[ 2012-05-08 comments | 1405 views ]
08.05.2012 / The state of the Moldovan press underwent certain changes for the better during the last two years, a fact noticed both in international press freedom indexes that ranked our country several positions up the scale compared to previous years and in local researches that evaluated the activity of national mass media. The changes can be explained by improvements in the legal and political fields, the Governmental coalition passing laws that increased the level of protection of press freedom and the rights of journalists, as well as some by some reforms in the legal framework.
Although mass media in Moldova currently enjoys a larger degree of freedom than several years ago, and on the national level cases of interference of authorities with the activity of the press have been few, on the local level it is still a frequent practice. In UTA Gagauz-Yeri, for instance, the directors of the public radio and TV stations signaled several interferences of TRG chairman with the editorial independence of the public radio and television, including unilateral change of the broadcast schedule, a competence assigned to the Council of Observers of TRG.
In the same time, both governmental and opposition parties have significant interests in mass media —either directly, in case of politicians owning media institutions, or indirectly, through political or economic views that influence the decisions taken by the Parliament. According to the press release issued by the Agency Monitor Media on 6 July 2011, “Vice PM Valeriu Lazar (PDM) is chairman of Pro Mingir NGO in his native village. This organization manages a local radio station with the same name Pro Mingir. [...] The liberal-democrat MP Nae-Simion Pleºca mentioned in his statement of interest that he is founder of two advertisement companies – SRL Dansopres and SRL MS-Publicitate, where he owns 100% of the shares. Valeriu Munteanu, liberal MP, owns 33% of the shares of SRL Faur Media, founded by his brother. The wife of the Minister of Justice Oleg Efrim (PLDM) and her sister are associate owners at SRL Privesc.eu (a company providing live broadcasting of the most important events in Chisinau), with 5% each. The head of the Parliamentary Commission for Media Chiril Lucinschi owns stakes worth 2.5 million lei in the American company EMH Inc. Lucinschi is also associate owner at IM Alkasar Media Services SRL (advertising), where he owns 50% shares worth 2700 lei.” We must also mention that not all politicians made public their statements of interest during the campaign "Interese la vedere" (“Assets on display") carried out by the Independent Press Association and the Anticorruption Alliance.
On 18 November 2011 a group of newspaper and magazine readers asked for the Moldovan Government and the Parliamentary Commission for Culture, Education, Research, Youth, Sports and Mass media to ensure a sustainable development of the national and local print press by eliminating abusive distribution conditions imposed by major press distribution companies, as well as exaggerated fares for such services, since these can hinder the economic development of the Moldovan print press and limit people's free access to information.
The public broadcasting
For more than five years, debates have been carried on every level, in every national and international institution, concerning the reform of the national broadcasting institution. The legal framework regulating the activity of Teleradio Moldova (TRM) was adopted in 2006 as part of the Broadcasting Code. Since then, the aim of transforming the company in a true public service institution was at the top of the list of media NGOs, democratic/European parties, and international institutions and, for two years, has been part of the action plan of the governing alliance (AIE). With the change of Teleradio Moldova’s management board and of the Council of Observers in 2010, reform of the public national broadcaster became priority number one on TRM’s new management roadmap. Thus, at least officially, all policy makers agree to a reform of the public broadcaster. However, in practice the process is being unnecessarily delayed. Or, one can easily observe the performance of all those involved directly or tangentially in the reformation of TRM and evaluate the real interest of each of them in promoting changes. Some signs appeared that deep reformation of the company, in terms of organization structure, is postponed. The failure to respect the terms and deadlines indicated in the Restructuring Strategy and Plan could suggest there are certain obstacles. On 8 May 2012 a new director of the Public Television Station should be elected after the vacancy was announced in March 2012.
The case of NIT
On 5 April 2012 the Broadcasting Coordinating Council (Consiliul Coordonator al Audiovizualului, CCA) decided to withdraw the broadcasting license of NIT TV station. The withdrawal decision was adopted by a majority as a consequence of repeated violations of multiple legal provisions, including failure to respect the principle of opinion diversity in newscasts.
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland expressed his concern about the withdrawal of NIT television license. The European official stressed that diversity of opinion and press freedom are important parts of every functional democratic society. The United Nations in Moldova also expressed their concern in this respect and urged the Moldovan authorities to restore without delay the license of NIT. The EU delegation to Moldova issued a statement on the closure of NIT station. According to the statement, the Broadcasting Council should apply the same norms and laws to all Moldovan media institutions. Non-governmental organizations also expressed their regrets over the harsh sanction of NIT by the Broadcasting Council, but did not consider it illegal and asked for sanctions to be applied to all TV stations that fail to respect the principle of diversity of opinion.
Limited access for journalists to public interest events
Although the security of media professionals is ensured well enough, international organizations reported attacks on the press. During this period, several cases of violation have been recorded, but these are fewer than in previous years and are less serious. Most of these concerned limited access for journalists to public interest events.
On 1 May 2012 the National Confederation of Trade Unions allowed journalists’ access to the meeting dedicated to the International Workers’ Day only upon accreditation. Accreditations were issued at the entrance. The condition was interpreted by some institutions as limited access to public events.
On 8 April 2012 the headquarters of the local station Elita TV, broadcasting in five towns in Central Moldova, was vandalized. The broadcasting equipment was destroyed and other equipment was stolen. The management of the local TV station stated that the act of vandalism is linked to their refusal of a proposal that came from politicians who wanted to purchase the television. Moreover, the station encountered obstacles in broadcasting several stories and was threatened that if they aired the names of certain persons concerned in a court case, they will have to suffer the consequences.
On 23 March 2012 the inauguration of Nicolae Timofti as President of the Republic of Moldova took place. Journalists were fenced in a corner of the inauguration room at the Republican Palace and were not allowed to enter the hallway. According to media, the Protocol of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Security and Guard Service, ensuring the security of the President and of those participating at the event, were responsible for the situation.
On 7 December 2011 a crew of Publika TV was attacked in the town of Calarasi while reporting on a religious scandal. The lawyer of the Moldovan Orthodox Church attacked the crew in the presence of several policemen, who failed to interfere. The aggressor was discontent with the fact that the crew recorded him and the reporter asked too many questions.
On 19 September 2011 Alexandru Zaharov, operator of the Rezina-based Elita TV was attacked in the presence of policemen and other witnesses by a driver involved in a car accident. As a result, the camera was damaged and the TV station sustained losses amounting to 55 thousand lei. The crew was reporting on an accident in Rezina.
On 29 July 2011 journalist Oleg Brega was attacked on the grounds of the Slavonic University of Moldova by a management personnel and a guardian of the institution, after which he was seized for about 30 minutes. During this period four men, two of them being employees of the university, checked the identity of the journalist. After 30 minutes a police team arrived upon receiving a call from the journalist. The case ensued in criminal proceedings for perpetrators.
Enforcement of the regulation concerning freedom of speech
There are numerous cases of media being brought to court. Information on cases involving journalists or media institutions is barely accessible and hard to identify. Firstly, there are no statistics in courts as to the type of plaintiffs or defendants, only statistics concerning the nature of the dispute. Secondly, the digitisation of archives is advancing slowly and is not fully implemented throughout the country. Another fact limiting access to such information is that not all courts are willing to answer requests for information, either due to a lack of competent personnel or because they do not think it appropriate to respond to such requests. Besides that, although information on defamation cases is centralized, it is difficult to gain access to it in time from the institution responsible for centralization.
On 9 October 2010 the Law on freedom of speech no 64 as of 23/04/2010 was enacted and was published in the Official Journal no 117-118/335 as of 09/07/2010. However, a great number of judges fail to apply the law in defamation cases involving the press and/or journalists. The causes are unclear: it can be either ignorance of the new provisions or unwillingness to apply the Law. A relevant example that gained public attention was the case of the newspaper Ziarul de Garda tried by the Central Court, where two prosecutors from Glodeni sued the publication and asked for moral damages amounting to nearly one million lei. Particularly, the plaintiffs alleged that the article in question, titled "Bribe for prosecutors" (“Mita pentru procurori”) was damaging their honor and dignity by mentioning their names, although the author of the article referred only to the way the investigation was carried out in a criminal case against them. On 1 August 2011, the Central Court sanctioned the newspaper for failure to respect the confidentiality of criminal investigations, a duty that cannot be even attributed to the newspaper, and ruled that the publication had to pay 500 thousand lei moral damages to the prosecutors. The case is currently pending at the Supreme Court of Justice.
Press freedom in Moldova according to international reports
Even though everywhere in the world press freedom is regressing, according to international reports, the Moldovan press changed its statute from being "not free" to being "partly free" and recorded an advance of 25 positions in the press freedom index published by Freedom House in 2011. Thus, with 55 points (10 points less compared to 2010), Moldovan media ranked higher than the Ukrainian, Russian and other media from CIS countries. Last time Moldova had a similar ranking in 2002. According to another report, precisely the World Press Freedom Index published yearly by Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontiers, RsF), in 2011 the Moldovan press ranked 53rd (that is 22 positions higher than in 2010) with 16 points, leaving behind countries such as Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece and Italy.
In order to ensure true press freedom, according to the principles of an open, democratic society that goes in line with international standards, Moldovan authorities have to:
Independent Journalism Center
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