new Macedonian law on Law on Media and Audiovisual Media Services
creates serious risks for freedom of expression in Macedonia.

The new law expands the scope of state control from broadcast media
(which is justified because they use a limited public resource, namely
wireless spectrum) to all kinds of media, including online and print.
This is neither justified and unnecessary and far exceeds the
requirements of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2010/13/EU.

Furthermore, excessively broad definitions (for instance, the concept of
journalists) and vague formulations create the risk and possibility of
arbitrary interpretation by state regulators, which would increase the
risk of the undermining of freedom of expression.

The drafting of the law suffered from a lack of effective consultation
with relevant stakeholders, such as civil society and professional
media. As a result, the planned regulatory bodies are given powers that
could be exercised in non-transparent and unaccountable ways.

The law centralizes the power to impose heavy fines and other sanctions
towards media and journalists within one body, a new Agency for Media
and Audiovisual Media Services, which is under complete control of
ruling political parties. The ruling parties can appoint 6 out of 7
board members through the Parliament and the association of
municipalities (ZELS).

Contrary to article 16 of Macedonian constitution, which explicitly
forbids censorship, the Media Law allows the Agency for Media and
Audiovisual Media Services to impose limits of freedom of expression
outside the scope of present laws (in particular, the Criminal Code for
hate speech and Law on Defamation).

The availability of heavy fines means that media bodies can effectively
be shut down for not adhering to bureaucratic procedures regarding
registration or notification to the agency, for publishing content that
it the agency subsequently deems morally harmful or for not publishing
announcements by state bodies. Moreover, article 56 of the draft law
also allows the Agency to limit of transmission of reception of audio
and audiovisual media service from other countries. The wording of this
provision is so vague that it could be used to require blocking of
foreign online video services, such as YouTube or Vimeo.

EDRi member Metamorphosis Foundation

OSCE analysis of the draft

Analysis of the law by the British media legal expert Peter Noorlander,
published by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia

Macedonian government moves to limit online free speech and increase
State control of the media

OWPSEE Press release

USAid and Media Development Center analysis