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Public broadcasting service at the service of the citizens of Northern Macedonia

By Sefer Tahiri

As part of the media system in North Macedonia, the public broadcasting service is established, but also controlled and financed by the public. Anyways, in the case of our country, the public broadcasting service is financed by the state budget, and the funds are still being secured by the citizens.

The Public broadcasting service is an important factor for the democratization of social relations and a catalyst for an open society. Regarding the national interests, usually defined by the authorities, the public broadcast services around the globe have evolved into institutions that deal with the implementation of public interests.

This type of media must enable effective citizen participation, in other words, to give opportunity and space to all, and represent diversity and social viewpoints. Based on this, the public interest serves to highlight the capacity of a medium towards social development. And this is done through the inclusion of the marginalized groups and the strengthening of tolerance and diversity.

The Amsterdam Protocol on the system of public broadcasting in the Member States of the European Union, from 1997, states that public broadcasting is a factor of cohesion in a society. Its cohesive function means that it contributes to the integration of all groups of the society, namely, to serve the entire population.

The protocol aims to fulfill the needs of old and young, reach and poor people, educated and not very well educated, also the groups that have specific interests (such as ethnic, cultural, religious groups, sexual orientation groups, scientific groups, socio-economic groups, etc.

In Northern Macedonia there is a different picture. The broadcasting service only retains the epithet as a "public" one. It is quite the same 30 years after the democratization of the country. The broadcasting service continues to be a government service, namely a "speaker" of politics rather than the public.

In parallel with the abolition of the broadcasting tax, the new legal reform solutions, on paper, provided a transparent process of selection of the new members of the Council of the Radio-Television of North Macedonia (NRTV), as a starting point for substantial reforms in this media institution. The concept of authorized nominators has already gone down in history. But the new model of election is now applied through public competition and the public debates with candidates running for this council.

Candidates running as council members are required to submit at least two letters of support from various media freedom organizations, including journalists' associations, human rights organizations, and educational institutions in the field of journalism and communication. The first competition in 2019 failed, as there was no political consensus, while after the reopening of this election in June 2021, 26 candidates are competing for 13 seats. The Program Council then elects the National TV executives, who are supposed to transform it into a true public service.

Fulfillment of the general principles on public broadcasting services in North Macedonia

The public broadcasting service's goals have been and remain universality, diversity, and independence. To these three principles must be added a fourth one; the identification (being noticed), especially considering that it operates side by side with the commercial media.

(1) Universality - All citizens of the country should have access to the public services' programs. This is an egalitarian and democratic goal that gives all citizens equal status, regardless of their social status and incomes. The Public Radio-Television in North Macedonia (NRTV) tries to comply with this principle, but only technically. This means that the NRTV signal can be heard/watched massively in over 90% of the country. In terms of content, NRTV has failed to ensure universality, especially given the viewership of the public service programs. For this principle not to remain applicable only technically, the public service should be changed into a public forum (voice) for all social groups.

(2) Diversity - the offering package of the public broadcasting service should be diverse, in at least three ways: in terms of genres, the programs it offers, the topics it covers and the audience it refers to. Several analyzes show that the NRTV is coping with serious problems in fulfilling the diversity, regarding the television program genres. NRTV broadcasts programs not only in the Macedonian language but also in Albanian (one of its channels already broadcasts 24 hours in Albanian). While a fourth channel broadcasts programs in the languages ​​of other communities such as in Turkish, Serbian, Vlach, Roma, and Bosnian languages. Linguistic diversity is represented in public radio programs as well.

(3) Independence - the public service represents a space where every group should express their ideas while the information, political stances, and criticisms should be spoken out loud, freely, and with no hesitation. But even today, NRTV does not fulfill its obligation to be an open forum of the public debate and does not provide the proper space for the free expression of ideas and criticisms.

(4) Identification - the principle of being distinguished suggests that the public service programs must differ from the others. Research shows that NRTV very little meets the standards for being different, better, and having quality programs. Sometimes, its programs are poorer than the ones in commercial television programs.