Zaklina Hadzi-Zafirova became a journalist for a straightforward, but no less profound, reason.
“I believe that through journalism people can publish the truth and they can influence, change, and improve society,” she says.
The tireless Hadzi-Zafirova has more than 15 years of experience in Macedonian media. Under her leadership, SCOOP Macedonia has fostered hundreds of probes, which have been widely republished in domestic media.
One of her recent investigations focused on the possible connection between pollution in Macedonia and an uptick in the cancer rate, even as the state has turned a blind eye to the country's biggest polluters. Another scrutinized the government’s unfulfilled promises to build several school gyms, and likely prompted Macedonian authorities to start building one of the facilities in a disadvantaged neighborhood of the capital, Skopje.
Recently, Hadzi-Zafirova managed a series of short television documentaries. One exposed the scandalous living conditions for university students and prompted changes that were later announced by the prime minister.
Hadzi-Zafirova says that independent reporting is scarce in Macedonia, a Balkan country of two million, where most media are labeled either “patriots” or “traitors” depending on whether they are sympathetic to the government.
“In this atmosphere, it's hard to present the reality as it is,” she says.
Macedonia has become a “country of fear,” Hadzi-Zafirova says, where people avoid expressing their concerns about the current political situation lest they lose their jobs or face other retaliation. In 2015 Skopje was rocked by a major political scandal after it was revealed that the phones of more than 20,000 people, including journalists, politicians, and business people, had been tapped. The opposition accuses the former prime minister and his close allies of carrying out the illegal operation.
Media freedom in Macedonia has been deteriorating for years. According to Reporters Without Borders' 2016 World Press Freedom Index, the country ranks 118th of 180, a precipitous slide from 34th in 2009. Journalists in Macedonia face political and financial pressure, and some have even suffered violence that press advocates link to their work.
Heavy fines or even prison terms are also used to intimidate journalists into silence, the report states. Hadzi-Zafirova cites the notorious case of reporter Tomislav Kezarovski, sentenced to four and a half years in prison for revealing the identity of a protected witness who later recanted his statement.
Hadzi-Zafirova and organizations like SCOOP Macedonia are working for change by supporting and training independent reporters and investigating under-reported topics.
“Citizens should be aware of their basic human rights and they should be actively involved in the decision-making process in society,” she says.
To read about Hadzi-Zafirova's reporting proposal, please click here.
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