Exit.al | Albanian public television, which is financed directly by the Albanian citizens, today cut the direct transmission from Parliament to other television stations. The reason for the interruption was TVSh’s demand that the other (private) channels should pay for the parliamentary video feed, and will no longer offer it for free.
At first sight this looks like an absurd and arbitrary move of TVSh, but in fact it was well coordinated with the government, which exerts full control over the TVSh. This was indeed confirmed a bit later, when Prime Minister Edi Rama not only supported TVSh’s action, but also announced that in the future no television cameras at all will be allowed in Parliament. Parliament itself would have to invest in the technology to register, direct, and create a television broadcasting signal from the parliamentary proceedings.
As a justification, the Prime Minister expressed his concern that private television companies were spending a lot of their budget on journalists, cameras, and cars to follow the proceedings of Parliament, when it would be so easy to just relay a direct signal to them.
A Macedonian precedent
Apart from the absurdity that the Prime Minister speaks about the concerns of the Parliament, or the absurdity that the government proposes to spend public money so that private companies may save it, Prime Minister Rama’s suggestion to remove journalists and cameras from Parliament violates a recent verdict of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.
Selmani and others v. the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia concerns a case of six Macedonian journalists, Naser Selmani, Toni Angelovski, Biljana Dameska, Frosina Fakova, Snežana Lupevska, and Nataša Stojanovska, who together with others reported from the press gallery of the Parliament of Macedonia on the debate for the 2013 budget. The debate between majority and opposition was tense, while outside there were groups of protesters.
A group of opposition deputies surrounded the Speaker of Parliament and beat his table with their first, while others blocked access to the pulpit. Security forces entered to remove the deputies, while other required the journalists to leave. Several journalists refused to do so, stating that it was their duty to inform the public about what happened in Parliament. They were subsequently removed by force.
The security forces later claimed the journalists were removed for security reasons, to protect their lives, while the journalists denied anyone had told them so.
The journalists failed a complaint at the Constitutional Court, claiming that their freedom of expression had been curtailed during the parliamentary debate about public issue, and demanded a public hearing. In response, the Constitutional Court held a closed session, without participation of either of the parties, after which it decided that the removal of the journalists had been in accordance with the legislation and regulation of Parliament.
Subsequently, the journalists were offered the right to follow the proceedings through a live video feed offered by the cameras of the Parliament itself, which wouldn’t impede their duty to inform the public.
Freedom of expression
The Macedonian journalists appealed the verdict of the Constitutional Court at the ECtHR, which decided that the removal of journalists from the designated press area in Parliament by the Macedonian security forces was a violation of their freedom of expression, and stressed that the media have an important oversight role. The Court based itself on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), specifically art. 6 “Right to a fair trial,” and art. 10 “Freedom of Expression.
The court considers that the removal of [the applicants] from the gallery amounted to an interference with their freedom to carry out their professional duties and to inform the public about events that were of considerable interest for the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia – the events in Parliament regarding the approval of the State budget for 2013, in which the public had significant interest in following and being informed about.
The Court also stressed the importance of the physical presence of the journalists in Parliament:
Furthermore, the applicants’ removal entailed immediate adverse effects that instantaneously prevented them from obtaining first-hand and direct knowledge based on their personal experience of the events unfolding in the chamber, and thus the unlimited context in which the authorities were handling them […]. Those were important elements in the exercise of the applicants’ journalistic functions, which the public should not have been deprived of in the circumstances of the present case.
Following the ECtHR verdict, journalists have the right to directly experience the even about which they report, by being present. Following events through a controlled transmission – such as in Rama’s proposal – deprives journalists of this important element.