What is going on with media in Macedonia?
Evelyna Topalova, 1 December 2010
Thursday, November 25th. The private Macedonian TV station A1 appears to be (it all happened in the evening) under intense police presence. Journalists from the medium claim the police did not let anyone in or out without being checked and without any explanation. Some even complain that they were jostled by the police. The TV station interrupts its programme and starts airing live what was happening. Citizens and representatives of the opposition start coming in order to express their support for the journalists.
In the meantime in an official statement the Macedonian Ministry of the Interior says that the police was sent to help the tax revenue team who were there to inspect six companies, registered on the same address as the TV station in Skopje.
The Tax Revenue Agency gives a special press conference, explaining that tax revenue officials had not been not let in to inspect these companies for months, which forced the Agency to ask the police for support. The companies in question are being investigated for tax fraud because it is claimed that they tried to export 7.5 mn euro to countries, known as tax havens. The Revenue Agency underlines that for now there is no connection between the companies and the owner of the private TV station Veliya Ramkovski who is in conflict with the ruling majority.
The government hints that the opposition is behind inciting of tension around A1, famous with its criticism towards the cabinet of PM Nikola Gruevsky.
What is the truth about what happened on Thursday?
This is something which only the participants in the events could say. It is possible the journalists to have over-reacted to the inspection. It is possible the opposition to try and use the discontent in order to draw political dividends. It is also possible that there was no jostling and the police not to have exceeded their powers.
It is a fact, however, that there were police in front of the popular Macedonian TV station. For a medium that is critical towards the government, this fact is not hard to be interpreted as violation of freedom of speech and an attempt of intimidation. It is another question whether financial inspectors had to be escorted by special police forces in order to do their job.
Let us recall that in its November progress report the European Commission noted for Macedonia that there was still political interference in the work of media in the country.
The lack of clarity surrounding the incident still remains. We are awaiting the outcome in the upcoming days. One thing is clear though - the government should not forget that it is not an accident that media are called the fourth power. Media, on their behalf, especially TV stations, should constantly recall that they serve society and not financial interests.