Macedonia: Press Freedom Index, Riding the Tiger
By Sam Vaknin
Author of "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"
1. Macedonia’s own Media Freedom Index: The Basis for Informed Debate
SEEMO, the Vienna-based offshoot of International Press Institute (IPI), is slated to send a fact-finding mission to Macedonia in October 2011. Enraged journalists and pseudo-journalists on both sides of the political isle have spent the past 12 months firing missives at each and other and at the international community arguing that press freedoms in Macedonia are either utterly extinguished or in full blossom. Outside observers, such as the OECD, tend to agree with the former view (as does the author of this column.)
But in all this mayhem, one critical issue is being overlooked: press freedom in Macedonia has never been defined let alone measured properly. How can an intelligent and informed debate take place when all parties involved – domestic and foreign alike – disagree on the very point being so hotly contested?
Several venerable non-governmental and multilateral organizations publish annual press freedom indices. Reporters without Borders (RSF, in its French acronym) compile the much-cited World Press Freedom Index. Freedom House has its Freedom of the Press Survey. UNESCO and International Research and Exchange Board (IREX) put forth similar annual studies.
But, while very useful as global comparative measures, these indices suffer from serious drawbacks and are rather useless when it comes to the analysis and monitoring of any single country, such as Macedonia. CIMA (Center for International Media Assistance) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) published an excellent overview of the problems inherent in these global indices, titled “Evaluating the Evaluators: Media Freedom Indexes and What They Measure.” Consequently, associations of journalists in several countries have developed their own, indigenous, country-specific measures. An excellent example is the Africa Media Barometer.
The first and most crucial task of the Association of Journalists in Macedonia is to develop a Media Freedom Index in Macedonia which will be acceptable to everyone involved in the profession, journalists, editors, civil society, and media owners alike. The index should cover all media, traditional and new, print, electronic, and Internet and should take into account at the very least the following parameters: threats to journalists, including judicial actions and dismissals; denied access to information; restrictive licensing and accreditation; self-censorship; prevalence of investigative reporting; media cross-ownership and business interests; political involvement in the media; equal access to the media, especially the state-owned ones; regulatory bias; advertising distribution and pressure; freedom of the Internet.
This, of course, is a very partial list. The Index should reflect specific cultural and social sensitivities and determinants unique to Macedonia: dimensions that cannot be captured by global perception surveys, such as the RSF’s.
A Media Freedom Index in Macedonia will inform future debates and allow opposing parties, the international community, NGOs, and the government to engage in a fruitful polylogue and to generate a legislative and regulatory agenda with the aim of guaranteeing, once and for all, press freedoms in this country.
2. Riding the Tiger: Global Economic Crisis and Macedonia’s Opportunities
The Chinese ideogram for “crisis” also stands for “opportunity”. Indeed, while it is natural to dread the consequences of a global meltdown, economic crises represent a reversion to a healthier and more functional equilibrium. These momentous shifts are usually perceived by contemporaries as threats. Actually, they constitute unique chances and opportunities.
Macedonia is a small, marginal, and negligible economy. These are advantages as they allow it to act nimbly and to react flexibly to world events. As far as Macedonia is concerned, the global economic crisis presents these opportunities:
Owing to their ownership structure (large Macedonian shareholders, EBRD, IFC, and foreign banks from countries largely unaffected by global contagion) and their reliance on domestic deposits, Macedonian banks can establish themselves as safe havens for foreign capital (legal capital flight - not tax evasion, or money laundering).
To do: Macedonia should streamline, deregulate and liberalize its banking sector and create an offshore banking zone for foreign depositors. The banks should introduce private banking and personal wealth management operations.
In times of financial crises, farmland and other agricultural assets rise in value and represent safe and attractive investment opportunities. Recent surges in food prices coupled with shortages owing to multiple droughts across the globe, render Macedonia’s countryside a marketable commodity and its agricultural sector a major economic advantage and FDI (foreign direct investment) focal point.
To do: Macedonia should encourage the long-term leasing of agricultural land, set up domestic or participate in regional commodity exchanges, and cutting-edge agriculture (biotechnology, organic, genetically-modified).
The Macedonian denar is pegged to the euro. A collapse in the exchange rate of the euro versus other major currencies will enhance the competitiveness and attractiveness of Macedonian goods in non-Eurozone markets in Europe, the Middle-East, Africa, and Asia. Tourism – being an export – will also benefit.
To do: Reorient Macedonian exporters and tour and hospitality operators towards emerging markets and away from the EU by providing subsidies, forex hedging instruments, marketing expertise, and overall support.
4. Eastern Orientation
As the allure of Western markets fades, Macedonia could position itself as a transit area and a forward base for manufacturers which target Africa, the Middle-East, the Balkans, and Turkey. Unencumbered by the 84,000 pages of EU legislation, labor-intensive, environmentally-unfriendly, and transport-sensitive industries are natural investors in Macedonia.
Similarly, the recent phenomenon of “reverse brain drain” (immigrants returning from lagging Western economies to booming developing and emerging ones) means that Macedonia can, as a matter of national policy and in a state-coordinated manner, export manpower – unskilled and skilled, uneducated and highly-educated – to the West.