With a step away from changes in the media sphere and the coming out of the long-lasting media darkness, Dragan Sekulovski, Executive Director of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, in an interview for CIVIL Media, expressed hope that the safety of journalists will improve. In addition to media freedom, freedom of expression and activism, with Sekulovski we also spoke about the role of the Association of Journalists of Macedonia in the social and political processes.
CIVIL Media: What do you mean by freedom of expression, media freedom and activism?
Sekulovski: Freedom of expression, in Macedonia, is a conditional category. It means that our Constitution guarantees a certain right to all citizens in our country, and that is for them to be able to freely express themselves, and Article 16 of our Constitution also states that censorship is prohibited. In addition, in the regional context and continental level, freedom of expression is one of the fundamental rights that applies to all people. It is also provided for in Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In a wider context that means that everyone has the right to express their thought aloud, without being censored and without having that right limited.
Normally, in every country, I speak within the framework of Europe, there are certain grounds where this right is limited, but this can be justified as long as it is provided by the law, and as long as the law is implemented according to the practice of the Court of Human Right in Strasbourg.
Within the framework of freedom of expression, activism is a very important component. Here I personally distinguish several types of journalists and media workers. Following the trends from America, here in Europe, in the past several years that phenomenon, or journalists acting also as civic activists, is becoming more frequent. That means that the profession itself is gaining a bit of a wider circle, where even ordinary citizens who do not actively deal with journalism have an opportunity, have a share, and some of them do this actively, disseminate information to the public and thus inform the public on topics or on subjects that are of public interest.
In that direction, I believe that the activists, or citizens engaged in citizen journalism, are an exceptionally important component in the development of democracy, especially in countries such as Macedonia, with, unfortunately, a lower level of democratic development, because this way they have greater freedom. Hence, they do not depend on the editorial policy and they themselves can create their own view, their own thought and can publically say it.
CIVIL Media: In what way do you support or can support the needs for freedom of expression, media freedom and activism?
Sekulovski: We know that the journalistic profession is a free profession. What does that mean? Unlike doctors, notaries, executives, there are no chamber organizations nor do certain licenses for journalists exist. This is a misunderstanding, because the journalistic profession in a democratic society has to remain free. Taking this into consideration, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, the Union of journalists and media workers are the only, I would say, professional member organizations where journalists and media workers can join and solidarize. Taking this into consideration, again, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia, as one of the oldest organizations in Republic of Macedonia, established back in 1946, has several pillars on which its activities are based on, and in the direction of helping our most important constituents, and that being the journalists. Here, I would say that what we have been actively doing in the past seven years is providing a safe working environment for journalists. Because, you know, you can have ideal
conditions for work in your office or you can have good, social and economic circumstances, but, unfortunately, we cannot say that we have fulfilled our mission completely until a journalist is able to feel secure when he goes out on the street to report about a certain event.
Currently in Macedonia I would say that there is a negative practice of non-punishment when it comes to attacks on journalists, the Association of Journalists of Macedonia has been keeping a register, in the past five years, according to which, unfortunately, we have over 50 cases of attacks on journalists. These are mainly physical attacks. Until now, very few of these attacks have been investigated and not one of them has been solved in court. In that direction, we try to lobby for changes of the legal regulations, but also of the judicial practice and the practice of the prosecutor’s office, so that when the journalist is doing his work he is safe and can freely do his job. In that direction, we offer free legal assistance, as an association, for every member of ours who is threatened, and at the same time through various activities we try to educate not only to journalists, but also lawyers and judges and prosecutors, and also the general public, on the rights of journalists and how they should be protected.
CIVIL Media: Do you face pressures by the political and business centers of power and how do you deal with them?
Sekulovski: Before I answer the question on whether we face pressures, I would like to say that in the past several months, about half a year ago, we know that the political context has changed. In these last months we do not have registered pressures that have been directly addressed to us, unless we take into account those ad-hominem attacks by certain Internet media, and some traditional media that deal with ungrounded criticism towards our members, primarily the president, and also members of the managing board, of the office. However, compared to previous years where the pressure was on another level, where instruments were used on another level, in this period, I would sincerely say that the pressure is reduced. In the past we have had situations when we were sued by the state for certain activities for which afterwards we had proved to be unconstrained. Hence, it was a form of pressure. We have had inspections in our offices, in which the executive government had requested from them to have an insight in the lists of members that we have, and in addition we have also had several attacks by the then ruling party through the media, and also on our president Selmani by another political party that was in coalition with this government and with the previous one.
CIVIL Media: What are your recommendations, how can freedom of expression, media freedom and activism be defended?
Sekulovski: I have a personal opinion that might be a bit over ambitious in terms of this issue. As long as the level of solidarity between journalists and media workers is low, and as long as they do not organize themselves in order to defend themselves, no one else will help them. Why? Because the positions of journalists and media workers are always on the opposite side of the executive, legislative and judicial government, and that is why I believe that in order for them to have help, they need to primarily declare that that they are solidary among themselves to invest in the association and in the union in terms of their activity, all with the purpose for us to be able to help them when a problem arises.
Camera: Dehran Muratov