Poor execution: Media freedom in Moldova


The banner of media freedom dangles listlessly, the wind gone from its sails, from the flagpole in the Republic of Moldova. In this former Soviet state nestled between Romania and the Ukraine, there has been a spate of recent cases of media intimidation. And sadly enough, it seems the trend will continue.

The Christian Democrat People’s Party, which has 7 seats in the Moldovan Parliament, on October 23 accused a private television station, Pro TV Chisinau, of “discrediting the institutions of the state and undermining the national interests of Moldova”.
Stefan Secareanu, the accusing member of parliament, who chairs the parliamentary committee for human rights, asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate the relationship between the owners of Pro TV Chisinau and certain politicians

In the meantime, the station has already been the subject of public inquiry in the plenary session of the Parliament on 20 October. In this case, Vladimir Braga, a non-affiliated MP, is demanding the Broadcasting Coordination Council analyse the content of one of Pro TV Chisinau’s shows. The show is said to have prompted an illegal start to the electoral campaign. 

As Moldovan media organizations have pointed out, the show is an analytical program in nature.

Both accusations of Pro TV Chisinau are not sustained by any concrete reference to legislation the channel allegedly breached, thus making the claims appear quite political.

Pro TV Chisinau has been on the Moldovan media market for nine years and, according to continuous media monitoring reports, is considered to be an equidistant and professional media outlet. The recent outbursts of the imagepoliticians have been perceived as attempts to question the prolongation of the TV channel’s license, which expires in December this year.           

Political harassment is also impacting print reporters. Journalists from the weekly investigative newspaper Ziarul de Garda have suffered this September from continuous harassment by phone and e-mail since the publication of an article about Moldovan students’ misgivings about the Ministry of Education turning over their personal data to the Security and Information Service.

In one more attempt to bring media “into compliance”, at the end of February the prosecutors’ office opened a criminal law case against Constantin Tanase, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Timpul, for, the prosecutor said, instigation to interethnic discourse

The accounts ofimage daily Jurnal de Chisinau were frozen at the end of April after a court ruled them guilty in a libel suit. A Romanian News correspondent had to submit accreditation requests to authorities for six months before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs granted her request only by mid September this year. The Security and Information Service requested in April from www.unimedia.md the IP addresses of users who discussed the ruling political party on the website’s forum. Sadly, examples go on … 

Sure, all of these examples could be cast as nothing more than attempts to bring order, justice and regulation the rules of the game. That is, if the aforementioned media institutions would not all fall under the category of “opposition press”, as classified by the governmental officials themselves.

In 2007, according to a Freedom House country report, Moldova’s press freedom was catalogued as not free. The Republic of Moldova, with its rather small and undeveloped media landscape, remains a quite unknown reality around the European Union. The print media as well as broadcasting are limited by the small market and the lack of resources. The state is omnipresent, despite the fact that media have been officially privatised. Things run on commercial basis. And, foreign media experts recognise Moldova has, to some extent, fairly good media legislation.

When it comes to implementation, though, setbacks begin. 

A strong desire to control the media can probably to some degree be blamed on a Soviet legacy. During the Soviet era, news outlets said and did what the party told them to do. Are the things distinct today? Yes. But is the situation reflective of 17 years of independence? Perhaps not. 

Why not? A weak economy, a class of bureaucrats lacking political culture and democratic experience, a passive civil society, media outlets formally classified in two groups: opposition and pro-government, powerless media unions, a peculiar brand of “too little too late” solidarity amongst journalists. It all adds up to the undesirable outcome of suppressed and politicised media outlets.

Politicians – in this region and around the world – seem predisposed to pressuring the press into becoming allies of their power plays. Their bids for control appear more stringent if you turn your attention to the countries of the former Soviet Union. The press in the former Soviet republics has been emerging slowly, with difficultly – not unlike the states themselves.

But are “new democracies” allowed to use their Soviet past as excuse for the attempt to shape an obedient press? Economical and political pressures, as well as physical force toward journalists, are sad, but factual realities in many ex-USSR countries. Cases of media harassment as elections approach are on the rise in these states.     

The press here is so often seen as a threat to those in power. The role of journalists has been overwhelmingly discussed. Different connotations are attributed to the mission of journalists. But, be they “bad” or “good”, as one tends to label the press, the issue at stake is how the power of the powerful is so often turned against journalists simple desire is for journalists not to say what they know.

“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together”, wrote Joseph Pulitzer more than 100 years ago. Today, the relevance of the Hungarian immigrant’s quote is global.