Cable operators joined in the IT chamber today decided that they will stop broadcasting all domestic and foreign TV stations, except for the few public run MRTV channels, on Monday at midnight. This move, announced by the chamber that includes the major cable providers owned by the Austrian A1 and the German Deutsche Telekom, comes after changes to the media law were sneaked through Parliament on its last day in session. The changes put the pressure on cable operators to guarantee that the channels they are re-broadcasting have settled all their copyright issues, which the operators say is an impossible request.

Given how serious the issue is, the cable operators met with state representatives and we agreed to postpone the planned end to re-broadcasting for March 2 at midnight. This would leave enough room to come up with a solution that would be in favor of the citizens, the IT chamber said.

The big five domestic TV channels, united in the MMA association, have long demanded that cable operators pay them for carrying their programming, and to stop re-broadcasting a number of foreign channels which MMA sees as unfair competition. The amendments were adopted on their request, and many see it as a move by the ruling SDSM party to curry favor with the TV stations in the run up to the elections. The move could leave citizens, who overwhelmingly still rely on TV to get their daily dose of information, in the dark before the elections and during a potentially dangerous coronavirus crisis.

To cushion the blow, cable operators said that they will stop charging users for the TV portion of their cable fees while the blackout is in effect. Meanwhile, they are asking the Constitutional Court to meet and issue a temporary ban on the amendments. Both sides are lobbying the all-powerful diplomatic corps in Skopje, and claim that they have the support of “the diplomats” and that their position is in line with EU regulations.