Struggle for the 'electronic sky'

According to the number of radio and TV stations relative to the number of inhabitants, Macedonia ranks very high in Europe. According to the quality of programme and legal regulations in this field it is on the opposite end of this ladder.


MON, 15 MAY 2000

Skopje, May 10, 2000 - Deputy General Director of the Macedonian Radio-Television (MRT), Imer Ismaili submitted his resignation which has not yet been accepted. He explained his resignation with the dissatisfaction regarding the functioning of this institution, because his personnel decisions as well as his intention to introduce programmes in minority languages on TV Channel 4 were disregarded, with the start of satellite programme, which did not envisage a segment in the Albanian language, as the cherry on the top.

Because of all this, Ismaili concluded that "apart from Skopje University, MRT was the nest of anti-Albanian feelings in Macedonia" In his response, which was printed by the Albanian daily "Fljaka", Ljupco Jakimovski, MRT General Director, said that the management of this house was in favour of the idea that Channel 3 should broadcast programme in the languages of national minorities. However, the status and financing of this project have yet to be resolved. General Director of the Macedonian Radio-Television promised that the broadcasting of programmes in the Albanian language on satellite channel would start in about a month.

Satellite programme started broadcasting on April 30 - day of the Orthodox Easter (which is not without significance in the environment such as Macedonian). Head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church Kir Stefan, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgijevski and General Director Jakimovski addressed the guests. None of the speakers at this ceremony even hinted that something similar could happen. Some papers claimed that Ismaili offered his resignation at the suggestion of the Democratic Party of the Albanians, which is in coalition Government and which until now supported the MRT Deputy General Director. He was reproached for some time for being unable of introducing adequate editorial and personnel changes.

At the Parliament session two weeks ago, delegates of both Albanian parties harshly criticised programme policy of this information house, reproaching it mostly for inadequate number of programmes of national minorities, especially the Albanian. At this same parliamentary session the problem of the name of this largest media house in the country was reopened. The Albanians were of the opinion that its name should be changed into Radio and Television of Macedonia instead of the present one the Macedonian Radio-Television, which has a specific connotation.

Currently, the Macedonian Radio-Television broadcasts programmes in the Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Romany and Wallachian languages, but there were frequent objections in the past that it was an outdated programme concept which time has passed by. Many think that this concept is based on the so called "ethnic quotas" from early seventies. On several occasions the international community announced the introduction of a programme concept that would enable better national representation which could easily ensure financial support.

On the other hand, the Albanians are not the only ones to criticise the strongest electronic media in the country. Whenever any of the Macedonian parties becomes the opposition, it starts criticising the Government for keeping a "firm hold on the lighthouse of Macedonian spirit" by appointing editors, preparing TV programme as its own looking-glass in which it wants to see its own image without wrinkles and worries. Such charges were previously addressed by VMRO-DPMNE, as the party of the opposition, and now it is done by the Social-Democratic Alliance. During March parliamentary debate on the new Law on Telecommunications, the authorities and the opposition exchanged stinging remarks which were soaked with lethal political poisons.

Delegate of the Social-Democratic Alliance Ilija Ilovski accused the Government that with this law it was preparing the ground for the confiscation of equipment by inspection authorities of the Ministry of Transport side-stepping the jurisdiction of courts in all this. "If we exclude courts, we shall start resembling Serbia where the authorities are doing with the media what they feel like. The Government is at the same time fully engaged in the preparation of the Law on Information. In this way we get the impression that it first wants to take away the equipment from the media and then, by means of the Law on Information, place all editorial offices under its control. All this is done just before local elections", warned Ilovski. Bobi Spirkovski, Minister of Transport, was quick to answer: "When you have the media, it's like holding a gun in your hand. Everyone can publish what they want. The media are the weapon! Have you seen the problems they made during the Kosovo crisis! They called to war and were against the state. They broadcast programmes of foreign TV stations which were spreading war propaganda".

Last year's Kosovo crisis showed that the Macedonian "electronic sky" was under the strong influence of foreign radio-TV stations. Several Tetovo private TV stations constantly broadcast (and still do) programmes of the Albanian state television, CNN and BBC. On the other hand, some Gostivar stations implemented the recommendation of the Radio-Broadcasting Council: all but one (it is hard to explain why), which persistently carried the Croatian TV News. At the beginning of the Kosovo crisis the warning also came to the address of private B 96 Television Station in Skopje which reproduced programmes of the Serbian Radio-Television. Some people even consider that it played a crucial role in the preparation of anti-NATO protests at the beginning of air strikes against targets in FR Yugoslavia by Alliance forces last March.

However, international observers have repeatedly warned that something was amiss not hiding their dissatisfaction with the fact that MRT, as the most powerful media, was predominantly dictated by the public opinion of the country which has a large number of poorly educated people. It doesn't seem so at first sight. A record number of radio&TV stations, out of which 160 with a legitimate concession, broadcast for two million Macedonian inhabitants. Statistically observed, that would mean that there is one electronic media per 12,000 people. At the national level, state radio-television dominates with its three TV channels which cover the entire territory of the country. Macedonia is fully covered with two radio networks. However, private TV stations which have been granted concessions of the national broadcaster, have not yet succeed in having their signal received throughout the country. Private radio - Kanal 77 from Stip reaches all listeners. In Macedonia, some 52 TV stations and 71 private radio programmes of local range are active.

The status of old local radio-stations which work under the Macedonia radio-television has not been resolved yet because of the confusion created by two legal regulations - the Law on Radio&Broadcasting and the Law on Local Self-Government. In Skopje alone, 11 private TV and 20 radio stations have been granted broadcasting concessions. Their number is somewhat smaller in other towns. For example, Kicevo with 27 thousand inhabitants, has four television and three radio stations. Those well-versed in the media situation claim that this inflation of electronic media could be partly explained by multilingual character of certain parts. Thus, for example, out of the mentioned 11 Skopje television stations two are in the Albanian, one in the Romany language, while another two have programmes both in the Macedonian and Serbian language, i.e. the Macedonian and Bosniac language.

Small radio and television stations complain that despite the existing situation, the Macedonian radio-television still has a monopoly. It gets 90 percent of the collected subscription which is, incidentally, charged with electricity bills so that citizens cannot decide for themselves whether they want to pay it or not. At one time the Constitutional Court of Macedonia considered this issue, but to no avail. Programme quality is not worth mentioning. Except for the Macedonian Radio-Television and few other programmes that concern themselves with quality to a degree and, no less important, copyrights, others offer pirated movies, cheap music programmes, sportcasts without any secured broadcasting rights, etc. This is why Macedonia is on the "black list" of all international media associations. Apart from legal RTV broadcasting organisations there are hundreds of illegal ones on the air which work off and on and do not even shrink from "breaking the inspection seals and changing frequencies". Competencies of the Radio&Broadcasting Council are still unclear and negligible so that the situation is only getting worse.

Original article