Back Council of Europe Action Contributes to the Progress on Safety of Journalists in North Macedonia

Council of Europe Action Contributes to the Progress on Safety of Journalists in North Macedonia

Free, independent, plural and diverse media are fundamental to democracy. Journalists and media professionals must enjoy full legal protection, as stated in the Reykjavík Principles for Democracy and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The “Journalists Matter” campaign and the recent Committee of Ministers’ recommendation on SLAPPs underline the Council of Europe’s commitment to press freedom. Today’s discussion, organised in Skopje, aimed at raising awareness of the challenges faced by the journalists and at promoting implementation of the European standards in North Macedonia. The representatives of the media industry, relevant public institutions, civil society organisations, and international partners expressed their concerns regarding the journalists’ safety.

The use of SLAPPs has become trendy and continues to be used because they are effective - they discourage journalists and activists from reporting and discussing matters of public importance. They also drag them into courts and cause financial loss, which eventually may be recovered, but by the time it happens the damage is already done. Now we have instruments to fight SLAPPs, the EU Directive and Recommendation and the Council of Europe Recommendation on SLAPPs. The Council of Europe Anti-SLAPPs Recommendation is a continuation of the Committee of Ministers’ role in defending media freedom in Europe”, as stated by Flutura Kusari, Council of Europe Consultant.

In his remarks, Dragan Sekulovski, Executive Director of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia reiterated thatjournalists in North Macedonia are increasingly facing legal battles that are not about seeking justice but are used as tools to intimidate and exhaust them both mentally and financially. These lawsuits, known as SLAPPs, are a serious concern for us. Our goal is to foster a safer environment for journalism, where speaking truth to power is not met with punishment but with protection, ensuring that fear of legal reprisals doesn't lead to self-censorship.”

Toni Angelovski, Assistant Minister – Spokesperson of the Interior Ministry stressed the importance of the cooperation of all relevant stakeholders towards building the capacities of the law enforcement. “The Memorandum signed with the Association of Journalists in 2017 was a good starting point that has today brought the Republic of North Macedonia on the 38th place on the Reporters without borders, thus making it the safest country in the Western Balkan region for the journalists. Yet, this does not allow us to sit back and relax, rather this shall be a motive for future improvements,” he concluded.

Dejan Petreski, Public Prosecutor, National focal point for protection and safety of journalists stated that “the protection and safety of journalists relies on several pillars: ensuring appropriate legislation and its corresponding implementation, efficient prosecution, building capacities of journalists, media outlets and their unions on how to deal with SLAPPs, importance of the international support, as well as the solidarity and support between journalists, prosecutors and judges”.

Judge Aleksandar Shopov, from the Appellate Court in Skopje, reiterated that “the effects of the implementation of the project PRO-FREX (previously JUFREX) has contributed to the progress made in the judgements in the domestic case-law on cases dealing with freedom of expression and protection and safety of journalists. Since the adoption of the Recommendation CM/Rec(2024)2 on protection against the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), now SLAPPs are defined and it will be the first step for judges to be able to understand which lawsuit is SLAPP lawsuit even before introducing anti-SLAPP legislation in North Macedonia. Applying the case-law from the European Court for Human Rights is imperative and there we already have case-law dealing with SLAPPs which we must apply in domestic courts.

The Council of Europe Campaign for the Safety of Journalists, an initiative aimed at promoting press freedom and protecting journalists from violence, threats, and harassment while performing their duties, was presented at the event.

This event was organised in the framework of the action “Protecting freedom of expression and of the media in North Macedonia” PRO-FREX, part of the EU and Council of Europe joint programme “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Türkiye” in co-operation, with Association of Journalists of Macedonia.

Skopje, North Macedonia 17 April 2024
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"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression"

Art. 10 European Convention on Human Rights

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