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Concerns about proposed changes to Macedonian media laws must be heard

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), said it is worried about proposed changes to the media law in the Republic of Macedonia (ROM) / Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The Ministry of Transport and Communication in Skopje has presented two draft laws that would provide a new legal framework for media regulation in the country: a new Media Law and a new Audio and Audiovisual Law.

The proposed laws proceeded to a second reading before the Parliamentary Committee on Transport, Communications and Environment of the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia / FYROM, which is continuing to debate them.

SEEMO said that it supported an initiative by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM - ZNM) calling on Parliament to delay any enforcement of the laws so that concerns about their possible misuse could be eliminated.

SEEMO identified a number of problematic elements, including amendments giving the proposed new Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services authority and competence over print and online media. The proposals also replace any possible system of self-regulation and create a new regulatory body, with most of its members appointed by state institutions, that would have the right to revoke broadcasting licenses and to invoke fines based on unclearly-defined "citizens' interests".

An amendment to the Law on Audiovisual Media Services would introduce new subsidies for broadcasters from the state budget, which would place them even further under political control. The laws also would not guarantee the independence of the director of the Agency of Audio and Audiovisual Media.

SEEMO indicated that apart from addressing these concerns - which were generally shared in strong critiques levied by Macedonian journalists, foreign diplomats in Skopje and international media experts and organisations - it did not see a need to make further changes to the draft laws.

"I am concerned that these laws could be used to silence critical reports in media", SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic said. "The officials in Skopje should present laws that fully comply with international standards, which is not the case with these two drafts."

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