With a population of only 1.8 million, North Macedonia has a small open market economy, which is import-dependent.

After gaining independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, the country emerged as one of the poorest in the region, with an economy struggling with high inflation. 

This was a result of a number of factors, including the collapse of the shared Yugoslav market and the wars in the former Yugoslavia, as well as a year-and-a-half-long Greek trade embargo. The privatization of state companies also had a great impact on the socio-economic situation. Shares in a large number of companies were often sold off cheap; according to some economic calculations, the state earned back barely 20 per cent of the value of some companies.

After the gradual stabilization of the economy, a second period of destabilization followed, mainly because of the 1999 war in neighboring Kosovo and the 2001 ethnic conflict in North Macedonia itself. Exports, private consumption and Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, were the main drivers of growth. In 1992, North Macedonia introduced the denar as its official currency. The National Bank is responsible for the stability of the currency.

The unemployment rate was high in the post-independence period, and at times exceeded 30 per cent. Today, it is around 14 per cent, showing a trend of gradual slight decline.

Ministry of Finance data show that, as of September 30, 2023, the national debt is 48.2 per cent of GDP, and the public debt is 55.8 per cent of GDP.

According to the World Bank, Gross Domestic Product, GDP, per capita in 2022 was $6,591. The industries that have the largest share in GDP are construction, wholesale and retail, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles, transportation, storage and accommodation facilities, and food services.

Annual inflation for the third quarter of 2023 was 6.6 per cent.

The Gini index measuring inequality and class differences for 2019 showed that the ratio between rich and poor in North Macedonia was 33.5 per cent. Comparatively, class differences were slightly higher in 2018, when the percentage of inequality was 34.2 per cent.

Public funding

North Macedonia is small market with many media. The total yearly advertising budget every year amounts to about 20 million euros, so the media – especially televisions and radios, which have total of 1,000 employees – are under economic pressure. 

That is also why a large number of media, especially regional media, have gone out of business.

The state has been one of the key financiers of the media sector. In the past, through public interest campaigns, regulated through the Audio and Audiovisual Media Services Act, the state was the media’s largest advertiser. It greatly influenced the editorial policy of various media, buying advertising time on private televisions with huge sums of money. For years, governments led by the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE paid millions of euros to both private televisions and radios through the financing of public interest campaigns. In other words, it bought the media’s favour.

Now, according to the media law, this is forbidden. Since 2018, a change to the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services banned state advertising on private televisions and radios. Since then, state institutions and municipalities have not been allowed to spend money on informing the public about their services and activities through private broadcasters i.e. through television and radio. 

Despite the bans, both state and municipal authorities continue to broadcast public interest campaigns. The difference since 2019 is that these funds are not received directly by the media but by marketing agencies, which then lease advertising time on television.

The ruling Social Democrats, SDSM, and their partners in the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, are now proposing legal changes to again allow state financing of private media. 

The state remains the main financier of the Macedonian public broadcasting service, MRTV. According to the Law on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, the state has to allocate 0.5 per cent of total annual revenues to finance it. 

Since 2018, the government has been giving financial aid to print media, to cover part of the costs of printing newspapers. This practice was a recommendation of an expert group led by Reinhard Priebe, which in 2015 conducted an overview of the conditions in Macedonian society. 

According to its conclusions, these print media would be unsustainable without such support. This aid is decreasing from year to year, however.

All state institutions or municipalities, when announcing open applications, are also obliged to advertise these announcements in at least two daily newspapers.

There is a noticeable trend towards circulations of daily newspapers decreasing, compared to the past, as audiences move online.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the state gave financial assistance to broadcasters. This included funds to cover the cost of transmitting the signal and financial support to cover the cost of the broadcasting license fee. It gave the full amount in 2021, and 50 per cent in 2022.

During election campaigns, media can earn significant sums from carrying the election propaganda of the political parties.

Total revenues in TV and radio from advertisements in 2022 were 19.8 million euros, excluding paid political advertising.

The biggest players in the media and broadcasting market in North Macedonia are the owners of the five national television stations, which have the largest advertising revenues. Their media, however, are not their primary businesses but an additional business.

In North Macedonia, there are no official statistics on the biggest advertisers in the media market. Previously, such statistics were produced by the Media Agency. Today, the only publicly available data is about the income that the media receive from advertising. 

When looking at the advertisements broadcast on national television and radio, the largest advertisers appear to be automobile companies, telecommunications operators, banks, pharmaceutical companies, the food and beverage industry, etc. 

In North Macedonia, about 200 online media apply each year for funds from the state budget for political advertisements during the elections. In such a small media landscape, with a huge number of portals, advertisers can ensure greater visibility for their clients’ campaigns for relatively little money. Some of those PR posts are not even marked as commercial texts.

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