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Macedonia doesn't need a Law on Media

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A fortnight ago, on Monday, April 22, the Media Development Centre from Skopje organized a debate that tried to answer whether there was a need for (any) law on media in Macedonia. The debate was a response to the fact that, two Mondays earlier, Macedonian Minister of information society and administration presented to the public the draft of a rather comprehensive Law on Media.  

Representatives of journalistic associations at the April 22 debate in Skopje (Photo: OneWorldSEE/Dejan Georgievski)Representatives of journalistic associations at the April 22 debate in Skopje (Photo: OneWorldSEE/Dejan Georgievski)

The journalists and the other fine folks that gathered in the debate, were quite clear – we need no law on media, especially not the one offered by the ministry of information society.

Not only it goes well beyond the field of broadcasting, which in Macedonian legal tradition has only been subject to regulation, due primarily to its nature of limited resource (the frequences) warranting state intervention and control, but it touches on issues and matters quite well regulated already in other laws and regulations – the law on labour relations, copyright law, law on electronic communications, law on civil liability for defamation (Ok, it doesn't regulated its area quite that well, but that is another matter) and other pieces of legislation.  

Furthermore, the Law attempts and dares provide a definition of who shall be considered journalist, a definition of a profession that is open to people of all voccations and background – cynics would say, primarily to those who don't mind the complete loss of nerves, which would be compensated by a guaranteed gastric ulcer – especially in this age of Internet and other technological wonders.  

The law also tries to define what shall be considered a media outlet, especially so for online media, or, as they are named in the draft, publishers of electronic publications.  

All the while, the legislators exhempt, "for the purposes of this law", the blogs, private websites, social networks. Furthermore, it turns out that those that want to inform the public, however wide or narrow the scope of the definition of public, over the Internet, shall have to register his or her operation with the proposed competent agency. Otherwise, if he or she is cout reporting without proper certificate of registration, he or she faced a fine of up to 3,000 Euro. So, there it is, guys, and you feel free to blog all you like.  

It is a small wonder that the law is the way it is if we know that it follows the template provided by the Hungarian media law, which raised a storm all over Europe and almost cost Hungary EU's sanctions.  

So, we are getting close to the point, which is to give our answer to the question raised by the debate – does Macedonia need a media law at all?

While looking for similar cases in the world, I contacted Ramsey, a "skype" acquaintance of mine from Jordan, and he told me, "well, you can look at our media law, we have suffered under it for several years now. I processed the phrase "Jordan media law" through the search engines and, there it was. Similar to the law now on the table in Macedonia, and teh Hungarial law earlier, the Jordanian media law also prescribes registration of online media and their classification.  

The results of the search mentioned above are quite unambiguous. Serious international organisations the work in the areas of media freedoms, freedom of expression and human rights in general – like Reporters Without Borders, Human Rights Watch – note that the obligation to register with a government or public authority ia a cause of concern and constitutes, by default, an attack on the freedom of information on the Internet.  

As already said, these are serious organizations which wouldn't joke with such serious matters, so I fear that, in the end, it will turn out that it really is an attack and violation of freedom of expression. There lies the answer to that question – if a piece of legislation violates fundamental human rights and freedoms, and by extention the very Constitution and the laws that incorporate and guarantee those rights, we don't need such a law.  

The Internet is an open space that should remain open to all people in the world, under the same conditions. It should be equally open to serious and well organized editorial offices and publishers, and to common citizens that want to work as citizen journalists and report on topics and events in which they are interested. The Internet surely is not, as it is considered surely "for the purposes of this law", as a newly acquired real estate that needs to be divided into lots, fenced off and properly catalogued so that some agency or other such authority could tell everybody what they can and what they can't do. Pardon my French, but screw that idea of the Internet. For that reason alone, the proposed Law on Media can't pass.

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