Currently, the issue took the center stage again due to the approaching local elections. Also, the term allotted to Republic of Moldova to fulfil all the requirements set for taking over the Ministerial Council Presidency is expiring.
At the end of its summer session the Parliament passed the Law on National Public Audiovisual Institution “Teleradio-Moldova” Company. The majority faction was the only one to vote for the law, while opposition withdrew the draft law it developed. Once the law is enforced, the governing bodies are to be established, including Observer’s Council that is responsible for coordinating the activity of state mass media.
Under the reorganization plan developed by the ruling party, a part of the Company employees were notified on being fired in compliance with the newly adopted law. Also a new management concept, including political events coverage, was made public. Changes followed immediately: Messager (Messenger) news program was replaced by Evening News, Parliament Hour, Government Hour, Presidency Hour programs were shut down and temporarily replaced by Elected officials. The latter was cancelled as well, which generated a huge public scandal. Prior to the changes, opposition was able to appear twice or three times a year on TV, after the said programs had been cancelled, neither opposition, nor ruling party has appeared in live broadcasts on TV. However, Evening News regularly report on the activity of government officials, their study and on site visits, press conferences, meetings with foreign delegations, etc. As for the opposition, it has to negotiate with the ruling party its access to mass media by threatening to boycott Parliament sessions unless access to TV is granted.
It was reported that the Company negotiated a credit worth millions of Lei for updating the equipment. However, the information on the pledges left for the credit wasn’t made public, as was the fact that the credits are to be repaid from the state budget, which is the main source of funding for the Company. For example in 2002 by amending the Law on the State Budget, the Parliament cancelled a 17 million Lei “Teleradio-Moldova” debt to “Radiocomunicatii” State Company, incurred between 1997–2001. Needless to say, in 2003 the Company budget was significantly increased from 33 to 47 million Lei, out of which 6 million are to be covered from extra budget funds. And this despite frequently reiterated promises that “Teleradio-Moldova” public institution would be funded as little as possible from the state budget so as to avoid interference in the program design and content.
Notified by opposition, Council of Europe continues to insist that Chisinau authorities adjust the law to the democratic norms and pluralism. Recently, this was set as one of the requirements for the Republic of Moldova to take over the Ministerial Council Presidency.
Probably this fact determined President Voronin to convene representatives of all public institutions responsible for enforcing PACE resolution and oblige them to comply with all the CE requirements within 15 days.
The Parliament promptly reacted and immediately examined the three draft laws on “Teleradio-Moldova” Company.
All the three drafts referred to the establishment of Observers’ Council. As the great battle would be fought particularly for this Council. The fact is that the Council is entitled to: designate the General Director; confirm the Administration Council; approve the Company Charter; oversee compliance with the legal framework; decide on other internal matters; notify the General Director on the violations found in the company activity and oblige him/her to eliminate the inconsistencies; decide on design and content of the TV programs, etc. Control over the Observer’s Council automatically means the control over the entire Company, i.e. the only TV company with a nation-wide coverage, which is a huge advantage during elections.
Recently MPs employed the same tactics they did in the summer 2002, when they examined in the first reading 3 draft laws, but adopted only two of them. Back then they submitted for the second reading a draft compiling the great majority of opposition recommendations, except for the election of Company leadership, formation of the Administration Council and Observers’ Council.
However this time, the Parliament decided to adopt in the first reading the draft developed by the Social Democratic Alliance as a basis for the second reading, whereas the remaining two drafts to be left as an “alternative”. Parliament Regulation allows any provisions were substituted in the basic draft, which could be taken either from the alternative drafts or amendments proposed by MPs, on condition that those changes are accepted by the draft authors.
Communist intentions were quite clear. They voted Social-Democratic Alliance draft only after long and tiresome interrogations of its authors. They wanted to make sure that the authors accept other procedures of establishing the Observer’s Council (for instance the French model, when 1/3 of its members are designated by the Parliament) and that they would not withdraw the draft if during the second reading other procedures than the one designed by them is voted.
Right from the beginning it was clear that the majority faction would not accept all the opposition recommendations, especially as some of them were loose (allowing maneuvers especially with regard to designation of Observers’ Council members by civil society).
Opposition factions and the ruling party tried to negotiate for the second reading a compromise draft that would suit the authors and meet Council of Europe recommendations. During the plenary session representatives of the Communist faction stated they agreed authorities to designate 1/3 of the Observers’ Council members, whereas non-governmental organizations the other 2/3, on condition the latter enjoy large public support.
Afterall representatives of the Social-Democratic Alliance withdrew their draft, protesting that not all their proposals were accepted. The ruling party acted exactly like it did last summer and voted an alternative draft. In line with the recommendations of the Chair of Parliament Commission on Mass Media, the Observers’ Council would include:
Overall the Council would include 5 representatives of the authorities, thus 1/3 quota has been observed.
Also, majority faction agreed to the fact that the President of Company shall not be confirmed by the Parliament, he/she will be appointed by the Observers’ Council. Needless to say, in the end the Parliament yielded to PACE and opposition and gave up its right to appoint the Company President, prerogative which the previous legislatures used to hold on to. Both the Agrarian Parliament as well as the one in which the Alliance for Democracy and Reforms hold the majority refused to cede the right to appoint the Company President and even amended the law so as to be able to oust him/her.
Now the battle for “Teleradio-Moldova” would be fought on the civil society field. There are clear signs that the battle has already started and it’s easy to foresee that the organizations (trade unions, artists’ unions, veteran’s and cultural associations) kept alive by the ruling party will be the ones to win.