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Authorities urged to allow Macedonian journalists to enter the country

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 20 April 2011 - The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), condemns the decision of Bulgarian authorities to deny Skopje-based journalists the permission to enter Bulgaria, without an explanation, and cover an event organised in the village of Melnik, where local hero Yane Sandanski was killed in 1872. Sandanski led a resistance movement against the Ottoman Empire. Ethnic Bulgarians and Macedonians disagree over his ethnic origin. Each group claims him as their own hero.

Three media outlets from Skopje - television channels TV Sonce and Kanal 5, as well as the daily Dnevnik - were prevented from entering Bulgaria on 17 April 2011. They intended to cover the commemoration in Melnik. No explanations were provided. Border police stopped the car with the Dnevnik crew and asked about their destination. Once they explained the purpose of the trip, according to a story published on the Dnevnik website, they were asked to turn in their passports. In order to have them returned, they had to sign a document stating that they lacked the proper permission to cover the event. Citizens from the Republic of Macedonia/Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia do not need visas to enter Bulgaria.

TV Sonce had a similar experience in 2010. As reported by SEEMO on 5 May 2010, the broadcaster was turned back at the Bulgarian border due to a lack of proper accreditation. In 2011, they applied ahead of time. On 4 April 2011, the Bulgarian embassy in Skopje sent an official reply: the application was denied. No reasons were stated. SEEMO contacted officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sofia and Bulgarian diplomatic representatives in Skopje. While diplomatic representatives explained that all media permissions are decided on in Sofia, the director of the Directorate for Information in Sofia said that Bulgaria is a sovereign country and does not have to provide any reasons for denying accreditations.

According to Bulgaria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all journalists need permission to film in the country. There are several types of permission. The decision on who gets permission is made in Sofia, while applications are submitted to Bulgarian embassies.

The experience of Kanal 5 was different. After applying for accreditation and providing all the required information, including serial numbers for camera equipment and a car engine identification number, embassy representatives in Skopje said that there was not enough time to process the application, the broadcaster reported on its website.

The Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria sent an open letter to Bulgarian authorities, asking if journalists from the mainstream European media would be given the same treatment or if there was a deliberate targeting of Skopje-based reporters. When journalists are denied accreditation, they should receive an explanation. Blank rejections are contrary to international standards and clearly violate press freedom.

SEEMO condemns these discriminatory practices and urges Bulgaria's authorities to let the journalists from Republic of Macedonia/Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia enter the country and report freely. SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic called on Bulgarian authorities "to adhere to international standards of press freedom."
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