SDSM President Zoran Zaev disclosed new materials Wednesday giving insight into the mechanisms of total control set up by PM Gruevski, Secret Police Chief Mijalkov and their associates, aimed at obstructing independent journalists and orchestrating constant propaganda through Macedonian media.
The materials unambiguously show that the Government had not only wiretapped and put under surveillance over 100 journalists (through its Security and Counterintelligence Service), but also intervened directly and daily in media content. The list of journalists put under surveillance includes both editors and employees of pro-Government outlets as well as professional journalists critical of the Government. Zaev confirmed that the most closely observed journalist was Nikola Mladenov, founder and editor-in-chief of opposition weekly Fokus, who tragically died in a car accident under dubious circumstances in 2013.
1. In the first recording released, Minister of Interior Jankulovska arranges with Gruevski’s Chief of Staff Protoger which media and journalists should cover an event organized by the Ministry. “The Chief (PM Nikola Gruevski, n.a.) SMS-ed me late last night, saying we should get a number of journalists today and explain the matters in detail. I don’t have a problem with that, but you should weigh how to carry this thing through… Should we go with one outlet today, and have the others report on it?” Jankulovska consults the Chief of Staff. Protoger suggests they cover the story via (printed daily) Dnevnik, Kanal 5 TV, Sitel TV and public broadcaster MRTV, while handpicking the reporting journalists.
2. The second conversation portrays another instance of direct interference of Gruevski’s closest associates over media content. In it, Minister of Culture, Elizabeta Kanceska Milevska complains with Sitel TV news editor Dragan Pavlovic Latas about the in-her-view inappropriate coverage of an event to which Latas angrily replies: “Listen, don’t push it. There are so many requests from your Prime Minister that Sitel has turned into a scumbag, VMRO-DPMNE propaganda… “. He goes on to admit that out of 12 stories aired the previous day, 7 were pre-ordered by the Government.
3. The third recording is an outright confirmation of Government interference in the national broadcaster’s editorial policy. In it, Minister of Interior Jankulovska tells Ministry Spokesperson Ivo Kotevski that MRTV will not air a TV show, and that if the journalist insists on doing it “she might as well be given the boot from MRTV.”
4. The fourth recording relates to a conversation between secret police chief Mijalkov and Sitel editor Latas. In it, Mijalkov complains about Sitel’s programming schedule and the fact that news do not have a fixed slot, which he deems extremely important during electoral campaigns. “Goran (Ivanov, Sitel owner, n.a.) is just sucking and sucking money. Excuse me, but I could also open a TV station with 2 million Euro annual support,” Mijalkov says confirming allegations that the Executive is pumping money into private media. When Latas mentions his competition and the way they cover the news, citing the arrest of former media mogul Velija Ramkovski (who turned against the Government in 2011 and was eventually arrested, sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on tax fraud charges and had his media shut down, n.a.), Mijalkov says “I did all your dirty work and handled Velija in my own way” confirming that the arrest of Ramkovski was indeed politically motivated.
5. Mijalkov handled other media in his own way, as well. In the fifth conversation released Wednesday, he tells Minister of Interior Jankulovska not to worry on how three dailies owned by Media Print Macedonia (managed by Srdjan Kerim, n.a.) cover Ministry of Interior events and issues. “Look, we still haven’t gotten our hands on them… We’ll take them over in a few days and that will be handled, don’t worry… What we need to see is how to handle the other boneheads, don’t you worry about these. I have things under control and there’s no space for worries” Mijalkov says to Jankulovska’s delight.
6. In the last conversation of the day, PM Gruevski asks Minister of Transport Mile Janakieski to transfer half a million Euro from the Agency for Electronic Communications (regulatory body, nominally independent, n.a.) to an unknown account to settle a debt incurred for production of documentaries. “Transfer the funds under a social responsibility clause, so we might use it for a documentary… a popular one… the most appropriate one, let’s say a documentary on the… Macedonian struggle for freedom and independence,” Gruevski orders. Janakievski consents.
Zaev continued the press conference by presenting two documents:
• a copy of an original Security and Counterintelligence Service (UBK) document titled “Excerpts from the communications of opposition-inclining journalists regarding the activities and conclusions of the Committee of inquiry into the events of 24 December 2012”. Zaev claimed that this document was commissioned so the Government would always be step ahead of journalists in the media treatment and coverage of the aforementioned events. He then handed over the personal files to all 18 journalists put under surveillance on this occasion; and
• the personal file of Fokus owner, editor in chief and journalist, Nikola Mladenov, titled “Excerpts from UBK data base on the control of communications made by Fokus weekly owner, Nikola Mladenov 2011/2013” which he promised that due to the sensitivity of the materials will firstly be handed over to the family of the deceased.
In his closing remarks, SDSM President Zaev called the owners, editors and journalists of pro-Government media to step up, break the government chains holding them hostage contrary to public interest, and promised that on its behalf, SDSM will continue to disclose all materials at its disposal.