The AVMU Media Agency accused the Government of abusing its position to alter the rules for media representation ahead of the elections. AVMU, which is an independent watchdog, divided the equal representation time between the parties, but the Government took it upon itself to reduce the media time allocated to the opposition VMRO-DPMNE party with a decree. AVMU director Zoran Trajcevski said that his agency was under enormous political pressure from the Government.

One day it was the BESA party, the next day SDSM, then Zaev himself, then the SDSM spokeswoman, the Minister Damjan Mancevski. They pressured the AVMU, trying to force us to adopt an illegal decision. They used news sites under their control to pressure members of the AVMU Council, Trajcevski said.

Under law, the coverage is divided evenly between the largest opposition and ruling parties. SDSM, which is a ruling party, is supposed to divide its time with its coalition partner DUI, while VMRO, as an opposition party, was supposed to share its coverage with the second biggest opposition party – BESA. But BESA is not participating in the elections independently – it signed on to a pre-election coalition with SDSM and the two parties have joint lists. The AVMU then decided that VMRO will get the entirety of the time allocated to opposition parties.

This prompted numerous angry press conferences from SDSM and BESA, who pressured the media watchdog to change the decision.

Under the law we could not change the decision. Only parties who participate in the elections can ask for equal media coverage. That’s the same principle we applied during the 2019 presidential elections, when the opposition candidates Gordana Siljanovska – Davkova and Blerim Reka shared their time, while the joint SDSM – DUI candidate Pendarovski got twice as much. SDSM did not object against this rule then. In all elections, since 1990 until now, we’ve never head the Government determine how the media coverage time is divided, it was always done by the regulator. This is a precedent, Trajcevski said.

AVMU held firm under pressure, but the Government used the executive power given to it to fight the coronavirus epidemic to order a change in the media regulations.