Flash report 3: Macedonia

Flash report 3: Macedonia
Journalists at the end of the clientelist food chain*
Serious investigative journalism that would reveal corruption and crime in the politics and business is almost nonexistent in Macedonia. An illustrative example is the fate of the weekly Focus that has focused on such investigation – its editors and journalists have faced lawsuits for libel or slander for several times. The owner of the magazine, Nikola Mladenov, was tragically killed in a car accident in March 2013, which raised many controversial issues in public.
General consideration is that the level of professional competences in Macedonian journalism has been quite lowered in the last decade. Low salaries, insecurity and fear of losing the job contributed the journalism to be one of the least desirable and least respected professions. In a situation where the media dominantly serve the party-political and private interests, the professional journalism has almost disappeared. Even when journalists possess skills and competencies, they become irrelevant when confronted with real interests in the newsrooms.
Due to the high unemployment rate in the country, the number of journalists on the labour market is much higher than needed. According to some estimates, more than half are unemployed:
Discrepancy between average wage in the country and average journalist wage (71,4%) is highest among the countries covered by the Media Observatory: 
The media owners are using this situation to decrease the journalist’s labour price, to misuse them and set unfair employment/working conditions. No effective remedies are in place: there are no collective bargaining agreements, no regulated minimum wage, and there are direct or implicit ban for organizing workers unions in the media. Therefore, the basic employment and social protection rights of journalists are significantly reduced or not recognized at all, making journalists completely dependent on a whim of a media owner or manager. There are even cases in some media, where the journalists, while signing a contract, simultaneously sign a resignation letter, which could be activated whenever the media owner finds it appropriate. 
‘Podobnost’ as a measure of journalist eligibility
Such precarious work conditions make journalists disposable and prone to give in to the pressures. Though all governments have been using hegemonic strategies to exercise pressure on media, many interviewed journalists argue that the present Coalition does so in a way that dramatically hinders freedom of expression. Some of the journalists even claim that there was a greater freedom of expression during the 2001 conflict.
A culture of ‘podobnost’ is still persistent mode of relation between political actors and journalists. The term is inherited from socialist times when the editors and journalists were directly selected by the ruling party on the counts of their compliance with the party stance. Nowadays, ‘podobnost’ is secured through less overt mechanisms. With the government change, the whole newsrooms get changed or the politically “ineligible” reporters get “passivized” in the newsroom, shun away from covering topics which would enable them to criticise those in power.
The political actors also execute direct pressure on the editors and journalists. One of the journalists illustrated it: “The ruling party communications officer calls and says: ‘This package is not going to be broadcast again’. He calls the editor in chief directly.” It is not uncommon for political actors to directly contact the journalists, instructing him/her on what and how to cover. The extreme of political colonisation is very obvious in the practice – when a journalist even receives completely written article from a political centre with a demand only to put signature underneath it.
Expendable journalists and irreplaceable ‘gazda’
The media owners play a key role in the clientelist linkage between the political centres of power and journalist practices.  The power of an owner is reflected in the colloquial name media professionals like to use – ‘gazda’ – meaning a person who owns a lot, while the commodity he owns is at his absolute disposal. Thus the ideological-political inclination of a media outlet rests solely on the opportunistic estimation of the ‘gazda’. A journalist put it in following terms: “It all depended on the decision of ‘gazda’ to connect to a certain party, and which party would that be. That is dependent on the given moment ... The owner will estimate that in the next four years his business would develop better if he bids on the party he thinks has a better chance to win the elections.” 
The ‘gazda’ plays the role of a 'broker' between the political actors as ‘patrons’ and the editors/journalists as ‘clients’. The owners to a great extent dictate the fashion in which the newsroom will cover a topic, which makes the journalists expendable and the ‘gazdas’ irreplaceable for any political establishment. 
The editors and the ‘Black Mamba Effect’ 
The subtle or direct pressure of political and business actors on the journalists is usually executed through the editors, which has a direct impact on the process of news production.
There is a widespread practice that an editor would remove a news report ready for issuing, often with no explanation why it is not published/broadcasted – what journalists call ‘the black mamba effect’. Another mode of censorship is to take the news item from the primetime program, and broadcast it at obscure hours. Such practices generate mistrust between journalists and editors.
Editors may directly determine the choice of topics, the content or the angle of the stories being covered, basing on political rather than professional criteria of newsworthiness. This kind of setting makes journalist work redundant, reducing them to mere ‘microphone holders’. 
State of the profession
Journalists are the last part of the clientelistic food chain and by the rule they serve as clients, situation enabled by several structural elements. Professional solidarity is almost non-existent because of the competing journalist associations – AJM (Association of Journalists of Macedonia) and MAN (Macedonian Association of Journalists). Solidarity is lacking in newsrooms as well due to divisive political affiliations, economic insecurity, personal ties and distrust between editors and journalists. 
Lack of journalist professionalism is due to insufficient education and low level of awareness of professional standards. Normalization of censorship, through practices of political, economic and editorial pressures, has created pervasive culture of auto-censorship. Journalists and editors internalize the will of the political and business censors without even being asked to do so, which makes the process of profession’s disciplining undetectable and more worrying. In a system in which the importance of the allegiance to the political or business patron is greater than the allegiance to the public interest, there is little need for establishing and maintaining values of truthfulness, fairness, justice and freedom. Such a constellation deters any attempt of journalist’s engagement in investigative endeavors. The status and the societal function of journalism as a profession and journalists as individuals are devalued. This creates widespread stigma on journalism and strategically disqualifies any claim that journalistic products may have on the truth.   
* This flash report is excerpt from a longer research article.
Summarised by Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc
Media Integrity