Author: Meri Jordanovska, BIRN Macedonia
Two totally different aspects on the actual situation in Macedonia can be seen in the Macedonian media, a country that is dealing with one of the biggest political crisis in the last decade.
In front of the Macedonian Government people set a camp on May 17th, demanding resignation of the Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. In front of the government’s headquarters there are members of the opposition, NGOs and activists for human rights.
Just one day later, on May 18th, members of the ruling party did a move designed to copy the opponents of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski – they set up their own camp “for the defense of Macedonia” just 800 meters away in front of Parliament.
There are two tabors of campers now. People are divided, and so are the media. Totally different stories can be seen in the media, depending on who finance them – whether the Government or international donors.
On May 24th, the internet portal “Kurir” published a headline: „SDSM [the oppositional party] have tradition always to be against Macedonia, the money are more important for them”. It was a statement from Toni Mihajlovski, an actor that strongly supports government politics. Another headline from the same media is: “SOROS has a budget of 5 million euros for this year, the unofficial amount is even larger”.
“Director of SOROS Macedonia is Vlade Milcin, the person who spoke on the party mitting of SDSM in front of the Government. These 5 million will be spent on media financing, journalists and NGOs whose only goal is to criticize the Macedonian Government”, the article states.
Previous owner of “Kurir”, according to the official documents of the Central registry was Aco Misajlovski, brother of the current minister for internal affairs Vlado Misajlovski. On the day when the minister for internior Gordana Jankuloska resigned (May 12th 2015) after the wire taping scandal and Misajlovski was elected, his brother withdrew as an official owner of Kurir, but the media has kept open it’s sympathy towards the government politics.
While the pro-governmental media are dealing with the opposition and its’ “anti-state” propaganda, the internet portals financed by other sources and international donors etc., give totally different picture on the actual situation in the country.
For example, the critical oriented web-portal “Plusinfo” calculated with a number of 100.000 people that showed up on the protests against the Government on May 17th.
For the same protest, the pro-governmental portal “Netpress”, published an article saying that 15.000 people were on the anti-government protests.
What is the real picture, it’s on the citizens to decide.
Kristina Ozimec, a free – lance journalist from Skopje says that professional and objective media in Macedonia are quite few compared to the pro-governmental ones.
“High professional media and journalists helped a lot in this turbulent political situation in the country, by providing checked and objective information and stories. The biggest problem is that they are quite few, compared to the pro-governmental media that are larger by number and louder”, says Ozimec and adds that “Macedonia is still a TV, and not an Internet country and most of the TV stations have pro-governmental editorial policy”.
Tamara Chausidis, president of the Journalists’ and Media Workers Trade Union claims that the media are not an exception, but are in the center of the current political crisis in Macedonia.
“The country is in a difficult political crisis that covers all segments of the society. Given the task of journalism to be critical corrector of power, any attempt for journalism professional practice is seen as ‘biased and oppositional’”, Chaisidis says.
On the other side, according to her, are the apologists of the government who practice bias and barrack journalism.
“It is best seen right through the coverage of the protests. The ownership structure absolutely plays a major role, because the owners practically “sell” the editorial policy to the ones that pay the most, and that, of course is the Government”, Chausidis adds.
Who owns Macedonian media?
“Why do some Macedonian media have the need to hide their ownership in some far away Carribean States? Why some journalists are afraid to sign their name under their articles? Why are names of editors and journalists not disclosed in an impressum? Does money for Government advertising mean bribery and control of the media?”
These are the main questions that the independent project named Media Pedia answers. The project’s goal was to reveal the owners of the media, so the citizens can decide which ones they can trust.
“Media Pedia” revealed a shady and corrupted media ownership structure related to powerful people with closed or direct connections to the Government. Our one-year investigation proved not just who owns the media, but also how the propaganda is financed by state”, says the journalist Saska Cvetkovska, one of the authors of Media Pedia. The research showed that few people close to the Government hide behind the most influential mainstream media.
For example, the owner of the web portal Netpress, whose stories are quoted on every national TV station including the public service, is a company named Finzy DOOEL. The owner of this company is Finzy LLC – situated in Albany, USA. On the address where Finzy LLC is situated (41 State Street, Suite 106, Albany NY 12207) there is a registered company for helping other companies to open off shore affiliates.
According to the official documents from the Central registry of Macedonian companies, the first director of Finzy LLC is Vladislav Stajkovic.
“This person led us to a very important company in Macedonia, named NVSP. Stajkovic is the owner of the company. NVSP is an owner of the pro-governmental radio called Radio Free Macedonia, owner of two other regional TV media stations and first owner of SGS – a security agency connected to the former chief of the secret police, Saso Mijalkov (first cousin of the Prime Minister Gruevski), who resigned on May 12th, after the wire – tapping scandal that the opposition revealed”, Cvetkovska explains.
If the owner of Netpress hides in Albany, USA, the owner of Republika (weekly newspaper and a web – portal) hides on the off-shore heaven, Belize. This magazine has around 6 pages with the commercials of the government in each copy and Media Pedia investigation showed its close connections with Macedonian businessman connected to the Government.
“This only shows that the real media owners in Macedonia do not want to be found, because behind every media financed with the government commercials, a high official is hiding”, Cvetkovska explains.
The government – the largest advertiser after Proctor & Gamble
According to the official data on the Macedonian media market, year after year the Macedonian government is one of the biggest advertisers in the country, ranking at number 2 in 2013 with 4.99% (and 17,639 aired TV spots) of the market share among advertisers on national TV stations, after Proctor & Gamble (5.4%), and before Coca Cola Company (4.89%). The ruling party VMRO-DPMNE is on the fifth place.
For many years the official data on how much the government was spending on advertising and propaganda was one of the best kept state secrets. In August 2014, as a result of international and domestic pressure regarding the dire state of freedom of media in Macedonia and in the face of the upcoming autumn regular EU Progress Report for 2014, the Prime Minister Gruevski decided to publish some numbers: according to their accounts, in 2012, 2013 and the first six months of 2014 the Government spent some 18 million euros in 27 different media campaigns.
Media analist and journalist Saso Ordanoski for South East European Media Observatory gives very illustrative case of how state money can “inspire” pro-government editorial policy may be elaborated, through the case of the national TV Alfa.
Founded in 2008 as an independent satellite TV station – terrestrially disseminating its signal through some of the cable and internet TV operators in Macedonia – Alfa’s editorial policy for several years was closer to the political opposition in the country and critical toward Gruevski’s government.
In 2012/2013 its ownership changed through several surprising acquisitions of ownership shares by an anonymous off-shore company based in the Netherlands Antilles and owned by a Serbian businessman, a very close acquaintance of the Macedonian government.
“Not so surprisingly, this ownership/editorial “salto-mortale” was followed by a sudden marketing success by TV Alfa”, Ordanoski writes.
After the full change in ownership in 2013, that year the TV company ended with almost 85% bigger financial revenue compared to the previous year, 2012, although the general annual viewership rating in 2013 would not change an iota compared to 2012.
In the period of January-September 2014, the Macedonian government advertised 2-3 times more on TV Alfa compared to its advertising presence on any of Alfa’s competitors among the national commercial TV broadcasters.
“How can one media stay independent and objective if the Government directly supports it financially?! The next Government must forbid the Governments’ advertising because it’s only used for media corruption”, Ozimec says.
Campaign group Reporters Without Borders’ most recent World Press Freedom Index, surveying the state of media freedom in 2014, ranked Macedonia at the bottom of the Balkan pile in 117th position out of 180 listed countries.
“The situation of Macedonia’s media continued to be bad in 2014, a year marked by the misuse of defamation legislation and politically-motivated allocation of state advertising,” the report said.