IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, No. 478, January 29, 2004
NEWCOMERS TAKE ON GERMAN MEDIA GIANT
By Tamara Causidis in Skopje
Several new daily newspapers are about to hit the streets of Macedonia in the next few days, as local media boldly take on the virtual monopoly of a German media giant.
A daily called Vreme is due to start next week, becoming the country's seventh Macedonian-language daily.
Within weeks two other papers, Vecer and Nova Makedonija, will also reappear in new guises, after the government sold the formerly state-owned titles to save them from going under.
Analysts believe the local media is determined to challenge the German media group WAZ, which took control of 80 per cent of the republic's print media after buying shares in Dnevnik, Vest and Utrinski Vesnik.
The three are the country's highest-circulation dailies, with a joint circulation of about 120,000.
The newcomers believe they have a good chance of surviving in a tough market, with solid financial backing and professional journalists.
They say the growing domination of the Macedonian media by the Essen-based Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung has opened up a space for an alternative voice.
Dnevnik, centrist and nationalist in outlook, currently dominates the print scene. Utrinski vesnik is a leftist paper and Vest is a tabloid. The three titles are now managed and distributed by an umbrella company, Media Print Macedonia, to reduce overheads.
Before it reached Macedonia, WAZ, led by the former Stability Pact chief Bodo Hombach, took over major media outlets in Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.
Entry into Macedonia, as in other Balkan countries, has raised concern over the creation of a media monopoly, for the three dailies had no serious competition when WAZ took over.
As state-owned papers, Vecer and Nova Makedonija have been failing for years, while the tiny, independent Makedonija denes is weak and has no influence.
The head of the project in Vreme and the main financier is Velija Ramkovski, owner of the country's biggest independent TV station, A1TV, with 46 per cent share of the viewing audience, according to latest surveys.
Idea Plus DDB, a marketing agency in Skopje, bought the Vecer title at a public bidding on December 23 for 25,000 euro while Nova Makedonija went to the Skopje-based Zonik Company for 5,000 euro.
The new owners insist they will revitalise the formerly popular papers and change their concepts.
Many believe the firms that bought the titles have solid finances, as they have had to undertake to publish them for a minimum of five years.
Vecer and Vreme are seen as having a good chance of survival in the Macedonian media scene as both papers have strong financial back-up and will not have problems obtaining a share of the advertising market, a main source of finance for the media.
Iso Rusi, editor of the Albanian-language weekly Lobi, told IWPR that both Vecer and Vreme enjoyed the preconditions to secure a solid position.
"For a daily to cover its expenditures and publishing it needs seven or eight pages of advertisement," Rusi said. "Idea Plus as a marketing agency that will have no problem redirecting its clients to the paper. Vreme may have more difficulties, but they have media promotion via A1 television station, which is also owned by Velija Ramkovski."
But survival will not depend on finance alone. Analysts say the monopoly of WAZ has created new space for alternative voices.
Although WAZ pledged not to interfere with its dailies content, observers worry that uniting the three papers are under one company will create pressure for a unified editorial policy.
Vreme editor, Gjorgji Barbarovski, told IWPR, "Macedonia's media scene should not be monopolised. We do not expect a war with the three WAZ newspapers, as there is space for all of us, but we are prepared and aware of the competition."
The new editors say their main task will be to offer variety and add quality to the print scene.
Klime Babunski, a media expert at the Institute for Political-Legal and Sociological Research, told IWPR he hoped the new papers would enrich media choice.
"It would be awful if the entire offer of daily media outlets in Macedonia came down only to papers controlled by WAZ," he said.
The success of the new ventures hangs also on the quality of the journalists and their impact on the media scene.
Vreme has been set up by Aleksandar Damovski, founder and former editor of Dnevnik, who left the paper after the WAZ takeover along with nearly 20 journalists, in the ambitious quest to found a independent daily title that would offer something new.
Editor of Vreme Jasmina Mironski told IWPR, "There is space for one more daily that will offer something fresh, something different. I expect that Vreme will also re-establish journalistic genres such as analysis, research, an approach that has been neglected in the existing papers that offer only news."
The future director of Vecer, journalist Vasko Eftov, told IWPR the media scene urgently needed an overhaul and that the new dailies were in a better position to offer this than WAZ. "Our advantage in relation to WAZ is that we are small and flexible, and WAZ is slow and massive," he said.
But Branko Gerovski, editor of Dnevnik, said the new titles would not jeopardise the leading position of the WAZ papers, "We will create healthy competition, so there is no need for any fears. Instead, we need to work hard so that in the end the readers benefit."
Tamara Causidis is a journalist with Radio Free Europe in Skopje.
source: IWPR Balkan Crisis Report
medienhilfe, P.O. Box, CH-8031