By XHABIR DERALLA
The essence of the amendments to the Law on Media is related to Article 102, with which “government advertising” was prohibitted five years ago. But that same article immediately became an obstacle for campaigns of public interest. Among the public, even among well-informed citizens, there is always confusion as to what “government advertising” and “public interest” are. Unfortunately, this is a legacy of a not-too-distant past.
When one says“government advertising”, itrefers to the well-known “scheme” between Gruevski and the media bosses. During the time of Gruevism, part of the media digestive tract was filled with millions of euros of public money, but with one sole purpose –glorifyingthe “character and work” of Gruevski, keeping the power of his party and denigrating those who think differently from the government.
Media not part of the infamous practice were “traitorous”, “foreign agents”, “Sorosoids”. Such media quite “appropriately” were the subject of wiretapping, inspections, court-police prosecution and Gruevist propaganda for denigrating and discrediting. No need to overly explain that control over the media was established in order to defend the government, and not the public interest.
With the fall of Gruevski, the so-called “government advertisements” also “fell”, with the now famous Article 102. That article in the law introduced a “ban on advertising,State bodies, administrative authorities, public enterprises, local self-government units, public institutions and organizations, as well as legal persons with public empowerments and trade companies in full state ownership must not anticipate funds for informing and acquainting the public of their services or activities through private broadcasters”.
However, with the legal provisions, the public interest also suffered. So, immediately after the strict ban on advertising with public money, it became clear that a “hole” had been created in the financing of campaigns of public interest. Article 102 of the law created a huge gap in the public communication.
One doesn’t have to search much on topics that are of public interest. It’s enough to mention that as a result of this restriction to which the government consistently adhered to, campaigns were lacking for strengthening public awareness on multiple topics of extremely high public interest. As a result, campaigns for strengthening awareness on topics such as the Covid pandemic and vaccinations could not be financed. There are also no campaigns on topics related to media literacy, disinformation, digitalization, European values, multiculturalism, the census, green topics and environmental protection, gender equality and many others. Really, for some there is also a need for a campaign on coming to senses that the Earth is not flat, but that’s another story. Let’s clarify. Even though part of the media and broader public doesn’t or doesn’t want to make a distinction, still, these are two completely different things. With the amendments to Article 102 of the Law on Media, “informing and acquainting the public of their services or activities through private broadcasters” is prohibited, because Gruevski’s regime abused and controlled media for his own, that is, party needs.
Journalist associations heldfirmly to the position that deleting Article 102 could cause a return to political corruption of the media. Though their positions “held water” in the context of fear of Gruevist practices, nonetheless, they didn’t offer solutions for the campaigns of public interest. So, by pounding the government “neutrally” and “objectively”, they also pounded the public interest. After a public debate lasting almost five years, this article, finally, is being deleted. It was a debate with very reasonable tones, but it also had a lot of Balkan rhythm and “racketeering” noise…
Media and civil society organizations and democratic institutions are now faced with the challenge of jointly building mechanisms for preventing abuses of the media as there were during the regime.This also implies protecting the public, that is, public money from the big media mastodons, who in this process see an opportunity to collect a “racket” and “grasp” most of the public money for strengthening public awareness on topics of public interest.
Public money must really be spent purposefully and transparently, and not serve for satisfying the appetites of the big media bosses. In other words, it can be clearly recognized that some of the media have good demands, but out of utterly wrong reasons. That’s where the problem lies, not in the opportunity to use public money for campaigns of public interest.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska