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Citing international reports, from the US State Department, the European Commission and others, Gutierrez said media freedom in Macedonia was already the worst in the region and was still declining.
“We have many concerns about the situation, which is declining… We have various international reports, by Reporters Without Borders, also by the American NGO Freedom House. They all point to Macedonia as the worst country in the region,” Gutierrez said.
“The situation of media freedom in Macedonia is worse than in Montenegro, or in Albania, for example,” Gutierez said, noting positive improvements in Serbia and Croatia.
In Skopje, Gutierrez met the Vice Prime Minister in charge of EU Affairs, Fatmir Besimi, and the Information Society Minister, Ivo Ivanovski.
Talks focused on the planned Media Law that several Macedonian journalistic associations fear could further curb freedom.
“One main concern is regulation of media. The law being proposed is based on state regulation, and the European standard today is based on self-regulation, not state regulation,” Gutierrez said.
He said minister Ivanovski had “admitted there is still place for improvement” with the law.
Another point of discussion was the case of the incarcerated journalist Tomislav Kezarovski.
Kezarovski, who was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for revealing a protected witness in a murder trial with an article he wrote in 2008, was recently released to house arrest and is awaiting the final verdict of the Court of Appeals.
Earlier, he spent six months in pre-trial detention.
“I had the opportunity to meet Tomislav Kezarovski and was impressed by the fact that he is very strong and eager to fight. I know he is eager to fight because he is innocent,” Gutierrez said.
“I explained to [Vice Prime Minister Fatmir] Besimi and [Minister] Ivanovski that with such charges he should never have been prosecuted,” he added.
“There is no journalist in prison with such charges elsewhere in Europe. But they both answered that that is a problem of justice, not a political problem, and that the judiciary is independent,” he continued.
“Personally, I am not optimistic about the case of Kezarovski but I was happy to see him so strong. He wants justice; he does not want to be amnestied,” the ICJ representative concluded.
As a next step in the case, Gutierrez said the Information Society Minister had agreed to meet the Independent Trade Union of Journalists, SSNM, and the Association of Journalists, ZNM on the issue.
However, he noted that the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, had ignored their calls to meet and discuss media freedom in person.
“We asked for a meeting with him but he did not answer. He did not even answer our emails,” he said.
The European Federation of Journalists is a regional organisation of the International Federation of Journalists. The EFJ is Europe’s largest organisation of journalists, representing over 300,000 journalists in over 30 countries.