MACEDONIAN MEDIA ARE DIVIDED ALONG THE SAME ETHNIC LINES that define the country as a whole. At times in 2000, local press coverage of disruptions in the fragile balance between the country’s two main ethnic groups-majority ethnic Macedonians and minority ethnic Albanians-was reminiscent of the verbal wars that preceded the violent dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. A proposed Albanian-language university, in particular, sparked heated debate about how much autonomy the ethnic Albanian community should be granted and how politically centralized the country should be.
In late June, supporters of the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), a member of the ruling coalition, were angered when the Tirana daily Bota Sot criticized PDSH leader Arben Xhaferi for not doing enough to establish an Albanian-language university in the western Macedonian town of Tetevo. On June 26, PDSH activists confiscated copies of the newspaper from vendors in Tetevo and in neighboring Gostivar, both predominantly ethnic Albanian towns. No one was prosecuted in this case, according to Biljana Bosiljanova of the Macedonian Press Center, a local watchdog group.
Two rounds of municipal elections held on September 10 and 24, as well as a partial re-vote on October 8, highlighted the diversity and shortcomings of the Macedonian press. The public had access to diverse news sources, yet many of these sources openly supported one of the ethnic political parties. The state-funded Macedonian Television (MTV) devoted 66 percent of its news coverage to government officials and the ruling coalition, and only eight percent to the opposition, the Macedonian Press Center reported. The private A1 Television was somewhat more balanced, with 30 percent of news time devoted to opposition parties, and it was more critical of the government and the ruling parties.
With the exception of the government-controlled Nova Makedonija and several other newspapers, the Macedonian-language press provided relatively balanced coverage of the political scene. The Albanian-language daily Fakti focused primarily on events affecting the ethnic Albanian community, and its political coverage was generally neutral in tone.
When Parliament held a special session on November 5 to discuss irregularities in the municipal elections, it banned journalists from the hallways of the Parliament building, where they are normally free to buttonhole sources. Parliament Speaker Slavko Klimovski lifted the ban a day later, after the press raised a storm of protest.
On November 26, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski responded to Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Tupurkovski’s threat to pull out of the ruling coalition by announcing that he was not ruling out early elections. At this sensitive moment for the fragile ruling coalition, three media outlets that had recently criticized the government were subjected to attack, according to the Macedonian Press Center.
On the morning of November 27, several gunshots were fired into the home of Aleksandar Comovski, a prominent TV A1 news anchor who had been covering the government shakeup and the internal politics of the state security service. Later that day, the transmitters of two private national broadcasters, TV A1 and TV Sitel, had their power supply cut, limiting their broadcasts in the capital, Skopje.
Also on November 27, TV Sitel’s Skopje bureau received a false bomb threat. Police made no progress investigating any of these incidents, Bosiljanova reported.
A proposed Law on Public Information was still pending at year’s end. Local journalists and international press freedom groups criticized the bill because it would require all media outlets to seek government accreditation. The draft law does not contain adequate provisions governing public access to official information, and would transform ethical standards for journalists into laws administered by government officials.
The Macedonian Broadcasting Union announced on November 11 that there were 98 radio stations and 10 television stations operating illegally in the country-nearly half of all broadcasters. Private broadcasters held brief strikes on December 29 and January 12, 2001, to protest what they saw as the government’s murky system of broadcast media taxation, the continued existence of pirate radio and television stations, and the allegedly monopolistic behavior of state-run Macedonian Television.