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AJM and SSNM urge retraction of cuts to MIA’s budget

A new law on the Media Information Agency (MIA), a retraction of the budget cuts, an increase of the budget for 2023 and urgent support in the efforts to find a solution for the smooth operations of MIA’s correspondence offices, were the requests made at a press conference Tuesday, by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM).

Skopje, 27 September 2022 (MIA) – A new law on the Media Information Agency (MIA), a retraction of the budget cuts, an increase of the budget for 2023 and urgent support in the efforts to find a solution for the smooth operations of MIA’s correspondence offices, were the requests made at a press conference Tuesday, by the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (AJM) and the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers (SSNM).

AJM President Mladen Chadikovski underlined the importance of urgent support in the efforts to find a solution for the smooth operations of MIA’s correspondence offices, stating that instead of a suspension of the current offices, it is necessary to have an even stronger network of correspondents that will work in the interest of the public and contribute to pluralism in the media space when it comes to issues of public interest.

“As a news generator and an information service for the citizens, MIA should be the first filter of information for the wider public and a crucial tool in the fight against misinformation, which represents an even greater issue especially in the era of digital media. That is why it is important for MIA to have a strong network of correspondents not only in Macedonia but also in all the important centers in the world and the Balkans,” said Chadikovski.

According to Chadikovski, the suspension of MIA’s correspondence offices in Brussels, Washington and Athens will directly affect the professional standards of journalists, consequently leading to the loss of objectivity when reporting, and creating the risk of unverified and incorrect information.

“In the end the citizens and the public interest will be the victims, because foreign sources will be the only source of information from these countries. This is why it is important for the government to understand the issue and to immediately act in order to avoid the damage, and this is why we ask for an immediate return of the budget necessary for MIA’s normal functioning,” said Chadikovski.

Additionally, Chadikovski stressed the importance of a new law on MIA and that the AJM, as part of its regular analyses, concluded that the current legislation concerning MIA is flawed and can easily affect the financial situation of the Agency.

“The government has direct influence over the selection of MIA’s governing bodies, which represents an issue when seen through the aspect of the independence of media. This means that the government could also potentially influence the editorial policy of the media, especially when it can decide when and how much money to allocate for MIA, as is the case right now,” said Chadikovski.

Chadikovski added that AJM is of the position that the most appropriate way to organize MIA would be in the example of the public service, the Macedonian Radio Television, whose founder and the institution to which it is responsible is Parliament. In that direction, legal amendments are necessary which would guarantee that the government will not have an influence in the election of MIA’s management, while at the same time providing a model that would guarantee the Agency’s financial independence.

SSNM President Pavle Belovski urged the government to find a method to ensure further proper functioning of the agency, and to realize the importance of the work done by the journalists and the media workers at the Agency.

“It is unacceptable for the public to be deprived of objective and professional reporting from the countries in which important decisions are being made both regarding the future of the EU, and the course of the country’s accession negotiations,” said Belovski.

Belovski said that instead of talking about improving the conditions which would allow MIA to grow into an example of a healthy working environment, we are talking about regression.

“We regret that the government failed to see the importance and uniqueness of MIA, because the work of the Agency should primarily be guided by the public interest and the need for prompt and objective reporting in the service of the citizens,” said Belovski.

Belovski noted that these measures will negatively affect the social and economic security of the journalists and media workers, and expressed concern that the budget cuts will lead to a reduction in wages, a reduction in the production of content, and the least desired outcome – layoffs of journalists and media workers.

Belovski reiterated that it is impermissible for the state agency to not have correspondence offices in the capitals of European and neighboring countries.

Member of SSNM’s Executive Board and MIA journalist, Marina Ilievska, said the Union is concerned by the decision to cut MIA’s budget as part of the government’s austerity measures. “Journalists and media workers, in the interest of the public and objective reporting, should be exempted from the austerity measures,” said Ilievska.

In response to a reporter’s question, MIA’s Director, Dragan Antonovski said that throughout the year MIA has been warning that the allocated budget is inadequate.

“The government constantly says they will take our complaints into account and discuss them. However, the bottom line is that the budget that we have been given is absolutely unsustainable and we lack around 15 million in order to be able to operate at the current pace. We are not talking about anything additional, but about maintaining what we already have,” said Antonovski.

Antonovski said that talks have been scheduled, however MIA cannot go below what it already has.

“We are trying to get the maximum of what we have. As the head of the Agency, I will not allow for layoffs to happen. So, it’s not only the correspondents. We know well that journalism implies directly sourced information from our own correspondents on the ground and MIA is determined to grow, however, this is impossible with the current funds,” said Antonovski.

He said that the analyses are showing that the only possible solution is a law on MIA, which, he stressed, has the support of international institutions as well. “I believe that it is a part of OSCE’s program and I think we should discuss it to see the positive and the negative sides. However, our assumption is that it would at least provide some kind of stability and prevent our budget from being cut mid-year,” said Antonovski.

The 2023 budget allocated for MIA stands at Mden 48 million, which is a significant reduction considering Mden 64 million are necessary to maintain the Agency’s operations at the current level, without additional development or investments. ad/nn/

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