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Macedonia’s Planned Libel Fines Worry Media

April 7, 2012

Government’s plan to introduce steep penalties for defamation are causing concern among journalists and editors.

By Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 06.04.2012

 

PlusInfo news portal says the new penalties will range from 3,000 to 10,000 euros for journalists, up to 40,000 euros for editors and up to 80,000 euros for media owners.

The planned penalties for libel are part of the new telecomnications law that is currently being drafted.

Goran Mihajlovski, editor of Vest daily, says if the reports are accurate, “Media owners will have to start editing their media outlets on their own”.

The editor of Fokus newspaper, Jadranka Kostova, says such steep fines will boost media self-censorship, forcing media to keep away from potentially dangerous subjects.

“An 80,000 euro fine for defamation or libel could close you down,” Kostova said of her own Vest daily.

Zoran Andonovski, editor of the Dnevnik daily, agreed.

“Editors will have to stop certain articles from publication at the first suspicion that they could cost a libel suit,” he said.

The Macedonian Journalist’s Association, ZNM, say it has not discussed the fines with the government. In the past six months ZNM has been engaged in talks with the centre-right government of Prime Minister Gruevski over issues that concern reporters.

“The question of fines for libel and slander has not yet been discussed within the working group. When a formal proposal arrives, we will try to find a mutually acceptable solution,” the ZNM head, Naser Selmani, told Vest.

In late February the Vice Prime Minister Teuta Arifi said the government planned to remove defamation from the penal code and suspend all ongoing lawsuits against journalists for this offence. The idea was to eliminate self-censorship among journalists and editors.

Gruevski’s government has come under increasing fire from international media watchdogs concerning perceived curbs to media freedom, after several pro-opposition media were closed for tax reasons last year.

Critics claimed the authorities had targeted the media for their pro-opposition standpoints.

“If the authorities want to show they are ready to cooperate, they should decriminalize defamation as soon as possible,” Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE representative for freedom of the media, said last October on a visit to the country.

A similar message came from the International Partnership Group of freedom of expression organizations, which also came to inspect the media situation in Macedonia.

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