Is Europe ‘hot’ topic for Macedonia?

Posted on 26. September 2012

by Daniel Gjokjeski

daniel-gjokjeski2The media today represents the strongest weapon of the society and at same time the most influential tool of politics. Unlike the territorial borders, today the media sets new borders, much more important in the digitalized era, connected with privacy settings, accessibility and targeted up-to-date news. Also, it can be available from everywhere for everyone, no matter the age, language or status. In that way whoever uses it can find support, call for action, or impact on public opinion in any field of importance for the society or a group.

Within the European continent, the EU integration and international recognition is of great importance for the countries in transition. They are on the agenda of all political parties, every NGO, any group with different kinds of interests that are related to social and governmental development. So, they are almost always the headlines of daily newspapers and talk shows. In the case of Macedonia that is even more intense since the EU integration processes are frozen due to the veto Greece put on the international usage of the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia. That makes them more attractive for the journalist since they can adapt them to the owners or supporters of a certain media. Additionally, that makes the analysis of their broadcast complicated since in many cases the articles are based on statements and meetings of state officials, but spinned in wider sense. For that reason, this article will be based on the answers by the PR office of the Secretariat for European Affairs in Macedonia, one journalist on EU issues from the oldest Macedonian newspaper Nova Makedonija, and academics and NGO activists that participated at the oldest summer school on the topic of EU enlargement, the 18th Cervia Summer School, on the following questions:

How the media in your country cover European issues – in particular the current crisis?

Are they generally ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ European?

Do they cover stories from a ‘European’ or ‘national’ angle?

Do you think they are objective or subjective?

What are the dominant themes?

Who gets the praise, who gets the blame?

Do traditional media cover Europe differently from social media?

What are the solutions to Europe’s problems according to your media?

How are the EU’s problems viewed in non-EU member states?

According to the journalist, the European issues, especially the ongoing financial crisis, are being covered thoroughly in Macedonian media, but it depends on what kind of media we are talking about. Newspapers generally pay more attention to these issues, compared to the TV stations. Some of the newspapers even have separate pages on EU topics. On the question of the attitude of the articles, he finds it tricky to define them as pro or anti European, but they are definitely more nationally oriented. The reason for that is that the media are neutral or even pro-European when they cover some issues which are entirely considering EU and situation in the Union. However, when it comes to the EU integration of Macedonia, especially when there is more or less objective negative criticism from Brussels, some of the Macedonian media show certain anti-European attitude, in a sense that they immediately accuse EU for being based on directives from one or more member-states, Greece for example.

Most of the media are objective when it comes to European issues according to the Nova Makedonija journalist. However, they can also be subjective, especially when there is some negative criticism of Macedonia, when there is a distortion of the truth or of some of the reports and actions of the EU and its officials. That is related to the question of praise and blame where the journalist finds that Macedonia’s efforts and positive signals from EU get the praise, and Greece and Brussels are usually to be blamed, when acts are not in accordance with the factual situation, but in accordance with the pressure from Athens.

The themes that keep reoccurring are: Eurozone crisis, Macedonia’s path towards EU, future of the euro and Eurozone, exclusion of Greece from the EU, Greek influence on Macedonia’s membership prospect, and future of the EU and its institutions. They are more thoroughly analyzed and elaborated in traditional media unlike the social media that is used just for the transfer of already existing audio and video materials. That leads to the question of the future of Europe, and for the journalist the best possible solution to many of the Europe problems is a stronger Union, some kind of federation that will overcome particular national interests of the Member States, and promote to more wider European interests. Nevertheless, he stated that in many cases they are viewed as something distant and strange. Finally, the truth for the journalist is that some day, when these countries become members of the EU, these problems, if are still unsolved, will become theirs too.

The SEA PR representative concluded that the media in Macedonia cover EU issues on a regular basis, but they rarely provide in depth analysis of the issues, and they tend to convey the news from the international news agencies on many topics. The only exception is the current financial crisis. This issue is extensively covered in the Macedonian media. They also cover issues related to the enlargement policy and schengen rules. That is to a degree an opposite statement of the journalist’s opinion.

The SEA PR finds that generally the media are ‘pro’ European, yet there might be rare instances when some media have critical, but not ‘anti’ European approach. This occurs when it comes to the Macedonia’s EU integration. In accordance with that, the stories are covered from the ‘national’ perspective. Even though the decisions are made by the EU institutions, the emphasis in the media is always placed on what it means for the individual member States rather than the EU. On the other hand, considering the fact that they take most of the news from the international news agencies and the fact that we only have one or two resident correspondents from Brussels, she thinks that most of the news is neither objective nor subjective, but just conveyed information.

The most dominant topics are the EU enlargement, free visa travel and schengen rules, and the economic crisis. Depending on the issue and the story both, the praise and blame go to the big Member States such as Germany, France, and Great Britain.  However, Macedonian media do not usually tend to offer solutions for EU problems, except in regard to the economic crisis when some media suggests that the solution might be Greece’s exclusion from the euro zone. EU’s problems in non-EU countries are mostly viewed from the perspective of their possible impact on Macedonia’s EU accession and economic development.

The summer school participants were highly educated students with MA Degrees from foreign and Macedonian faculties in political science. There was a lot of overlapping in their answers that to a degree might present even the overall opinion on these questions. According to them, the Macedonian media do not put much focus on the crisis, but just objectively transfers the available info and have pro-European attitude. The angle of covering is national with more objective coverage on European issues, and very subjective on national issues. The political parties and their struggles, current national economic situation, some mayor court cases, and the name issue as the main EU connected topic are the most present discussions in the media. When it comes to the praise and blame of the current events the media are divided in pro-governmental and pro-opposition and act upon that, and when it comes to EU topics Greece takes all the blame for the current crisis and blocked Macedonian integration. Unfortunately, everyone confirmed the insignificant role of social media in Macedonia, just repeating the news of the traditional ones without any additional input. For the last question, Macedonian media just blame EU institutions and its performance for the problems without proposing any solutions and find it as an obstacle the Macedonian EU integration.

Unfortunately, the EU Info Office in Skopje did not provide me with any opinion or information on my request for official position on this topic. When I have contacted them personally they showed enthusiasm, have given me their email to send additional information about the program and the questionnaire, and said that they will do their best to help me in my research. However, there was no reply of any kind.

Finally, I would like to share my opinion. When it comes to the crisis and EU challenges, Macedonian media mostly share international actor’s statements and do briefing on situations without comments or prepositions for possible solutions. The attitude towards EU defers according to the statements of the EU representatives on the name issue, and with neutral attitude on other topics. The main comment is that the EU will represent true democratic international entity if only it recognizes all European countries, their sovereignty, and effort in fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria and Europeanization, by inviting them to be members of the Union. It is the same situation when it comes to objectivity, meaning that if they are not related to Macedonian integration or position, the news does not have any additional comments; but when it is the opposite, it is released with national connotation. Dominant themes are political parties’ positions and daily accusation on different topics with transfer of blame and praise according to the political predisposition of the medium. The social media still can not reach significant audience when it comes to EU topics in Macedonia. Printed and TV media are the main resource for news and tool for influencing the public opinion.

In conclusion, the media in the Republic of Macedonia is nationally oriented and patronized by politics. The European Union challenges are covered daily, but hardly ever considered as something that should be among national priorities or concerns. As main reason for that I found the euroscepitcism that occurred in the last period since the integration has been blocked, the crisis got serious dimension, and the national politics and multi-ethnical conditions are on the local and regional agenda. Additionally, the freedom of media is threatened by the unprofessional journalism and corrupted ownership that reduces its role as fourth power. However, EU membership and international recognition will always be of national interest and priority, so if we work more on the opportunity for mutual future I believe that the challenges would also become of mutual interest and by that of public interest that is the main target of any media.