Skopje, 20 May 2016 – Usually, the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services’ reactions are short and concise. However, the two latest retorts to the conclusions of the monitoring of media coverage in the period following the announcement of the 2016 early parliamentary elections – one from the SDSM and the other one from the Macedonian Media Association – seek to gather at one place and present the facts of the regulator’s 18-year long operation.

It is rather surprising that the MMA convicts the assessment that there is editorial coordination among Sitel TV, Alfa TV and Kanal 5 TV, conveyed not only in the Second (as they tate), but in the First Report of the Agency on the pre-election period in 2016, as well.

The best way to respond to the accusations that this is a ‘personal interpretation’ and ‘free perception’  is to use facts – in this concrete case, by comparing the items aired by the three televisions on the basis of which the conclusion contained in the reports was made. After all, the persons in charge of these three televisions should not be surprised by this assessment, because the same was attested by the individual reports on violation of Article 75-b (available on the Agency’s website), based on which the Agency initiated misdemeanour procedures. And these reports state only some of the broadcasted items.

Moreover, the OSCE/ODIHR’s Second Periodical Report states that these same three televisions have ‘a similar approach to covering the news’: “Between 15 April and 11 May, the most popular private stations Sitel and Kanal 5, together with Alfa, displayed  a  similar  approach  in  the  news  coverage…”.

As for the SDSM’s claim that, after a four-year-long silence, the Agency has finally spoken out about the violation of principles, we again deem it appropriate to respond by presenting facts – in this concrete case, the evaluation of the broadcasters’ coverage published in the parliamentary election monitoring reports since 1998:

1998 Parliamentary Elections: Most of the media basically covered the electoral race in an unbiased and neutral manner, striving to provide level playing field. A certain number, however, openly profiled themselves along party lines. These referred to the principles of editorial independence and autonomy, but actually went beyond the elementary professional programming standards. Yet other media neglected their role of critical instruments of the citizens in the public dialogue with the government, by lacking critical analysis of the programming priorities of the parties and by informing only about the election-related developments.

2002 Parliamentary Elections: The reflection of the electoral process in the media showed that the latter were accessible to various interests, that the government had considerable influence over the Public Broadcaster, as well as over some of the privately owned media, and that journalistic professionalism was still fragile and, as a result, susceptible to various political influences.

2006 Parliamentary Elections: Generally, broadcasters did not manage to observe the legal obligations for fair, balanced and unbiased coverage of the elections in their overall programmes and failed to provide level playing field for the presentation of the MP candidates’ electoral platforms. In the news, the detected non-compliance with the principle of balanced reporting was mainly due to the drastic differences in the time dedicated to the parties and the coalitions that ran campaigns of similar intensity.

2008 Parliamentary Elections: The broadcasters did not observe the legal obligations for fair, balanced and unbiased coverage of the elections in their overall programmes, whereas only a small number adhered to the principle of proportionality and ensured balanced reporting in their news and information programmes. Certain media need a higher level of professionalism, i.e. to understand and accept the fact that the programmes not related to the campaign should not be used for promoting or for the benefit of the candidates, that interviews are an analytical journalist genre and not a form of paid political advertising and that the foundation of editorial policy should be independence and not the decision to support certain parties/coalitions.

2011 Early Parliamentary Elections: During this electoral process, as never before, the most watched media placed themselves in the role of representing a certain position. Their mutual intolerance grew throughout the campaign. A characteristic of these elections were the journalist items about the economic and political situation in the state, in which the media contradicted each other about who was to be blamed for the problems or given the credits for the achievements. There was both positive and negative framing in other media. The findings of the monitoring also showed that the parties recognized the media as theirs or the opponents’.

2014 Early Parliamentary Elections: The Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services found unbalanced coverage of the campaign with all five terrestrial commercial televisions at the state level and initiated misdemeanor procedures against all of these, i.e. conducted settlement procedures.

All of the above is only a portion of what the regulatory authority has concluded, publicly announced or reacted against both with the broadcasters and in the broader media community. It seems that, in these past 18 years, no one has been listening or reading anything.

The problems in the media sector are much bigger and far more complex, and cannot be removed overnight by way of cosmetic changes to the regulations, nor can the regulator do this by itself. All the players in this field know well both the competences and the possibilities for action that the Agency has at its disposal.