The parliament president, loudly heckled by the press, promises to provide answers.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 02/01/13
Members of the Macedonia media are demanding to know who ordered they be forcibly ejected from parliament on December 24th. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Reporters who cover Macedonia's parliament are still livid that they were manhandled and forcibly ejected during a scuffle among parliament members debating the 2013 budget, and are demanding answers from the state's leaders.
Representatives of several print and electronic media outlets expressed their outrage on December 27th by loudly booing Parliament President Trakjo Veljanovski as he attempted to open a parliamentary session. The heckling protest is believed to be the first of its kind by the media in the 20-year history of the state.
The Association of Journalists of Macedonia, meanwhile, cancelled discussions with the state until the government discloses who was responsible for ejecting journalists during the December 24th incident that split parliament and prompted security to clear the chamber.
"I think this is a very important message and that in the future they cannot behave like that," Naser Selmani, president of the journalists' association, told SETimes. "If they think that they can limit our movement somewhere there has to be an explanation for it based on laws."
"We have sent a written request to the president of the parliament in which we request him to tell us who ordered a force to be used against the journalists. We asked from the ministry for interior to take sanctions against those who used forced against the reporters. From the ombudsman we asked to determine that the constitution of Macedonia has been violated -- Article 16, which guarantees freedom of information," Selmani said.
Veljanovski promised to provide answers.
"The parliament of Macedonia has always been maximally transparent and I personally as a president always commit for open and professional relations towards the reporters and the media," he said. "I will ask to determine a responsibility for this event. I expect to continue with the highly developed relations with the journalists and the media appreciating their professional relationship and their responsible role with the society."
The incident came as thousands of demonstrators clashed outside parliament during the lawmakers' session where the VMRO-DPMNE was set to pass the budget of 2.4 billion euros. The opposition SDSM sought 196 million euros in cuts to the budget, citing the struggling economy.
Opposition MPs attempted to block passage of the budget by introducing more than 1,200 amendments. A scuffle broke out, forcing security to evacuate Veljanovski and then eject the opposition MPs and reporters.
The budget was passed 64-4 in the 120-member assembly. Opposition groups pledged civil disobedience campaigns in protest of the budget and what they see as heavy-handed tactics to eliminate debate.
Katerina Canevska Arsovska, a longtime parliamentary reporter, told SETimes the manhandling of reporters is an affront to all journalists.
"I've been reporting from the refugee crisis, the military conflict, but I have never experienced someone to throws me like a toy," she said. "For 20 years I am parliamentary reporter, but this was a shame and a scandal which I haven't seen."
Igor Micevski, a media professor at the School of Public Relations in Skopje, said the right of the public to know where the public money is spent was violated.
"The journalists not only have the right to protest, but they also have a obligation to do that," he told SETimes. "This shouldn't stop only on booing in the parliament but there must be a legal action for violating of the constitution and rules. There has to be someone to blame for the expulsion of the journalist from the democratic house, and this shouldn't be passed with a little apology."
What happened in the assembly is a picture of the treatment of reporters in Macedonia, Tamara Chausidis, a president of the Independent Trade Union of Journalists and Media Workers, told SETimes.
"This is also a picture of the relationship towards the public because the reporters are the eyes of the public, they are there to tell the citizens who don't have such privilege to be witnesses of events that affect them, what happened and how. The incident in the parliament is an example for suspending of the democracy and the media freedom in Macedonia," Chausidis said.