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What is soft censorship today? A report on the press in Macedonia

Brussels, Frankfurt, January 5th, 2016 (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers/SIGNIS). A new report released today by WAN-IFRA, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), details how the practice of soft censorship is undermining the media industry in a country, as it happened across Macedonia.

Bad Practices, Bad Faith: Soft Censorship in Macedonia” outlines how financial incentives and partisan influence are increasing in the country. The ubiquity of such practices diminishes the credibility and independence of media and is curtailing the essential role the press has in fostering democratic development by reducing the space for public discussion and debate.

Extensive interviews 
with media experts, editors and journalists in the country reveal that pluralism and independent editorial perspectives represented in Macedonia’s media have drastically decreased. The report outlines how this decline coincided with the rise to power of the current ruling party in 2006, and has accelerated with its efforts to dominate the country’s media space through new laws and increasingly partisan use of state resources to support ‘friendly’ media outlets.

Official soft censorship, or indirect censorship, is defined as “an array of official actions intended to influence media output, short of legal or extra-legal bans, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on media outlets or media practitioners.”

The financial realities of Macedonia’s small media market force many media outlets to depend
 on state funding to remain financially viable. Government-friendly media are bolstered by various means, particularly with the allocation of official funds, advertising, campaigns, and subsidised projects. This generates an environment in which partisan political and business interests set the media agenda and can directly shape reporting.
“As demonstrated through our previous investigations, research in Macedonia shows that harsher, more overt methods of media control are shifting towards subtler yet still very powerful tools associated with soft censorship practices,” said Andrew Heslop, WAN-IFRA Press Freedom director. “Independent media outlets struggle for survival through increasingly restricted advertising revenues, a daunting prospect for hopes of a sustainable future in a market the size of Macedonia.”

The report recommends action to reverse the erosion of media freedom in the country. All state funding for media outlets, including advertising, grants and other subsidies should be entirely transparent and allocated through fair processes supervised by independent bodies and institutions.

Equally, legal and institutional guarantees on freedom of expression compatible with EU standards must be fully implemented in law and respected in practice.

The full report can be downloaded for free here.

SIGNIS

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