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PUBLIC INFORMATION LAW ALARMS IPI, IFJ & ARTICLE 19

Macedonia’s draft Public Information Law will have extremely negative consequences for press freedom, say ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute (IPI), and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The organisations see a number of serious problems with the text, starting with the conditions outlined for limiting freedom of expression. The European Convention on Human Rights does permit some restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and information. However, Macedonia's draft law fails to qualify these restrictions by making clear that they must be "necessary in a democratic society."

IPI, IFJ and ARTICLE 19 also express concern over the requirement for journalists to hold identification cards issued by a government-appointed council, a practice that runs counter to internationally-accepted principles of media freedom and gives the authorities the opportunity to decide who is allowed to practice as a journalist. Another main concern is the registration requirement for media outlets, which gives an unwarranted degree of power to a government agency to silence media, according to IFJ. Most worrying for IPI is the fact that penalties for non-compliance with the law include criminal liability, which threatens to create "a profound chilling effect on freedom of expression." The three organisations note that criminal liability runs counter to the European trend that any breaches of restrictions on freedom of expression should be regulated by civil law.

The draft law purports to provide the media with the right to access official information, but ARTICLE 19 says this is undermined by the fact that the person giving the information can delay disclosure indefinitely. IFJ and ARTICLE 19 are also concerned that journalists may be compelled in court to reveal their source to parties, notably state bodies with a "direct legitimate interest" in having this information. This provision would allow any government body that suspects one of its employees of leaking information to force the journalist to reveal the source. The law also establishes an annual open competition among mass media for government funds. ARTICLE 19 says the criteria favour newspapers which existed at the time of Macedonia’s independence in 1991, most of which were part of the state publishing company at the time and are still effectively under government control. Furthermore, both ARTICLE 19 and IFJ criticise the secrecy and lack of consultation during the drafting of the law.

The new law will replace a number of repressive laws inherited from the time when Macedonia was part of Yugoslavia, according to IPI. The organisation adds that a previous May 2000 draft was analysed by European media law experts who recommended changes to bring the law in line with European standards. However, the new version "appears to be even more repressive than the previous one." For more information, visit http://www.article19.org, http://www.freemedia.at, and http://www.ifj.org.


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