Naming Macedonia - it’s controversial.

The complainant, Bill Nicholov, President of Macedonia Human Rights Movement International, thought an article regarding the ongoing dispute about which country has a right to the name “Macedonia” was biased and anti-Macedonian. It provided background so that readers could understand the history to the negotiations and dispute and form their own judgment. There was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

As President of Macedonia Human Rights Movement International, you wrote to complain about a column regarding the ongoing dispute about the naming of Macedonia. The column was written by Don Murray and was entitled Naming Macedonia: It’ll be harder than it looks.” You thought the article was “highly offensive” and that the title itself showed anti-Macedonian bias. There is no question about the name, you said - we have one. You disputed that there is a controversy over the naming of your country, and that by accepting that there is, the CBC and the author of the article are acknowledging Greece’s perspective. You pointed out that your organization has called on the United Nations special envoy in these negotiations to resign and to declare an end to further discussion over the name of your country. You directed me to your organization’s news release on the matter:

The United States is forcing Macedonia to negotiate its name, so the fact that the negotiations take place does not justify changing an age-old ethnicity based on a current political crisis. We've also implored every Macedonian government, regardless of which party is in power, to stop negotiating, but they are either afraid to, or have been promised something and are desperate to remain in power. Typical corruption. Again, my ethnicity is not governed by a current politician. Neither is the ethnicity of my ancestors who have always been known as Macedonian, recognized as Macedonian, and long before Greece even tried to claim the name Macedonia after trying to eradicate its existence.

You added that Don Murray’s article forced you to defend your ethnicity and it is “shocking” that you had to do so.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lianne Elliott, the Executive Producer of CBC News Digital, replied to your concern. She explained that Mr. Murray’s column was a primer, written for those who might be unfamiliar with this long-running dispute and negotiation. She added that it was prompted by the fact that the newly elected leader had dispatched his foreign minister to Athens with the goal of seeking an “acceptable compromise” to the name.

She told you the story began with a rhetorical question - what’s in a name and what is the issue - then answered that it “revolves around Macedonia”, or rather “the country that would like to call itself Macedonia, but can’t because the country next door has a veto.” The opening summed up the situation, and the story went on to present Greece’s position on the matter provided background to the history of your homeland, a former republic of Yugoslavia. He also noted it is known officially at the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. She said Mr. Murray referred to it as the “country calling itself Macedonia,” which is accurate:

I understand that you and the Macedonia Human Rights Movement International want everyone to call Macedonia Macedonia and that all negotiations over the name should be “immediately denounced [as] nonsensical.” That is your view and you have every right to it. Others hold different views, including Macedonia’s Social Democratic government which says it’s committed to negotiating and, of course, the Greek government.

She told you that the facts were laid out, and the position of both sides was presented in the article. She did not agree it was inappropriate or biased.

REVIEW

Journalists have an obligation to report and talk about matters of public interest. There are economic and geopolitical ramifications to this long-standing dispute; it is in the public interest. You decry the fact Don Murray did so; that does not bind a news service to your view or prohibit it from talking or writing about it. This piece, as Ms. Elliott explained, was by way of providing background to a news event - the new Foreign Minister had flown to Athens to begin negotiations. The piece is labelled “Naming Macedonia: It'll be harder than it looks.” The sub-headline says “Greece has veto and says the country that calls itself Macedonia is usurping its name.” This is not taking sides; it is stating the reality of the situation. The rhetorical question “what’s in a name” is a device to get a reader’s interest. The body of the piece provided historical context to the dispute, as well as some of the political and economic interests at play. CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices states:

We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.

That is what Mr. Murray has done with this piece. There was nothing in the text that implied, implicitly or explicitly, that one side was right. It laid out the long and complicated history of the matter. This is what journalism is supposed to do - present information so that citizens can form their own judgements about an issue. I appreciate that you passionately hold the view that the international community should stand by your homeland, and that there is no need for these negotiations. Nevertheless, the reality is that the Prime Minister has stated he is willing to negotiate. That is what was reported, along with some history and context. Mr. Murray’s tone is at times ironic. I can also appreciate that this is a very critical issue for you, and you expect it to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Mr. Murray has actually provided useful background and information so Canadians can be more informed about the dispute. There was no violation of CBC policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman