The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its member union in Macedonia, the Trade Union of Macedonian Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM), joined forces last Friday, 21 March, to launch a white book on professional and labour rights of journalists at a seminar in Skopje attended by journalists, editors, representatives of trade unions, lawyers, academics and diplomats.
The IFJ was represented by its president, Jim Boumelha, and vice-president, Jasmina Popovic.
Opening the conference, Boumelha congratulated the leadership of the SSNM which was only upgraded recently to full membership of the IFJ, for standing up for their members.
He said of the White Book: “We are all very proud of the giant steps taken by your union to represent Macedonian journalists and also to fight for their professional and social rights. All the tasks and roles that underpin the mission that journalists play in our society today can only be fulfilled and maintained if we succeed in organising ourselves collectively at our work places and build the capacity of our unions to support, advance and deliver changes for the better in our working conditions.
“We demonstrate every day that through united campaigning, active and organised staff and freelances we can make a difference.”
The White Book presented the first evaluation, since the country’s independence, of the conditions of journalists and other workers in the media industry. It included case studies of a group of journalists fighting dismissal at Utrinski Vesnik, an MPM company then part of German WAZ.
The study also scrutinised the gaps in the country’s Law on Labour Relations (2005) which allow employers to make “temporary contracts” the norm, which in some cases can last as much as five years. Other types of employment relations are used by employers to deprive journalists and media workers of their most basic rights, including health care and pensions. This has resulted, according to the study, in an army of journalists “working on the black market”.
The White Book also showcased a major survey, conducted by the local Research Agency M-Prospect through telephone interviews with over 300 journalists, which yielded shocking results – 80% of respondents believed that the social and economic conditions of journalists were deteriorating; more than a quarter had precarious jobs; the cumulative percentage of employees who said they were not involved in the decision-making process was an overwhelming 96%; a majority said they practice self-censorship and 65% direct censorship. Finally one-third of the respondents believed their editors represented the interests of their employers.
Speaking at the event, Jasmina Popovic said: “The White Book is a very valuable document about the present circumstances in which Macedonian journalists carry out their daily jobs. Macedonian journalists are working under huge pressure from politicians, censorship, short term job contracts and fear for their jobs.
“That is why it is so important to understand how they are going to try, together with their union, to fight for their rights. The White Book should not be considered as the completion of a piece of work, but rather as the platform for the start of serious work for freedom and independence of journalists and journalism in Macedonia.
“Thanks to the efforts of Tamara Causidis, the president of the SSNM, and the enthusiasm of her colleagues I hope there is an opportunity for change and the situation will improve in time.”
The meeting heard first-hand experiences of precarious conditions resulting in journalists having to survive in bleak circumstances of poverty, fearful of an uncertain future. Some referred to the accelerated closures of media since 2011 resulting in more than 800 journalists and media having lost their jobs, many of whom were deemed to be critical of government.
In her concluding remarks, SSNM president Tamara Chausidis set out the challenges faced by her members in the fightback against insecure, poorly paid job as well as pressures and abuse of power from authorities. “A country without media who have independent editorial policy, regardless of their sources of finances, is a country in which journalism slowly dies and the price for it will be paid by the entire society,” she said.
For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 17
The IFJ represents more than 600 000 journalists in 134 countries