Special Reports -> Macedonia
Ethics and Journalism in Macedonia
JOURNALISM INFLUENCED BY POLITICS AND BUSINESS
18.11.2005: Macedonian Institute for Media, Skopje, Macedonia
This article is part of regional research project of SEENPM «Ethics in media – did anything change» conducted by Media Centar from Belgrade
Informal contacts between journalists, politicians and businesspeople
There is a considerable number of journalists in Macedonia who perform some other function on top of their journalistic one, but that fact is usually kept as a secret! Of the journalists surveyed, only a few said that they had performed other “additional” functions, primarily in the NGO sector. Also, some of them went on admitting that they had indirectly used those other functions for reporting purposes, namely to establish contacts with relevant sources both for themselves as well as for their colleagues. However, it is widely known that in practice, even in their own newsrooms, there are numerous examples of journalists being engaged not only in the NGO sector but also in political parties, campaign staffs (during elections) or public relations offices, and even so-called consulting roles for journalists in the political parties. Officially, no journalist is engaged in such a way, but unofficially – even though it’s kept silent - the names are well known in journalistic circles. There are journalists who publicly declare themselves as such and admit that besides their, say, TV job they also work as a spokesperson for some institution. The latest example would be Brane Stefanovski, a TV 4 editor, who is also a spokesperson for the Electric Power Company; the names of the two editors-in-chief of TV Sitel and TV Kanal 5 are also often mentioned to have very close relations with certain political structures.
The word among journalists is that there are so-called part-time contracts or agreements for short-term services; that there are lists of journalists who receive money from various government ministries; that there are journalists who are on official spokespersons lists but are at the same time connected to private companies; that there are journalists and editors-in-chief who are working in the interest of certain political structures. Journalists take on such positions either for money or prestige, without any emotions or political sympathies, or in order to use the newly acquired position as a source of information both for themselves as well as for the media outlet they’re working for. The exceptions to that – i.e. for a person to be a journalist and to simultaneously have some other occupation as well, and to be completely professional in both of them - are few and incidental.
Informal contacts between journalists on one hand and politicians and businesspeople on the other are commonplace in Macedonian journalism. Each journalist has his/her own sources within the political parties or public institutions, which he/she uses and influences professionally or informally (friendship). But by large their opinion and advice is used as a general survey of the public opinion on certain issues and problems. Some do that on a friendly basis, some because they belong to a certain party or for money, while others still do it just to make a good impression. There’re also those who do not only give advice or estimates on certain situations but also get directly involved in the work of the political parties. Still, the influence that journalists have through their stories published in the media is much greater, and they consider it to be the right way to strengthen the role of the media in creating public opinion and as a reflection of the behavior of political subjects.
In practice, journalists more often than not act as mediators between the political subjects, especially when it comes to coalitions of political parties during election campaigns. The journalists surveyed elaborated: Macedonian political parties have no ideology, so journalists are not mediating for ideological reasons but rather because they want to feel powerful. They do it out of their personal interest or for the money. They enjoy being in the highest political circles and influencing decision-making. In essence, they're used to convey messages and to feel the pulse of the other political side.”
Putting media in order: pressures, instructions, blackmails…
The media in Macedonia are operating under the direct influence of political, economic and other interests. Behind nearly every single media outlet stands an economic-political group and interest that dictates the way issues are covered. Some are trying to conceal themselves behind objective journalism, while others are open about it. The most obvious example would be A1 Television, which in the course of a single year lost its editor-in-chief and several journalists-editors, due to the direct influence its owner had on the editorial policy. The owners of Kanal 5 and TV Sitel are political party leaders, and even ordinary citizens can easily spot the influence they exert not only on the editorial policy but also directly on the way in which certain current political affairs are being covered. Irrespective of how much one insists on professional standards as the sole criteria in the journalistic part of the job, in practice, numerous issues cannot avoid censorship (especially when it comes to economy and political issues) and even “commercial prohibition” and limitations on the freedom of information. That is to say, in order for the media to able to survive financially, they have to be very careful not to criticize advertisers in a direct and open way.
How to discipline the media? The decision whether certain issues will be covered and how it will be done depends either on the political and economic interests of the owner of the media outlet or on the editor-in-chief of the particular media. More often than not it is a precondition that gets imposed on journalists when they first start working for a media outlet (especially TV), as well as later on, when whole sentences are added to their stories or when they are asked to sign already-made or ordered stories. Furthermore, journalists are directly or indirectly suggested to either cover or not cover a certain story. They receive friendly advice and are subject of persuasion coming both from the editor and party officials. They are usually suggested that it would be a good thing if the criticism aimed at certain party was milder, that this is not the right time to do such a story because it would produce negative effects. There are a number of instances when serious stories have been hushed up due to pressure coming from powerful political and business circles, while certain companies are not covered or criticized due to the fact that they advertise in that particular media outlet. Such practices later take form of self-censorship. The number of journalists who have not experienced such pressure is neglectable, especially among younger journalists who, due to their inexperience, cannot defend themselves from the editor’s influence or the “advice” from their senior colleagues. Owners react in order to protect their interests, and if journalists fail to meet their demands they often lose their post or - if they have the chance – leave to another media outlet.
The owner’s interest is of the prime importance when deciding whether an issue will be covered or not and from what angle it will be covered. Both the owner and the journalists regularly face different reactions, interventions and pressures to publish or not to publish a certain story. Everybody reacts: politicians, businesspeople, and public figures from all walks of life, not only politics and the economy, but also culture, music, sports. Even ordinary citizens react regardless of the fact whether they’re right or wrong – simply don’t accept other people’s argumentation. They all react in different ways: sometimes their reaction is polite and tactful, with remarks as to the level of professionalism displayed in the journalist's work, but most often it’s tempestuous, aggressive and furious, with threats and litigations, and more often than not followed by an offer for a bribe. How do journalists react to that? They react in different ways, depending on their personal and professional integrity, work experience, and economic situation.
Are journalists involved in political showdowns?
This is especially present in election time. One can easily spot stories that are tendentiously done precisely during the election campaign, with the time of publication that leaves no room for adequate reaction, which is of great importance when it comes to devaluating and scandalizing the political opponent. The media and the journalists alike are involved in the game, primarily because of the media outlet’s business and political interests. The decision or to publish something or not depends on the political affiliation of the media outlet, how close it is to one political option or another, as well as on the financial ties between the media owner and the political party. In some places it is done unconsciously (this is especially true for younger journalists) but their newsroom is aware of that, while other newsrooms are part of the campaign staff of some political parties. During election campaigns, journalists usually get information “under the counter”, from all political subjects participating in the campaign. However, there are also media outlets that tendentiously compile (dirty) material to be used afterwards in the course of the campaign in order to discredit certain political opponents, which is in a way directed by some political structure that uses or abuses certain journalists/media.
How are differences between various positions and political affiliations settled?
The experience in this respect varies. Some say that there are no conflicting opinions in the media they work for, others claim that when there are opposing positions they speak their mind but keep the debate within the media itself, while others maintain that their media functions as a forum for different opinions regarding different issues and that all of these are presented to the public through the published stories. There are also a number of those who are very bitter about this issue and think that in their media outlet there is a lot of misunderstanding and not enough freedom to speak one’s mind, which consequently is reflected in the quality of their work.
Those who openly confront the media’s standpoint on a certain issue often find their stories (commentaries) not published and replaced by stories made by their colleagues that are more “in line” with the editorial policy. Thus, some journalists become privileged over others, especially the “obedient” or deserving ones (those who're close to certain political structures) which are being properly rewarded. Still, it is the personal interest of the media owner has the major weight in deciding whether or not something should be published. That is, if the journalist's paycheck depends on certain stories/packages then the selection and censorship becomes much easier.
If one wants to be a good journalist, it’s necessary not to allow one’s personal convictions or sympathies for some political party or option to influence the journalistic work. The worst case scenario is when journalists are being imposed opinions from a higher level; it always results in a conflict. In some cases, the editor-in-chief imposes his/her own opinion onto the whole newsroom, so that everybody feels that they’re doing the right thing, when in fact the journalists are being manipulated. Finally, it is up to the journalist himself/herself whether to be persistent in defending his/her position or to bend under the editor’s pressure. The reactions to such pressures usually come since it strengthens in-media democracy.
But, information cannot be hidden. If it is not published in one media outlet, it’ll surface in another. That’s the good thing about competition in the media space. It is maybe due to this fact that all journalists react when their political or ideological preferences don’t match up with those prevalent in the media they work for. Finally, today in a democratic society everybody is entitled to publicly express their opinion, no matter how different it may be; it is a contest of ideas. Some just express their own opinion, while others try to convince their colleagues. Some journalists adhere strictly to the professional standards, while others start a debate over the opposing issues and problems with their colleagues, while others still express their opinion and act tempestuously. However, there is number of journalists who have left their media outlets because of the pressure to promote just one political option.
Political affiliation at the expense of facts?
In Macedonian journalism it is common practice not to verify press releases issued by political parties (containing a signature and the party seal) as well as statements made at press-conferences; journalists feel it is the responsibility of the party itself. If some other person is being accused or offended, then the other side is asked for opinion, whereas off the record information pertaining to another person is always subject to verification. If the journalist quotes more than one source for a particular piece of information, then it is understood that the information has been verified. This is a matter of a professional attitude towards one’s work, but it also speaks volumes about the media’s credibility. Journalists contend that information must always be verified, regardless of the source. The responsibility is twofold: both on behalf of the person giving the information and the person publishing it.
Journalists agree that there is so-called hidden propaganda in the media, which can easily be discerned in the ordered interviews or quotes. When it comes to the media outlets they themselves work for, the journalists surveyed underscore that that’s not the case there, that their media outlet has never published or aired an interview for interview’s sake or because it was ordered. However, generally speaking it is common practice in Macedonia, performed out of various interests, be it political or economic, and is present everywhere, both in broadcasting and in print media. Information which is not newsworthy still gets published, often at the expense of other information. The wider interest depends on the media’s owner and its editorial board, that is to say all affairs are in somebody's interest. This is also present among those who have marketing deals with the media outlet, the advertisers. These companies receive affirmative coverage. Such forms of hidden propaganda are mainly produced because of the media’s economic interests.
Journalists and money: Owner’s desires
However unacceptable it may seem, journalists are often requested to promote a certain economic or political interest. This occurs in all private media owned by businesspeople or political party leaders. The dependence is so strong that, according to the journalists surveyed, as much as 90% of all journalists call their boss before they publish the information. The media owner’s interest always comes first. If he owns another business venture as well, he will use the media outlet to promote that business too, as a chance to increase profits. Journalists are aware of such business demands and know that there must always be room for the realization of that editorial concept. Those who cannot agree to that and feel that is not journalism but racketeering end up leaving the media outlet.
At the same time, on top of their journalistic work, journalists perform all sorts of other commercial activities: in various newsletters of private companies (mostly economic), in NGO projects, government campaigns (e.g. decentralization, interethnic relations, etc.), or in humanitarian actions. Journalists and owners share a common interest – money. The former see it as an opportunity to improve their salaries, while for the latter it represents a chance to obtain additional advertising money. In a number of media outlets, it is the journalists that bring in advertising on commission, and not the marketing department. No one even wants to consider the notion how much this restricts the freedom of journalists and journalism in general.
Furthermore, various PR materials, facts and photographs are being used for journalistic purposes, primarily in order to improve the quality of the publicized information. Nowadays every serious company has its own website, which is primarily used for self-promotion, whereas the journalists use the facts presented on the website. Regardless of the campaign or action in question, or where it comes from (a private company or a government institution), the materials are verified prior to publication. However, there are PR agencies in Macedonia, with their own networks of journalists that they pay money to in order for certain information favorable for their clients to be aired or published.
It is insisted that the difference between editorial content and commercials in Macedonian media are clearly marked. Commercial content is separated and marked as such, although in some cases commercial information is very skillfully “tailored” to a point that it becomes hard to differentiate it from the editorial content.
There is hardly any propaganda material which is not introduced in a typical journalistic form, as well. Journalists are so well versed that they are capable of turning any ad into a complete small-scale research. Theme wise, such items include various affirmative stories, starting from stories on the work of a tourist agency to articles on a private company backed by a certain political party or a company that is a business partner of the media outlet. The smaller the media outlet is, the greater the risk of crossing the line between advertising and information.
Journalists and the media offer themselves to politicians and businesspeople alike. This comes in different shapes and sizes: sometimes openly and directly, other times subtly and overtly. Those who are openly promoting the programs of political or business structure are doing it under the guise of pluralism of opposing democratic views and opinions. Others use extortion, such as “we won’t publish that information unless we get a commercial from you".
Most of the time, it is done in cooperation between the marketing department, the editor, and the manager of the media outlet. The procedure is as follows: if the journalist cuts a deal with a company for it to advertise in the media he works for, he informs the marketing department and makes the agreement. The journalist in question, depending on the media, gets 10-15% for finding the client,. There is hardly any media outlet where the journalists and the editors are not directly involved in collecting advertisments. Even in the public broadcasting service, the Macedonian Radio and Television, journalists do it, thus directly undermining journalistic independence and professionalism.
Lunchtime briefing over the table
A considerable number of journalists have received a gift during their career. Nowadays the most popular item on the gift list is a cell phone. The supply is endless and varied. Journalists are aware that this puts their professional identity to a test, but quite a few of them are willing to accept the “challenge”.
Some state that they have taken a number of paid business trips, accompanying government delegations. Others have attended business lunches organized by government officials or taken various trips organized by nongovernmental organizations. They do not perceive it as a corruption attempt, and they do not think it influences their reporting; for them this is simply one of the forms of briefing journalists. According to the majority of the journalists surveyed, journalists are generally honest and only a few can “handle” bigger gifts, such as SUVs, apartments, money or favorable loans. Such “gifts” are easy to notice since the standard of living of journalists and what their salaries are like is widely known. Furthermore, the effect of such “gifts” on their work is noticeable as well, especially when it includes caution and self-censorship when reporting about the “donor”.
Elementary ethical rules: much better than in the early transition period
“I know it sounds pessimistic, but I’m really frustrated by the fact that everybody's offering all sorts of standards, whereas all those standards deal with is whether or not to wear a suit. Not even a word about basic human standards”. (A TV reporter, 8 years of experience, recipient of national journalism awards)
“We don’t publish the names of underage criminals. Things are much better now in that respect and more attention are being paid to the standards of journalism, i.e. the journalists’ code of conduct” (Editor-in-chief, media owner, weekly magazine, 19 years of experience)
The position of journalists in Macedonia lies somewhere between these two statements, regardless of the media they work for, their status in the newsroom hierarchy or their ethnicity. It is alarming, and it still fails to meet the highest ethical principles and standards on an adequate level, but it is improving nonetheless. It is much better than during the early transition period. However, if we wish to determine it more precisely, it would be fair and realistic to say that the percentage of negative phenomena (mentioned in the first commentary at the beginning of this text) has increased.
The analysis shows, probably without much surprise, that the causes of such situation are both objective (i.e. exterior to journalism) and subjective (interior to journalism and the standards followed by journalists in the Republic of Macedonia).
“It’s hard to find an honest man who wouldn’t lie to you”
Objectively speaking, Macedonian journalists are still dealing with a public which is not refined or responsible enough. This primarily refers to that part of the public produced by and comprised of politicians, businesspeople and all others that hold some kind of power. Such power in collusion with the journalists and the media (regardless of the fact whether the latter are doing it consciously or not) manifests itself as diseases that plague transition societies, such as abuse of any kind, cronyism, financial and political profit.
How is this manifested through the media and journalists? As far as objective reasons are concerned, one radio journalist with 8 years of work experience makes a characteristic statement. He says: “It’s hard to find an honest man who wouldn’t lie to you”. Politicians, businesspeople and others in power are not the only ones responsible for this moral erosion. They benefit from the media as collectives, as well as from journalists as individuals.
The survey has shown that media and journalists in Macedonia still don't want to or cannot step out of the shadow of those in power. We still witness media products in which the journalists and mass media are being used to promote lies and positions of questionable moral content. Here are some views on the issue:
“The interviews on MRTV are epical… Journalists have nothing to say so they just keep nodding their heads.” (Editor, daily paper, 6 years of experience)
“I’ve seen interviews in which it was obvious that the questions were favorable for the interviewee. The interviewee was given a chance to score.” (Deputy editor-in-chief, TV, 15 years of experience)
What can be taken as an improvement in the quality of journalism is the somewhat increased awareness for one's own work. Ten years ago, that was not in the nature of Macedonian journalism. Back then journalists used to think that everything was allowed. Nowadays, especially due to the several cases going to court, but also because of the improvement in the field of professionalism, journalists in Macedonia are cautious when it comes to the responsibility for publicly expressed information. Here’s one such “confession”:
“There is a stain on my career, and that is when Lazar Elenonski wished to issue a denial of a non-existent denial. Nowadays, if I do not have documents I don’t publish any information. I’ve seen other media publish incorrect information. A1, for instance, in the Jovan Andreski case (an incorrect information that he was a “mole” in the Security Council was made public; he took the journalist to court and won the case). That’s the worst thing that could happen to a journalist." (editor, daily paper, 8 years of experience, recipient of an investigative journalism award)
Journalists are increasingly of the opinion that they should not publish any information unless it is confirmed by at least two sources. The percentage is still small, but there are some journalists who say that they will not publish any information unless the source is quoted. The level of awareness is indeed rising, even though it has taken some journalists 31 years to achieve this level: “I no longer publish information without quoting the source. They used to issue denials about my stories at least three times a year, and now I get a denial once every three years.” (journalist, daily paper, 31 years of experience)
The survey has shown that the problem requiring closer attention is the relation between journalists and editors/media owners. Editors or media owners make alliances, out of various reasons, which are later on sustained by manipulating subordinate journalists.
Using blackmail to get exclusivity
Also questioned is the phenomenon of journalists getting so-called exclusive statements which are later on denied due to “party pressure”. But, isn’t the damage already done? Or, from the viewpoint of the politicians or businesspeople that play these kinds of games, haven't they actually accomplished their goal? Can the issuing of denials repair the damage that has already been done? Are the media, the editors and the journalists capable of recognizing these finesses?
Attempts have been made to recognize these subtle forms of manipulation and to redirect them into objective reports. Unfortunately there are still no visible exceptions which prove the opposite.
Another dire phenomenon still present in journalistic practice in Macedonia is using the media outlet to attack people on a personal level. Usually, the claim is that the attacks are targeted at the offices and the work of those people, mostly politicians, but the sheer scale of these “attacks” and their frequency transpires something else. A portion of the media is said to display a discernible tendency to use its position and influence to harm certain people holding political posts.
“No such thing is present at the BBC, but it used to happen at A1 TV. They literally used to send out WANTED circulars.” (Journalist, foreign correspondent, 15 years of experience)
Another child disease of Macedonian journalism is not distinguishing the line between what is allowed and what is not: should one or should how not and how to cooperate with the police, fraudulently taken statements, and the most worrisome phenomenon of all – using blackmail to get exclusivity.
“The Ministry of Interior wants us to provide data on the media events we attended. I'm not sure as to how all of this is regulated, but in the present media outlet that I work for as well as in the former when MoI requested something they always got the tapes.” (deputy editor-in-chief, TV, 15 years of experience)
“I don’t know whether it’s dishonest, but I secretly taped Grilakis (an unofficial mediator, lobbyist for the Greek side in the talks held behind closed doors about the name of the Republic of Macedonia) when he came to Skopje to negotiate about the name. I tape-recorded him in order to protect myself, for I knew that when I publish the information they would deny the whole thing. I taped him secretly, of course.” (journalist, foreign correspondent, 15 years of experience)
If the previous assertion seems naive, the following statement is really worrisome: “I know of colleagues who have used blackmail: ‘Come to an interview or I’ll publish the materials that I have on you.’ They even openly admit to using such methods. Yes, it’s mostly information that is harmful for some person.” (editor, TV, 15 years of experience)
An even greater cause for concern are journalists’ actions that are in fact racketeering. This is an issue that has been openly talked about in journalistic circles in Macedonia for years. So far, there has been no real and clear evidence as to the existence of this phenomenon, and it is usually expressed in statements such as this one: “I’m aware that there’re journalists who, when they acquire certain information, go to a politician or a businessman and blackmail them. They tell them: If you don’t buy advertising in our media outlet or contact ‘whoever’ to buy advertising from us, we’ll run this story.” (editor-in-chief, weekly magazine, 19 years of experience)
“Everybody’s doing it” – as an alibi
The media in Macedonia have quickly accepted the “rules of the game” that apply everywhere when it comes to profits or influence. Those rules include striving for higher circulation, higher ratings, and that in turn results in constant search for news, i.e. sensations. The sensations in question are usually equated with bad news, that is news which are a result of socio-political deviations, social tensions and criminal acts. This type of news is something transition societies produce in abundance. In the flood of news of that type, the most important thing is to be the first to publish it, with as much detail and pungency as possible. The struggle for front-pages has lowered even the criteria regarding basic human rights.
It can be said that journalists in Macedonia follow the rules when it comes to the treatment of suspects, arrestees and prisoners in custody. These rules are broken when these people are clearly identified in the police news releases. Sometimes, even though the suspect is identified in the news release by its initials, it also includes the person’s current or former office. In that case it’s not hard to guess who the person is. In such cases the media just transmits the information. Drastic exceptions from this are when the journalists are at the scene of the event, or when they meet the suspects or the victims in person.
The most tragic thing of all is the alibi used to justify the actions: “Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we.” The most drastic example is when the two Romanian women testified in court against the drug boss Dilaver Bojku. “Despite the fact that they were under witness protection, all media outlets published their pictures. They weren't given adequate protection." (editor, daily paper, 15 years of experience)
The interethnic conflict in Macedonia of 2001 still has its aftereffects. Crime reports in newspapers still include information about the ethnicity of the perpetrators or the victims. “We can’t seem to get unstuck from that.” (Editor, TV, 15 years of experience)
The excuse used to justify this is that “in a country like this one, that’s an important thing. It would not be important in a civilized society. When ethnicity is an important factor when passing laws in the Parliament or getting a job in government institutions, why shouldn't it be important in those cases, too. I think that it’s important to the viewers and the readers, too.” (Editor, weekly magazine, 20 years of experience)
Those were the main points to be drawn out from the survey on “Journalists and elementary ethical rules”. Finally, let us just repeat what we stated in the very beginning. Standards and practice still do not meet the high ethical criteria, but things are changing for the better. It is much better than in the early transition period.
1.1.1 A selected choice of characteristic answers
“I don’t want to be anybody’s servant”
Do you perform any other job/office (government, ministries, non-governmental sector, campaign staff) besides your journalistic tasks, and do you use these opportunities as a source of information or for reporting purposes?
As a journalist I belong to the public and I don’t want to be anybody’s servant. I had been offered a position of a party’s spokesperson but I refused. (Radio journalist with 31 years of work experience)
Those two things usually do not go together. Generally speaking, a proper journalist should stick only to journalism, and if he/she performs the role of a spokesperson for the government, a ministry or some other institution, he/she should do that openly and stop with all journalistic activities. (Radio journalist with 28 years of work experience)
Have you ever been in a situation to affect decision-making in a political party or a public institution with your advice or in any other way (by means of informal consultations, adequate advice, creating an atmosphere or in any other way)?
Some just want to be influential and to participate in policy-making. Journalists should perform this role through the media, or become party members and create policy from within the party. Some may give advice for money, some for ideology, and some just because of the adrenalin rush they get when they’re at the place where the decisions are being made. (Journalist, Editor of a weekly, 20 years of work experience)
Why should a physician, a professor, a lawyer, or people of other professions be allowed to be politicians in addition to their occupation, whereas the journalist should be denied this right? I thus believe it shouldn’t be a big deal if the journalist expresses his/her opinion outside of work hours. (Radio journalist with 28 years of work experience)
Do the political, economic or other interests of your editor or media owner influence the way you cover certain issues?
They cannot have a direct influence, but in general the owners create an atmosphere in which they expect, above all, their business interest to be protected, and in those media whose owners are party members you’re expected to protect their party interests. This has become regular practice and it is the case with all media in Macedonia, starting with the biggest. (TV editor – 12 years of work experience)
I am known as a difficult journalist because I don’t accommodate to other people’s taste. However, on number of occasions I’ve experienced pressure of that kind: I’ve been taken off the air, I’ve experienced programmed embargoes. I’ve been told not to write. At the beginning it was frustrating, but now it is not. However, 90% of the journalists in Macedonia are highly conforming. (Radio journalist, 31 years of work experience)
Has anyone ever suggested to you not to write (speak) about a particular issue? Example: “you don't have to write about that at this particular time.”
All media are financed by commercials and if the owner asks a journalist in a polite way not to write about someone, then the journalist will have guilty conscience and he/she won’t cover the story. It happens everywhere. When I ask my colleagues why they don’t confront this, they respond that we are all caught in the vicious circle. (Journalist-editor, 20 years of work experience, weekly)
I have to stay neutral around the clock
One of the most effective ways to silence journalists is to withdraw the advertisement, especially an annual one that brings a lot of money. (Journalist – editor, 15 years of work experience, daily paper)
Are you aware of a case when somebody outside the media outlet (a political party, Government, NGO, businesspeople…) has intervened to publish/not to publish a certain story, or has intervened about an already published story because of dissatisfaction with the way it was done? What was their reaction like?
At the TV station where I used to work everyone could call the owner and complain about a package they didn’t like. Political parties were the ones that complained the most. The parties in power exerted a lot of pressure, sometimes even with unwanted consequences. (Journalist, 8 years of work experience, radio and TV)
It cannot be explained why media do not cover big affairs and scandals, and yet they do cover small and insignificant issues. This cannot be explained by their editorial policy. It can only be a result of some intervention or some other business and political agreements. (Journalist-editor, 20 years of work experience, weekly)
Have you ever had information for quite some time about some issue, but chose to publish it during the election campaign?
Editorial boards make a selection of a few “acceptable” journalists who are sure to cover certain topics in a certain way. What is important here is the personal attitude of the journalist and the editorial policy of the media, and when they match you have information which you can disseminate. (Radio journalist, 28 years of work experience)
What is your reaction as a journalist when your political or ideological preferences don’t coincide with the dominant or widely accepted ones in your media?
I do my best to do what I think is right. I do not include any political or ideological preferences in my stories. It is the very thing that gives me the right to insist on my propositions. (Radio journalist, 15 years of work experience)
As a professional I have to respect the criteria and the editorial policy of my media. If I disagree with certain policy, that is my personal problem, and it should stay that way. (Radio journalist, 28 years of work experience)
As a journalist I have to stay neutral around the clock. Had I wanted to become a politician, I would have been a member of a political party. My definition of a journalist is that he/she should represent a mild opposition to the party in power and should observe their steps. (TV journalist 11 years of work experience)
Lunch with the Prime Minister or a businessman it is not necessarily a bribe
Are all employees in your media outlet given an equal opportunity to tell the latest information and make it accessible to the public? Are you aware of any different cases?
The editor and the owner have a decisive role. If they say there is no interest to publish something it will not be published. Have no doubt, when the editor says that some information is irrelevant then we keep silent about it. This is the case everywhere. (Journalist-editor of a daily newspaper with 20 years of work experience)
Have you and other journalists in your media ever openly disagreed with your media outlet’s opinion?
I talk, I am not silent. I would rather leave journalism than be silent. I used to keep quite thinking things will sort out on their own, I thought it may be a misunderstanding of some sort, and not an editorial policy. But as time goes by there is no improvement. (Journalist-TV reporter with 8 years of work experience)
When I would disapprove of the editorial policy of the media I worked for I would simply leave the media. It is at least strange to continue working in a certain media, and to discredit it in public and speak that you do not agree with its policy. (Radio journalist with 15 years of work experience)
When you publish party press releases or statements given by politicians, do you verify the news, information, or facts, or do you think that the person providing the information is responsible for that?
Most often the ones providing the information are responsible for that. Unfortunately, in our country information is rarely verified. This is one of the flaws of Macedonian journalism, often there is not enough time, the media outlet is small or there are not enough journalists. (Journalist – editor of a TV station with 15 years of work experience)
When it comes to press-conferences, press releases, our function is to be transmitters of the words of political players. Once the information is released, it is up to us to decide how to treat it. (Journalist – editor in a daily newspaper with 15 years of work experience)
Are you aware of any interview or statement published in your media that wasn’t justified in terms of being “newsworthy information” of general interest, but were more a form of hidden propaganda?
Yes, there is, and the public notices it. In this county the media are installations of the political structures and the government controls them in many ways. The propaganda ties depend on who you’re siding with. (Journalist- editor of a weekly with 20 years of work experience)
Our media are divided into two groups: those controlled by the government and those controlled by their owners. Journalists in public media do propaganda for the government, while journalists in so-called independent media do propaganda in the interest of their owner. (Radio – journalist with 31 years of work experience)
Has the editor-in-chief/media owner asked of you to promote his private economic, political or other interest, or support any participant in the election process or a public figure?
Yes, and it has always been like that. In this country all media have political affiliation. Anyone can easily determine who supports whom. If the owner or the main donor is involved in some political battle it is only natural that they will use the media. Journalists that cover those events cannot object for that would mean loosing their job. (TV journalist with 11 years of work experience)
Has there always been a visible difference between editorial content and commercial ads in your media?
A good journalist can transform any story and turn what is typically commercial into something informative and, if it is your sponsor who pays for your salary than it is acceptable. There is a problem if you are told how to present this, and not being left to do it on your own. (Journalist – TV reporter with 8 years of work experience)
Have you ever been involved in soliciting commercials or their creation, or in some other marketing actions (hidden advertising)?
I have colleagues who’re making a profit from commercials. We’re all working for money and when as a journalist you get in touch with this kind of people, businessmen, companies, you say to yourself: ‘why should I leave the money to someone else’. This is the motive that guides you. (Journalist editor of a daily newspaper with 20 years of work experience)
As a manager I was in charge of the economic policy, but I was never a racketeer, I never used blackmail, I never begged. 90% of the journalists do these two things at the same time. (Journalist in a daily newspaper with 31 years of work experience)
Have you ever received a gift or been offered a paid trip (lunches, travels, gifts…)? Does that influence your reporting?
If you have lunch with a Minister, the Prime Minister, an opposition leader or a businessman, it is not necessarily a bribe. Some things can be learned only on such occasions and it depends on the person whether or not he/she will allow to be bought. (Journalist - editor of a weekly magazine with 19 years of work experience)
I have been offered, but have never accepted gifts not because I am with high moral standards, but mainly because I am cautious. I’ve been offered trips to write particular texts or to reveal a source, but it did not happen. Such situations increase your sense of ethics. (Journalist – editor of a daily newspaper with 6 years of work experience)
Have you ever published unverified information, facts, rumors and assumptions and marked them as such?
We did a story on the City Hospital, claiming it was not a public but a family institution, that the manager issued orders and his spouse, who works as an accountant, signes them. The manager came in to deny this. It turned out, his spouse worked at the accounting department as a clerk without the authorization to sign anything. She has worked there for 6 years, and he's been a manager for 1.5 years now. He came to the City Hospital after her. It was a classical disinformation directed against him.” (TV reporter, 8 years of work experience, recipient of national journalism awards)
We do publish unverified information every day, but we mark them as such – as unofficial. (Journalist, print and radio, 6 years of work experience)
Most of the media in this country publish such rumors. It is not something new or unheard of in the Macedonian media space. (Journalist, foreign correspondent, 15 years of work experience)
Can you recall a statement or an interview in which it was obvious that the interviewee is lying, and the interviewer does not confront him/her?
Yes, on MTV! All the time. The interviews on MRTV are epical. You could die laughing. The boss makes no sense, but the journalist has nothing to say to that so he/she just keeps nodding his/her head.” (Editor, daily paper, 6 years of experience)
I recall an interview with Ljubco Georgievski (Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia, 1998-2002) for Sitel TV in which he lied, i.e. he made up a story that if a checkpoint was moved off a road in Tetovo the occupation of Skopje is to follow. That wouldn’t have happened for sure, and yet the guy made that up and scored a point. They had previously agreed with the journalist to let him say that. (Journalist, newspaper, 15 years of experience)
I've personally attended an interview in which we told the late Stevo Crvenkovski (former Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1994-1998); just a few days before he changed the national flag, that Macedonia would probably change the flag. He made fun of us and insisted that those were mere speculations and that we should be ashamed for saying that.” (Journalist, radio, 15 years of experience)
Has any source retracted the information it gave you or misinformed you, especially when it comes to an attack on a person? Have you written a correction for that, a denial, or disseminated the true facts in another way?
I no longer publish information without quoting the source. That’s why I'm avoided by a lot of people. I don't want to yap in somebody's interest. They used to issue denials about my stories at least three times a year, and now I get a denial once every three years. (Journalist, daily paper, 31 years of experience)
I know of a case (not my personal experience) when a colleague of mine mistakenly thought that the initials listed in the police news release were of a particular person even though it wasn’t verified so; he published them as such. The person attacked was forced to deny such allegations and threatened to sue him. (Journalist, TV, 5 years of experience)
Once, because of an article I did, I ended up in court. The story was based on things said by people who were from the same party as the person my story caused damages to. During the court hearings, the people who gave me the information kept avoiding me and refused my phone-calls. Ultimately, they once again offered to help me, but the editor was not willing to protect me and coldly refused me, even though it was the passage that he added to my story that was the biggest problem in court. (Journalist, TV, 11 years of experience)
The spokesperson for the Prime minister, Gjurovski, holds briefings with journalists, and later on retracts. Says he was misunderstood. I think he’s trying to pull something off, create and direct public opinion… (Journalist, TV, 6 years)
Has your media ever published articles, stories, reports, or other content in which a person was attacked directly?
Ha! Of course, every single day. Whole bunch of them. Both tendentiously and intentionally and accidentally. The same goes for other media, too. (Journalist, TV, 8 years of experience)
No such thing occurred at my present media, but it used to happen at A1 TV. They literally used to send out WANTED circulars. (Journalist, radio, 15 years of experience)
Are you aware of any examples when dishonest methods were used to obtain information (secret taping, constructed event)?
Once, a reporter of ours taped the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs twice, without her knowledge. (Editor, TV, 12 years of experience)
I am not sure whether it’s dishonest, but I secretly taped Grilakis (an unofficial mediator, lobbyist for the Greek side in the talks held behind closed doors about the name of the Republic of Macedonia) when he came to Skopje to negotiate the issue. He came incognito. I tape-recorded him in order to protect myself, for I knew that when I publish the information they would deny the whole thing. (Journalist, radio, 15 years of experience)
Yes, the information was published, and even blackmail was used. I know of colleagues who have used blackmail: ‘Come to an interview or I’ll publish the materials that I have.’ They even openly admit to using such methods. (Editor, TV, 15 years of experience)
When it comes to dishonest affairs, you have to be dishonest in order to obtain information. (Journalist, daily newspaper, 15 years of experience)
Are you aware of any examples when the rights of people regarding covering arrests and indictments were violated? Was this done out of a need for sensations, vengeance or some other reason?
When SDSM came to power, pro-government media introduced the practice (of which Utrinski Vesnik daily was the most ardent follower) to lynch people on the grounds of alleged criminal activities. After that, the spokesperson for the government would organize a press conference to say that so-and-so was a criminal, and 2-3 days later the police would bring charges against that person to the district attorney. (Journalist, radio, 15 years of experience)
Presumption of innocence is not fully observed in the media. People’s first and last names are published even when there are just criminal charges against them, even in my own medium (editor, TV, 15 years of experience)
Are you aware of any examples of victims of an accident or a crime being exposed in public without any special protection?
They were trying to persuade me that I had to say where, according to “our information”, the fugitives from Shutka (a prison in Skopje) were hiding… (Editor-in-chief, weekly magazine, 19 years of experience)
The most drastic example was when the two Romanian women testified in court against the drug boss Dilaver Bojku. Despite the fact that they were under witness protection, all media outlets published their pictures. They weren't given adequate protection. Now that’s a problem for the authorities. (Editor, daily paper, 15 years of experience)
Do crime reports in the news include information about the religious affiliation of the people involved, their nationality, sexual orientation or any other affiliation?
Religious affiliation on a regular basis, we can’t seem to get off it. Sometimes the ethnicity is mentioned, too. (Editor, TV, 15 years of experience)
Even though we try very hard to avoid emphasizing that in the headline, in order for the story not to get a wrong connotation, sometimes such information slips through our hands. For instance: “Four Albanians beat up a Macedonian” – or something like that. (Editor, daily paper, 15 years of experience)
Yes, when it concerns ethnically mixed regions, religious affiliation and ethnicity is compulsory. In a country like this one, that’s an important thing. It wouldn’t be important in a civil society. When ethnicity is an important factor when it comes to passing laws in the Parliament or getting a job in government institutions, why shouldn't it be important in those cases, too. (Editor, weekly magazine, 20 years of experience)
Are you aware of any cases when children, minors or people with development problems were used as sources for journalistic research? Are you familiar with such cases in your media or in any other?
I did a story about a little girl from Kumanovo who was raped. By coincidence, when I got there the little girl's mother appeared, holding her by the hand, so I shot them on camera and aired the package. It was a huge mistake, a catastrophic one. (Journalist, TV, 8 years)
Has anyone ever asked of you to reveal your source of information? Does anybody in your newsroom know the identity of your sources?
They’ve asked me many times, but I never reveal my source. They’ve asked me in court, too, and I paid the fine but didn’t reveal the source. Most of the time I tell the identity of the source to my editor in order to persuade him to run the story, to convince him that I’m not making it up. So far everything has been good; he protects the source, too. (Journalist, radio, 31 years of experience)
Yes. Not very often though, but I have been asked. However, I’ve never revealed a source that wished to remain anonymous. (Editor, daily newspaper, 6 years of experience)