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Macedonian Minister Defends Controversial Ads

May 22, 2012

Economy Minister Valjon Saracini has defended controversial government-funded advertisements that seek to educate Macedonians on how to behave in front of tourists.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 22.05.2012
YouTube screen grab

The latest Macedonian government tourism campaign went viral last week on You Tube, offending many Macedonians. The video clips have so far attracted more than 300,000 hits.

The seven one-minute clips portray Macedonians as rude, dishonest, aggressive and lazy hosts, followed by a message: We must not allow this to be the picture of Macedonia.

“Maybe not all citizens behave like that,” said Economy Minister Valjon Saracini, insisting that the ads are not offensive to Macedonians. He stressed that the ads can help improve the welcome that tourists receive when they are in Macedonia.

Saracini said the ads were deliberately filmed in a “guerrilla marketing style” so that they “grab attention”.

In the videos, so far available only on You Tube, an “Australian” modelled on the late Steve Irwin, presents viewers with several “Macedonian endemic species” such as a bed-and-breakfast owner, an alpha-male, a taxi driver, a lakeside waiter and a market vendor.

The final video features a “training centre for tourists heading to Macedonia” resembling a military training camp, where people wearing T-shirts reading Survive Macedonia are wakened at 3am by brass bands and told they need to get used to the noise.

Macedonia’s opposition Liberal Democrats have accused the government of spending around 550,000 Euros on completely unsuccessful videos which will only scare away tourists. The Liberal Democrats urged the government not to broadcast the videos, which have English audio with Macedonian subtitles, in order to prevent further damage.

A former member of the state Anti-Corruption Commission, Dragan Malinovski, said that if the government does decide to withdraw the videos, someone should be held responsible. He noted that government advertising has been controversial in the past and that many individuals suspected of corruption have been involved in previous campaigns.

“These advertisements that should encourage moral and responsible conduct are often a source of corruption themselves,” Malinovski told Radio Free Europe.

The issue of adverts and promotions became a hot topic in 2009 when state auditors revealed that the government had spent more than 10 million Euros on campaigns and commercials in 2008.

A number of international media watchdogs and political opponents of the government have since complained about the government’s use of advertising to gain more influence over the media.

“Disproportionate advertising by the Macedonian government – estimated to be the second largest source of advertising revenue in the country – unfairly distorts the media market and penalises media outlets that are critical of the government,” the International Partnership Group of freedom of expression organizations noted after visiting Macedonia last year.

OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic has echoed these concerns.

For its part, the government insists that the advertisements are in the public interest.

See related: Macedonians Behave! Tourists are coming

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