Unveiling Perspectives: Macedonian Media and the Shifting Perception of China


By Dime Ratajkoski

The media landscape in the Western Balkans is marked by intricate complexities and a range of difficulties. Thus, the relationship between the media in the Western Balkans and their struggles to break free from the dominant narrative dictated by major centers of influence is a complex and compelling topic.

The situation in the region often is described as a complex mosaic shaped by historical, ethnic, political, and economic factors. These various factors converge to create a dynamic and multifaceted environment. This complexity is further compounded by a wide range of challenges that impact media freedom, independence, and the ability to provide accurate and diverse information to the public. As the Western Balkans navigate this complex media landscape, the question of how to maintain media independence and foster diverse narratives will be paramount.

Nevertheless, it’s essential to highlight that there are currently disparities in how each country individually addresses China in the media landscape. Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro exhibit a cautious approach, while in Serbia and the Republic of Srpska region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the atmosphere and media interactions with China are more relaxed and balanced.

Consequently, the situation in Macedonia, particularly in the realm of media, bears strong similarities to the broader regional context. It consistently grapples with upholding a pro-Western narrative, often finding itself in a state of complete reliance on the governing authority’s mainstream policies, which it adheres to diligently and comprehensively.

For much of the post-Yugoslav era, Western influence has played a significant role in shaping the media environment in this region. This often included financial assistance, training programs, and infrastructure investments. Consequently, numerous mainstream media organizations in the area developed financial reliance on Western donors, governments, or investors. Alternatively, they align their information narrative closely with it’s own governments that tend to espouse pro-Western policies and align with them.

And the narrative is clear: the Western Balkans and Macedonia as a part, want the world to know that they belong, that they are part of the global discourse. Yet, what’s increasingly undeniable is that the medium through which this message is transmitted is largely under Western control.

I want to stress that amidst the ongoing struggle for media influence, Macedonian media find themselves in a state of uncertainty. They consistently emphasize Macedonia’s belonging to the Western world as normal and natural, even though this rhetoric, frequently employed by our Western allies, is largely symbolic. The reason is that the EU, primarily responsible for Macedonia’s European integration path, has left the country at a crossroads, deliberately creating a void susceptible to influences from various directions?! Amidst this battle for influence, Western discourse predominates, often with an assertive tone, instilling a culture of apprehension in the small and vulnerable Balkan societies. It is precisely this ‘culture of fear’ that serves as the primary driver behind the Macedonian media’s lack of interest, indifference, and reluctance to engage more deeply with the East. Consequently, when it comes to the Macedonian media’s relationship with the Chinese media landscape, it is virtually invisible, making it unclear whether it even exists?!

However, this did not reflect the state of affairs in the media landscape, particularly focusing on Macedonia, until a decade ago. Macedonian journalists gradually initiated the potential for future professional collaboration with the People’s Republic of China media during the 1990s. A decade later, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in media relations. However, today, it is considered highly unorthodox for any Macedonian media outlet to express interest in partnering with Chinese counterparts. The complete reliance on the Western mainstream media complicates the media landscape, leading Macedonia towards a constrained media environment where journalistic selectivity and concerns about broadening horizons are predominant. While a decade ago, it was entirely commonplace for the Public Service to establish a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Chinese Public Service, today such an activity would be scrutinized carefully and approached with caution.

It’s worth emphasizing that the Macedonian media’s treatment of China remains superficial, primarily limited to service-level information. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to highlight that there is currently only a minimal portion of media coverage in Macedonia dedicated exclusively to the realm of Chinese culture.

Beneath all of these circumstances, lurking in the backdrop, is the significant political and primarily financial reliance of Macedonian media. This reliance begins with the utilization of state resources and extends to accessing Western funds, grants, and project support, upon which Macedonian media has grown entirely reliant.

On a positive note, this media setup has played a significant role in the development of a skilled and autonomous media industry, aiding in its capacity building and the advancement of journalistic standards. However, this should have been the case for Macedonian journalism, which has encountered and continues to grapple with a decline in professionalism. On the other hand, it has made these media outlets vulnerable to external influence, potentially limiting their editorial independence and promoting narratives aligned with Western interests.

Over the past decade, the media landscape in the Western Balkans has witnessed significant changes driven by the increased activity of social networks and online media platforms. The rise of social media and online news sources has opened up new spaces for information dissemination, allowing diverse voices and alternative viewpoints to emerge. As a result, while there may be more space for alternative viewpoints and attitudes in the online sphere, these voices often struggle to gain prominence and credibility compared to the well-established mainstream media outlets that are still largely controlled or influenced by Western centers.

Unlike neighboring countries in the region, Macedonia appears to be at the forefront of a media blackout when it comes to information and analysis originating from the East, particularly China. In the subtle realm of the so-called ‘Soft Power’, primarily conducted through media channels, China and esspecially Russia are often depicted negatively, accused, or simply overlooked. A specific type of battle against Eastern influences is being conducted by select non-governmental organizations and media outlets aiming to portray China’s detrimental role in the region, including Macedonia. Their objective is to demystify China’s influence and role, which, upon closer examination, is nearly negligible. Nonetheless, this narrative’s potency must shape public opinion in Macedonia to guard against any potential Chinese political or economic influence.

Hence, the European Union and the United States project a louder influence, urging the small and reliant Western Balkan states to vehemently oppose the ostensibly costly yet substantively limited Chinese proposals for cooperation. Instead, they encourage full-fledged collaboration with EU member states and US, across all sectors, including the media industry, particularly in the most vulnerable areas. This approach, in essence, signifies a deliberate neo-colonial perspective that the West holds towards the small Balkan states and their economies. The absence of autonomy and the evident loss of sovereignty in Western Balkan countries underscore their complete reliance on Western policies. It’s worth noting that individual collaborations between EU member states and China proceed smoothly and without restrictions. However, this political stance is often disregarded in the Macedonian media landscape. Meanwhile, the state itself erects barriers and practices self-censorship concerning the importance and significance of information, thereby predominantly presenting a one-sided viewpoint to the public.

I must acknowledge that it’s praiseworthy and represents a modest advancement that, for the first time, certain English-language programs from the Chinese Public Service (CGTN) have been made available as an option for Macedonian viewers. However, this decision was primarily driven by the aim to counterbalance the absence of ‘Russia Today’ from Macedonian media platforms, a directive mandated by our Western allies, as part of the so-called special media war against Russia?! This directive for prohibition dealt a severe blow to the freedom of information access, a move perceived by the Macedonian public and journalists’ associations as unwarranted and regressive. It was seen as a direct assault on democratic principles and freedoms.

The submissive and imposed alignment of the Macedonian media with Western interests has led to a declining interest among Macedonian citizens in engaging more actively with the People’s Republic of China. Consequently, within the media sphere, it’s quite challenging to identify a genuine media professional or journalist who would be open to cooperation or the prospect of living and working in China. The apathy or hesitance displayed by Macedonian journalists and journalistic associations when it comes to fostering substantial collaborations with their Chinese counterparts stems from the escalating anti-Chinese media ‘frenzy’ and the restrictive policies towards China, primarily enacted by European countries. Despite the fact that Macedonian media generally lean toward maintaining a neutral information stance regarding China, in contrast to the fervent anti-Russian media discourse, the impression persists that they are becoming increasingly inconspicuous, fading into a state of near-total invisibility in terms of their editorial positions.

However, it’s important to highlight that the persistent allegations of Chinese influence in Macedonia, particularly within the media sphere, are a deliberate rhetoric intended to widen the divide between the two nations. This prompts me to raise an inevitable question: Given that China is being accused of media influence in Macedonia, an influence that is not substantiated in reality, how much longer will China maintain its patient stance and refrain from responding to these allegations? This stands in contrast to the aggressive tone adopted by the Western media sector, which is generally directed towards the East as a whole.

In the Western Balkans, the media environment is characterized by a fragile equilibrium between mainstream outlets influenced by the West and the continually evolving digital realm. However, it’s crucial not to overlook this significant aspect. The scrutiny of how events on the global stage, such as the Russian-Ukrainian war, are covered, or the selectivity of information originating from the Far East, with a particular focus on China, Turkey in connection with the Middle East, and developments within BRICS & Belt & Road Initiative, underscores important considerations.

The challenge for the coming years will be to foster media pluralism, uphold journalistic standards, and ensure that the diverse viewpoints emerging online are heard and respected, contributing to a more vibrant and democratic media environment in the region.


The author contributed this article to Belt and Road Journalists Network .The views do not necessarily reflect those of Belt and Road Journalists Network.