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World Press Freedom Review
2003 World Press Freedom Review
By South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO)
In Moldova, newspapers that are not loyal to the authorities still face serious economic problems. Laws in force do not favour the free use of the advertising market and sources of finance. The electronic press benefits from the advertising market and the government has decided to take control over external sources of finance; especially those coming from the Fund created by the Romanian government in order to support cultural institutions in the Republic of Moldova. Those who dare to sponsor or place advertisements with the media institutions that are not affiliated to the authorities risk being indirectly intimidated through fiscal controls and other difficulties.
During February, the parliament adopted a Law on Combating Extremism. This law places full responsibility on the media for not disseminating extremist material ("Article 7") and bans the use of public telecommunication networks for conducting extremist work ("Article 8"). Article 9 states, "publishing or dissemination of ...materials of an extremist nature is prohibited." All this encourages more self-censorship among journalists. The Journalists’ Union of Moldova protested on the grounds that "extremist activity" is too vaguely defined, opening up the possibility of abuse by the authorities.
In March, following international pressure, parliament modified the law on the Public Broadcasting Service ("PBS") for the third time. The law was originally adopted in July 2002 and transformed the state company TeleRadio Moldova into a public institution. Deputies decided that the Council of Observers ("Supervisory Board"), the main managerial board of the PBS, will in future be formed without having to be approved by parliament. The PBS will also no longer be obliged to broadcast official press releases issued by state institutions. The opposition remains dissatisfied.
The newspaper Timpul was, in 2003, the first media organisation in the Republic of Moldova to sue the Ministry of Education for limiting access to information of public interest. Timpul sued in February 2003 because of the authority’s refusal to supply background information on the minister. In this suit the newspaper cooperated with the Media Law Unit of the Independent Journalism Center. Timpul lost the case.
The newspaper Jurnal de Chişinău demanded a criminal investigation of the Vice-President of Parliament Vadim Misin for "interference in the process of criminal prosecution". That case, however, was also not settled in favour of journalists or press institutions. The reason is not just the lack of independence of the judges but also the restrictive nature of the adopted laws.
The new Criminal and Civil Codes of the Republic of Moldova came into force on 12 June 2003. The majority of media organizations, among them SEEMO, and international experts expressed their deep concern. They believe the new Codes preserve restrictive provisions regarding freedom of the press and, in some cases, even make the threats more real. Non-governmental media organizations are worried about the fact that the limit on damages for libel and slander was removed from the new Civil Code.
As in 2002, the media situation in Moldova remained difficult in 2003. The hostility of the communist authorities towards independent media is the biggest obstacle affecting press freedom.
One signal that nothing was going to change in 2003 came on 6 December 2002 when the communist deputy, Iuri Stoicov, President of the Parliamentary Commission for State Security, threatened to ban PRO TV Chişinău, one of the main local private TV stations. He argued that PRO TV broadcasts too many violent movies.
The Moldavian newspaper Tara, which criticised the communists in power, was forced to stop publishing on 24 January 2003 due to financial difficulties and lack of paper. Tara, the publication of the Christian-Democratic Party, has been in print since 1990, appearing before independence under the title Desteptarea.
The Association of Electronic Media issued a resolution in February 2003 stating that pressure on the media had intensified since the beginning of the year. This pressure consisted of direct and indirect pressure on journalists.
In the first half of 2003 the country was involved in an election campaign for mayors and local councillors. The media were not sufficiently involved in this campaign. The election campaign coverage concept did not provide for public debates involving the electorate and electoral candidates. Every party received 20 minutes on radio and 10 minutes on TV, and every independent candidate got 5 minutes on TV and 19 minutes on radio. Nevertheless, the election campaign was both rough and degrading.
According to experts who monitored the behaviour of the electronic media in the election campaign, "the audiovisual media in the Republic of Moldova obviously failed to contribute to the democratic monitoring of the elections, and, consequently, considerably affected the democratic nature of voting". In their opinion, "the monitored electronic media proved to be incapable of treating electoral competitors in an equal, unbiased, and equidistant way, to present and analyse their platforms, to provide the electorate with sufficiently informative and explanatory material for them to think and make a choice."
The report issued by experts of the Independent Journalism Centre on the basis of the statistics distributed by the Sociological, Political and Psychological Analysis and Research Centre ascertains that there was a political resistance movement among the electronic media. "On the one hand, a consistent and insistent support was offered to the electoral competitors representing the Communist Party, the present central government, and on the other hand, support to non-Communist, parliamentary, and extra-parliamentary forces, mainly Serafim Urechean, a candidate for the post of the Mayor of Chişinău, and his party – the Social-Liberal Alliance Moldova Noastra was offered."
As a result, the audiovisual media in the election campaign became asymmetrically bipolar. There was also a polarisation of the print press. Despite the fact that the Free Journalists’ Association, the independent weekly Timpul, and the Department for Public Relations of Chişinău Council appealed to their colleagues to behave correctly the latter did not listen and did not follow their advice.
Polarization occurred here as well, but in a more subtle way. The state controlled press were trying to use dirty methods in order to promote Vasile Zgardan, the candidate for the position of the Mayor of Chişinău, together with the councillors from the ruling Communist Party. On the other hand the opposition press were trying to reveal these techniques and to unmask the tendentious and distorted methods used to misinforming the electorate.
The Director of TeleRadio Moldova, Ion Gonta, who is also the founder of the program Argument on Moldova-1 was denied membership status by the Journalists’ Union of Moldova, on the grounds of serious violation of professional ethics.
The municipal radio station Antena C had to suspend the popular night programme "Hyde Park," after a request from the Co-ordinating Council on Audiovisual Media. The programme was accused of promoting xenophobia. The Prosecutor issued charges against Ion Bunduchi, director, and Oleg Brega, reporter for Antena C, on 17 April. They were questioned about the content and format of the "Hyde Park" show. It was not the only example of press intimidation during an election campaign.
The situation in TeleRadio Moldova also remains of vital interest in 2003. The Parliamentary Assembly of The Council of Europe ("PACE") urgently examined on 24 April 2002 in how far the Republic of Moldova respects the commitments undertaken regarding the functioning of democratic institutions of the country. This was a result of anti-Communist demonstrations and petitions organized by the parliamentary opposition. Parliament adopted the Law, apparently following the recommendations of PACE Resolution No.1280, on 26 July 2002.
Cosmetic changes at TeleRadio Moldova mask a greater attempt at control exerted by the authorities on this media institution. This fact was mentioned in the PACE Resolution of 28 January 2003, as well as in numerous declarations of the Anti-censorship Committee for the Electronic Press (CAPE).
The Anti-censorship Committee lashed out at the company management for cancelling the 28 November edition of the "Buna Seara" (Good Evening) talk show. The closure was described as "brutal interference by the authorities in the activity of the public broadcaster". The show was taken off air only minutes after its live transmission started. The topic was to highlight different opinions on a political memorandum proposed by the Russian authorities.
On 10 February Radio Free Europe asked the chairman of the Broadcasting Coordinating Council ("BCC") to withdraw the decision suspending the activity of the radio station Vocea Basarabie that rebroadcast Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty until the end of 2002. This request was made only a few days before the BCC was due to reassign the frequency used by Vocea Basarabie in the past.
On 3 March, the Prosecutor General Vasile Rusu dismissed Iacob Guja, his official spokesperson. The reason given was that the latter "revealed some secret information to the press without asking his superiors". The matter concerned a letter from the Vice-President of the Parliament, Vadim Misin, in which he suggested to Prosecutors that they stop the criminal investigation of a policeman accused of violating the law.
On 10 May, during a prime-time weekly TV show, TV Moldova 1 broadcast footage filmed in a sauna using secret cameras. The footage featured two women journalists from the opposition Accente weekly. The show was hosted by Ion Gonta, President of the broadcasting station. Several different journalists’ associations protested.
On 13 May, the Municipal Office of Public Prosecutor in Chişinău ordered a search of the Flux Pres Group offices. The search started at 4 p.m. and lasted for several hours. During the search journalists were forbidden to use the phones and to contact lawyers. The reason given by officials for the search was that on 20 March Flux had published an article about the involvement of the honorary ex-Consul of Lebanon in Chişinău in delivering arms to an Islamic guerrilla group. E-mails, computer files and documents were copied from the publication’s electronic archives. The accounts department of the publisher was also searched for the working contracts of two journalists. Flux's weekly editor-in-chief Igor Burciu, his deputy Vitalie Calugareanu, general editorial secretary Angela Ivanesi and editor Liliana Popusoi were summoned to the Prosecutor’s Office to testify. On the next day, secret service agents questioned the journalists in their offices about the article and the name of the author who used a pseudonym. Many press freedom organisations protested this development.
Vague and unclear criteria form the basis for decisions on authorizing licenses for TV and radio programs. These decisions are taken by the Co-ordinating Council on Audiovisual Media. The Council has 9 members. Three of these representives are appointed by the Government, a further 3 represent the President and the final 3 represent Parliament.
One of the last decisions of this type stipulates that "the Coordinating Council on Audiovisual Media will issue broadcasting licenses for local TV stations only on condition that they are obliged to re-broadcast Moldova-1 TV programs."
On 22 December, the London-based Article 19 expressed concern over measures taken to transform TeleRadio Moldova into a public service broadcasting. In a letter written to President Vladimir Voronin, Article 19 said that it "is concerned that inadequate and non-transparent measures are being taken to transform TeleRadio Moldova into a true public service broadcaster. This remains the case despite the adoption, on 13 November 2003, of the Law on Amending and Supplementing Law No. 1320-XV of 26 July 2002 on the National Public Broadcasting Institution TeleRadio Moldova."
In May 2001, the leader of Transniestria (or Transdniestria, sometimes also known as the "Dniester Moldovan Republic") Igor Smirnov and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin signed an agreement providing free circulation of the media. However, in practice this does not work.
In Transniestria there is still a very strong pressure from the local authorities and the regimes media are directed to produce a negative picture of the regime in Chişinău. There are no independent radio and TV stations. State TV broadcasts only a limited number of hours of programming daily. There are some local private TV and radio stations, but with no influence.
There are 3 independent newspapers: Dobryi den, Novaya Gazeta (also on the market for a time under the name Samaya Novaya Gazeta). Since August 2003, Celovek i ego prava, a new opposition weekly featuring social and political developments has been publishing. It is intended to follow in the footsteps of the newspaper Glas naroda that was closed down by the local authorities in 2002. The Transniestrian Trade Union has its own newspaper: Profsoiznie viesti. Unions are important in the political life of Transniestria.
In total there are 23 newspapers, most of which are weekly, and most of which are controlled by local officials (such as Dnestrovskaya Pravda and Pridnestrovie). The only Moldovan language print media is Adevarul Nistrean, financed by the official authorities.
The leading language in all media is Russian, but the Article 3 of the Law on the Press and Other News Media give a guarantee that all minorities have free access to information in native languages.
In the autonomous region of Gagauzia (Gagauz Yeri or Gagauzland), with 5.4 per cent of the surface of the Republic of Moldova, official languages are Gagauz, Moldovan and Russan. There is strong pressure from the local authorities in the Gagauzia capital Comrat that often obstruct the editorial and journalist work. The state-owned radio station is Radio Gagauzia and it is possible to hear it in three towns. One private radio station on Russian language covers a big part of Gagauzia. There are four TV stations. According to diplomatic sources, leading print media are: Ana Sözü, Sabaa Yildizi, Gagauz Sesi, Halk Birli or Gagauz Halki. In total there are 8 newspapers, none of them dailies, and about 5 magazines. Important for political reasons is Vesti Gagauzii, founded by the parliament in Gagauzia. Some of newspapers sold in Gagauzia are coming from Turkey. There are also print media sponsored by the Turkish Cooperation Agency.