In a period of a global health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and in a situation in which a greater part of citizens is opposing the vaccination, appropriately designed and implemented government campaigns for raising awareness and protecting the health of citizens can be key for more precise informing and a swift return to normal. Most governments of the most developed countries in the world have decided to use public campaigns to help in the fight against COVID-19 and to enable objective informing of citizens, free from political context.
In North Macedonia, Article 102 of the Law on Media Services prohibits government campaigns. Hence, there is a lack of a real coordinated and well-founded campaign in the country that would promote the positive effects of the vaccination and the protection of the health of citizens. Currently, the citizens in North Macedonia are left to the good will of the private media for objective informing about the advantages of the vaccination and the very struggle with the global pandemic.
THE PANDEMIC HAS REVEALED THE WEAKNESSES OF PROHIBITING CAMPAIGNS FUNDED BY PUBLIC MONEY
The changes to the Law on media services, namely the prohibition of campaigns funded from the state budget, came after the long years of abuses of the government advertising. The government of Nikola Gruevski used public money of the citizens for political marketing and with millions of euros bought the loyalty and inclination of the media.
However, the health crisis and the need for protecting the public interest, in the years after the ban, have showed that amendments to Article 102 are needed, that is, clear defining of exceptions that would enable government campaigns in the public interest, while at the same time still prohibiting the use of public money for political marketing and promotion by the government.
The government of the Republic of North Macedonia has already announced a call for preparation of two campaigns – one for the vaccination, and the second for combatting corruption. They explain that the vaccination campaign is needed in order to avoid the risk of not reaching the necessary number of 70 percent of the population being vaccinated, the number that is needed for banishing the pandemic.
“A campaign is necessary that has nothing to do with government or political advertising and promoting of government activities, but for fully, objectively, educationally and professionally informing citizens about the advantages of the vaccines and the benefits of mass vaccination”, says the government following the call for the preparation of the vaccination campaigns.
The National Coordinator for Strategic Communications in the government, Marjan Zabrcanec, explained that if Article 102 is amended and public campaigns of public interest allowed, the government would not be left alone in accessing which topic is important and deserves a public campaign, but that an establishment of a body has been anticipated that will serve as a control and protective mechanism.
“It would be an independent body composed of non-partisan, non-governmental, professional and credible people from the media and journalist field and from the civil sector, who will assess and give an opinion regarding each proposal for implementation of a campaign by the central or local institutions. The opinion of the independent body will have to be taken into consideration by the government”, stated Zabrcanec.
CAMAPIGNS OF PUBLIC INTEREST ARE AN IMPORTANT TOOL IN DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES
Public campaigns for protection of the public interest are nothing new in the world, and are a practice in the most developed democratic states. Campaigns for protection against the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary steps for protecting the health of the population have dominated in the past year.
In 2020, the British government was one of the biggest advertisers in the country, with almost 164 million pounds being spent. With the public campaigns they informed the public about the risks and dangers of Covid-19, gave examples on protection and educated the citizens about the benefits of the vaccination.
According to media experts, such public campaigns in the United Kingdom will continues this year as well, in 2021, with the purpose of quicker and more efficient mass immunization, as well as protection of the public health and medical workers.
In March last year, at the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Germany approved a special budget of 3.5 billion euros for direct protection of the citizens, which anticipated a significant part for public campaigns.
However, health related topics are not the only field of interest of public campaigns in other developed democracies. In addition to the campaigns for prevention and protection against Covid-19, France in recent years has financed also a public media campaign against sexual violence, inappropriate comments and remarks in public transportation.
Ireland is regularly financing public campaigns for protection of citizens at the workplace, while in Canada campaigns for informing citizens about human trafficking are widespread. Among more popular campaigns that can be seen in multiple countries around the world are those on worker’s rights of citizens and the importance of buying domestic products.
The United Kingdom this year is also implementing a public campaign on informing citizens about the need and importance of conducting a census. The campaign for the census has been translated into 44 languages and includes citizens of the country of various socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
EU AND UNICEF ARE LEADING CAMPAIGNS OF PUBLIC INTEREST IN THE COUNTRY
The government of the Republic of North Macedonia is already opening a debate on amending Article 102 of the Law on Media Services, which would define exceptions for public campaigns for the purpose of protecting the public interest of citizens.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced that it would be debated with all associations of media workers, all media associations and all stakeholders for finding an optimal solution.
The opposing of the vaccination by a significant part of the Macedonian population, the fight against corruption, as well as certain speculations and campaigns against the census, only open the need for proper, transparent and objective informing of citizens.
Currently in the country campaigns of public interest, regardless of whether they are about the positive effects and need for vaccination or against corruption, are led only by foreign actors such as the European Union and United Nations agencies.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska