Hijacked Journalism!

Hijacked Journalism!
Why the media market in Macedonia is completely distorted?
Mladen Cadikovski: "Media market, which was not ideal from before, was further distorted with the money from government campaigns."
Despite different interpretations, it becomes clear that the Government with its campaigns managed to buy the loyalty of most of the media owners, who saw a chance in this unprincipled coalition to profit on the backs of journalism and media professionalism. Thus, the media market, which was not ideal from before, was further distorted with the money from government campaigns. The competitiveness of the market was also affected, because the money was distributed to the suitable media in a non-transparent manner. It leads to a situation where other media barely survive or declare bankruptcy.
Macedonian media market is torn among politics, business and propaganda and the journalists, and the ones who are professional are potential, but also real victims of the systemic crisis that was created in the media. The media landscape in the country is totally polarized, traditional media are almost entirely held by the ruling party, and the rest of the media is on the other side, highly concentrated in several newspapers and web portals, working at the edge of profitability, and often under that level.
Why the media market is completely distorted? The reasons can be located in the distant past, when the powerful business oligarchs created the media, under the auspices of the reformed communists of the SDSM. Many of the current system weaknesses stem from that period, while having simultaneous upgrade and expansion with the ideas of the VMRO – DPMNE’s technocrats. It turned out that there is always something worse; hence we can only dream of a media scene in Macedonia such as the one from 5 years ago. With all the "childhood diseases" in the media and until the "technocratic era", the competitiveness of the product, information and analysis, were something that was selling the stories in the media. 
Many things start from the financing of the media, hence one of the key prerequisites for the destruction of the media market were the government’s advertising campaigns. Under the argument that we need to create a better society and educate citizens in recent years ten million euro were transferred as Government advertising in the media, which has consecutively turned them into parasitic creatures.
According to the official data of the Agency for Media, the tendency of increased government advertising begun in 2008, when, according to the AGB Nielsen’s measurement, the Government was the second advertiser in the country, behind T-Mobile Macedonia, while Coca Cola was the third one.
The following year, 2009, the first two places were taken over by Coca Cola and T Mobile, while the fifth one by the Government. Further on, in 2009, the Government was at the 18th place among the advertisers, and in 2011 the Government was again among the top five advertisers, i.e. at the fourth place. According to the measurements of the volume of advertising in 2012, the Government officially climbed the first place with 4,03% share at the market. According to the same analysis, the Government was the second most important advertiser in the national media in 2013. However, it is important that in 2013 the Government had almost the same number of broadcasted spots equally as the first, third and fourth most important advertisers in the media together. It means that the Government has leased space in the media equally as Procter & Gamble, Coca Cola and One, which definitely promoted it as number one advertiser in Macedonia.
This year, for the first time, the Government came up with the figures for the money spent for this purpose. In 2012 6.6 million euro were spent for the campaigns, 7,2 million in 2013, while almost 4 million euro were spent in the first six months of 2014. 
There has been no specific figure on the money spent for government advertising until now. According to a media report presented at the Brussels’s Speak-up conference, it is a figure of about 20 million euro per year. There is a difference between what was presented in Brussels, which is unofficial data, and the figures presented by the Government. Still, the advertisements of state agencies, public enterprises, companies that are 100% owned by the state or those in which the state is a minority shareholder (Agency for Electronic Communications, Macedonian Power Plants, Water Supply and Sewerage, Macedonian Post, Telecom) are not included in that amount. If these advertisements are to be counted in the total amount, the annual number of 8 million euro (as expected for 2014) will certainly increase, and may be even doubled and closely reach the unofficial figure we discussed. If you multiply that by 5 years, as long as this advertising siege on media lasts, then it is a lot of money - between 80 and 100 million euro invested in the media, and this money can buy many things. Perhaps it can buy the inclination of the bosses?! 
"Perhaps the most serious consequence of state advertising is that the media become economic (and then) politically dependent. With years, this created an unhealthy competition among the owners at the already split market, which has been facing a lack of money from advertising. But the moment budget money was invested for the so-called public campaigns it created a war. Not to mention the examples of what happened, about the kind of wars fought among media owners. Today we already have a regular practice, it is clear that every "pro-government" private media will get part of that cake. We cannot talk about media market now; neither there are independent media nor independent journalism. In this situation, journalism has turned into a political PR," the university professor PhD Snezana Trpevska said.
The media market in the last few years shares the fate of the whole society in the worst manner possible. The society is extremely polarized, first of all along party-political lines, and it shares the fate of the weak economy, the small market, the unprofessionalism in all spheres.
The parties in power are in a comfort position to be promoted instead of interrogated, while only positive information is reported about them instead of criticism, and they have realized that the control of the media is one of the most important levers for cementing of their power. Therefore, they used all instruments to create such a media landscape as the one we have.
"The data presented by the Government show that the trade relations between the Government and the electronic media are not based on economic logic, which applies to other buyers of advertising space. If it is known that the distribution of campaigns goes through private marketing agencies, then the question is how these agencies were able to provide such a low prices for government advertising campaigns and why the media accept this non-economic logic of the market? By discounting the prices for the ads, we believe the Government participates in the violation of media markets and adversely affects the economic performance of the media," the President of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia Naser Selmani said.
Sources from the Government have a completely different stance, which suggests that the Government does not intend to interfere either in the editorial policy or at the media market.   
„The Government implements the information activities through specialized and independent professional agencies, which are selected on the basis of a transparent and public procedure in accordance with the law, and these agencies broadcast the information activities on the basis of their topic, media plans and reports for viewership and readership, which is performed by other specialized and professional agencies”, the spokesperson Aleksandar Georgiev said. 
He added that the Government implemented information activities through the media with informative or educational component, whose single objectives are informing of citizens about their rights and opportunities and promotion of values in the society.
“It has been always dominant to make the projects closer to the citizens, so that the message about the new opportunities and the benefits of the projects on a larger scale could reach the wider audience”, the Government source stated. 
Sources from the opposition SDSM believe that the Government ads are a tool for a control over the media sphere.    
„The government ads and advertising campaigns in the media do not only affect the distortion of competitiveness in the media sphere, but it is worst that they have contributed to the establishment of a total control over the media space by the Government. The Government corrupts the media through the money it provides to them for the advertising campaigns. This absolutely affects the editorial policy of the media, it forces journalists to a self-censorship and in most of the media it ends up with a complete servility of the owners of the media and the editorial team to the interests of the Government,” the spokesperson of SDSM Petre Silegov said.
Sources from SDSM believe that the Government foolishly spends over 20 million euro per year, and they urge the ruling party to stop the commercial government’s advertising and stop spending budget means, as they say, for media corruption. 
Despite different interpretations, it becomes clear that the Government with its campaigns managed to buy the loyalty of most of the media owners, who saw a chance in this unprincipled coalition to profit on the backs of journalism and media professionalism.  All of them together hijacked journalism from journalists.
Thus, the media market, which was not ideal from before, was further distorted with the money from government campaigns. The competitiveness of the market was also affected, because the money was distributed to the suitable media in a non-transparent manner. It leads to a situation where other media barely survive or declare bankruptcy.
In the cases where this did not succeed, heavy artillery was used, such as the closure of A1 TV. After the destruction of this, a pillar media that absorbed much of the journalistic force at that time, and three other newspapers the media scene began to bleed more heavily.
Meanwhile the political dignitaries were not hesitant to reach for lawsuits for journalists and newspapers, aimed at their financial weakening. The last example is the draconian punishment for the weekly "Focus" which has to pay over 9,000 euros to the Director of Macedonia's Security and Counterintelligence Directorate Saso Mijalkov together with the court costs.
All of this has led to the destruction of dignity, and therefore the power of the press, and the overall result could be best seen in the decline of press freedom as measured by "Reporters without borders". Macedonia is now at the 123rd place, while in 2009 it was at the 39th place.
In the media under government control, from one side, a budget surplus emerged while, on the other side, there was a shortage of money in the independent media, that in order to survive had to decrease production, fire employees and the professionalism was declining.
Media faced the choice to require financing from the foreign funds, which partially changed the situation. Journalists instead of seekers of information had to transform into seekers of funds, thus neglecting the primary objective again – the journalism.
In media market established in such a way you could rarely find a media in the country that survives on market principles, because most of the media are dependant either of the budget money or the foreign funds.
The problem is additionally intensified if it is known that most of the commercial advertisers are “afraid” to advertise in the independent or in the critically inclined media due to the general democratic climate in the country.  They are under perfidious political pressure; therefore you will often hear the sentence “Sorry, I would not want to have problems”!   
Where shall we seek the way out from this situation? The options are varied but all of them move in the same direction, drastic decrease of the budget for Government’s campaigns or they should be completely left out of the private media.
The Association of Journalists believes that the Government should immediately stop publishing its campaigns in the private media because they are not of public interest.
“We suspect that the Government affects the editorial policy of the media and thus the public opinion through its campaigns. It is arguable that there are no clear criteria for the allocation of government campaigns.
We ask for a special law to regulate the Government’s campaigns and this law should clearly define the public interest of the campaigns, and the advertising process should be transparent and there should be criteria for their distribution," Selmani said.
The experts are on the same line. 
“We have recommended several things with the research conducted on the Media integrity for the entire region. We claim that the state advertising, but also the political one, should be stopped, if we want to have independent media. I primarily think of the one in the television,” the professor Trpevska said.  
In her opinion, the government PR can be organized in a different way, if there is an intention to accomplish some public goals.
"It is not necessary to broadcast television commercials. The same applies to advertising during elections. Let them run the campaigns on the field among voters. They do not have to go on TV for hours as paid advertising. This is the first requirement if we want to renew the integrity of the media," Trpevska highlighted.
The dependence on government money and money from the ads in a situation when the media do not compete with their own products puts the other funding opportunities in the background. The problem is compounded by the difficulties that the entire economy is facing, insolvency. In such conditions advertising and marketing are always first on the list, which should be the basis for funding of media in a healthy democracy. Therefore, there is almost no successful example of a media that is financed by bank loans, which would be a logical decision for a start-up media businesses. But, not in Macedonia.
The exit from the crisis will be difficult. If we can no longer hope to a political will for change in the media landscape, it remains that journalists should resort to re-structuring of the media scene. It should be substantial, thorough and comprehensive, and it certainly would not be easy at all. It was supposed to start yesterday, not tomorrow! 
Media Integrity
Media Ownership and Finances