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Mass-media in Moldova

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Igor Botan / June 13, 2004
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Public vs. state-run media

There is a clear distinction in the Republic of Moldova, at least in the legal framework, between public versus state-run media. Things are quite different in audio-visual and printed media. And this because audiovisual plays a far more important role in informing public opinion than the written press, which has placed it in the center of domestic public opinion’s and international organizations’ attention.. Therefore, in 1994 Council of Europe recommended the New Independent States to turn radio and television into public broadcasters. Moldovan governors at that time complied with the said recommendations at least in formality. Parliament passed the Law on Audiovisual (no. 603-XIII of 03.10.95) Article 7(1) providing that “Teleradio-Moldova State Company is a public audiovisual institution which may not be privatized”.

Article 1 of the Law on Audiovisual defines the notion of “public audio-visual as institution established on state capital or with the state as the major shareholder and other public or private capital, that is independent in its editorial activity and is covering the interests of all social strata” and “private audio-visual institution as institution established solely on private capital or majority private capital, covering the interests of one person or a group of persons”. Therefore, one may conclude that in Moldova state-run broadcaster may not exist in principle.

Still, nothing changed with the adoption of the new Law no. 1320-XV on Teleradio-Moldova National Public Institution of Audiovisual on 26.07.2002. Although supposedly both state radio and TV should have become “public broadcasters” back in 1995, in reality, though, with some minor exceptions they served parties in power.

As for the printed media, things are totally different here. International organizations have not wielded heavy pressure on Moldovan governors to turn state-ran newspapers into public ones. This does not mean that the issue is off the agenda. As a rule, parties or personalities in power advocate for the state-run media. They are supported by journalists working in those media outlets. On the other hand, opposition parties plead for shutting down the press services of the public institutions, on the grounds they serve as propaganda instruments in the hands of ruling party and feed on public money.

In this respect it is worth considering the evolution of “Moldova Suverana” (Sovereign Moldova) or “Nezavisimaia Moldova” (Independent Moldova) newspapers founded by Government. Half a year prior to the declaration of independence of the Republic of Moldova, the Law on Publishing and Enforcement of the Laws of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova was passed (no.497 of 15.02.1991) providing that the laws passed by the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) are enforced once published in the “Sfatul Tarii” and “Moldova Suverana” newspapers in Moldovan and Russian. On 2.09.91 Parliament Presidium decided (Resolution no. 699-XII) to found “Nezavisimaia Moldova” published in Russian. Via Resolution no. 739-XII of 09.10.91 on the temporary status of publications, Parliament decided the Editor-in-chief to be appointed by the Parliament, the cost of the publication to be covered from the state budget, while the publication was to: objectively cover on political, economic, social life, events in the country and abroad, Parliament, Presidency and Government activity.

Later on, under Government Resolution no.18 of 17.01.1992 decisions of the Government were to be published in Romanian and Russian in the “Parliament Monitor”, “Moldova Suverana” and “Nezavisimaia Moldova”. At that time there were enough reasons for keeping state-run newspapers, given that “Supreme Soviet Monitor” was published only once a month, while some legal acts required immediate enforcement.

Further evolution of the state-run media is not less interesting. On 01.04.1994 the Resolution no.31-XIII excluded “Sfatul Tarii” and “Nezavisimaia Moldova” newspapers from the Parliament subordination, while Government was entrusted to outline principle of their activity. Therefore, Government passed two resolutions (no. 305 of 17.05.1994 and no.372 of 1.06.1994) establishing Government press bodies “Moldova Suverana” and “Nezavismaia Moldova” respectively. The regulations were in force until the adoption of the Law on Press (no.234-XIII of 26.10.94), according to which Government passed another two resolutions (no.365 of 5.06.95 and no.390 of 9.06.95) adopting the new Regulations of “Moldova Suverana” and “Nezavisimaia Moldova”, which are still in force. Those new Regulations did not oblige the two state newspapers to publish normative acts, as at that time “Monitorul Oficial” took over this function. Therefore the very “reson d’etre” of the state-media has vanished. Nevertheless it is still very much alive.

It is worth shedding some light on the 1994 resolution transferring the two newspapers from Parliament into Government subordination. The only explanation to this is the Agrarian Democratic Party landslide victory in the parliamentary elections of February 28, 1994. Moreover, Prime-Minister and Parliament Speaker ran on the Agrarian party list, which was also backed up by the President. They probably figured out that the aforesaid newspapers would serve their interests anyway. Back then they could not even imagine that in a year or two, the three of them would become political foes and would fiercely compete against each other in the 1996 presidential race.

The editorial independence granted by the Law on Press prohibiting any “interference in editorial activity” and guaranteeing “accurate information” amidst “political pluralism”, etc wiped off any difference between state-run and public media, except for appointing their leadership. Both state-run and private media have to follow the same principles of accurate, objective and unbiased information of citizens, thereby halting any attempt to turn them into propaganda tools in the hands of authorities, which hand them public money. Sadly enough, this has not been the case of “public” audio-visual, nor of state-run printed media, which is quite obvious during election campaigns.

State media in elections

Heavy bias in electoral campaign has brought to light various aspects of state-run media. The most convincing evidences to this effect are the official documents. Since the first multi-party elections in 1994 there have been numerous references to the violations of the regulations on election coverage in favor of the ruling party both in OSCE reports and CEC documents. This holds true both for written press and Teleradio-Moldova.

Yet another evidence is that whenever a conflict arouse between state moguls, as was the case throughout 1995–2000, some of the state-run media was taking sides.

  1. 1996 presidential election campaign. November Presidential elections were quite illustrative in this sense. Back then state TV and “Nezavisimaia Moldova” was biased in favor of Parliament Chair Petru Lucinschi, who ultimately won the elections; whereas “Moldova Suverana” was biased in favor of Prime-Minister Andrei Sangheli; fact confirmed in the OSCE report. Let us consider some of the details that may shed some light. In 1996 CEC invited editors of state-run media and Director of the National TV to one of its session to draw their attention to violations of the regulations on election coverage and their heavy bias. The funny thing is that “Moldova Suverana” Editor-in-chief was quite annoyed by the fact that party media outlets were allowed to be biased in favor of their candidates, whereas state-run media was denied the right to do so for its candidate, i.e. Prime-Minister. He pretended not to realize that Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli was running as Agrarian party candidate and not as Government candidate.

    Not less curious was the case of “Nezavisimaia Moldova”. Back then a group of experts from Dusseldorf Media Institute visited Moldova on a monitoring mission and produced a report on the heavy bias of the state-run media, including “Nezavisimaia Moldova” favoring Parliament Chair Petru Lucinschi. In his editorial, Editor-in-chief of the latter refuted all the allegations of bias and blamed international experts of lack of professionalism. However in a couple of days his cynicism triumphed, when in another editorial on December 2, 1996 he was congratulating supporters of the winner and himself personally for contributing to Petru Lucinschi’s victory in elections. He cited letters from supporters claiming that the newspaper campaigning accounted for 95% of the victory. Humbly the editor estimated his contribution at a mere 4–5%, precisely what made the difference between the winner and the looser.

    Yet another curiosity of the 1996 campaign was the Director of National Radio who was congratulated by all the electoral contestants for the dignity and impartiality showed by his institution, for which he paid dearly by his position. He was probably punished by the winners for not following the example of “Nezavisimaia Moldova”.

  2. 1998 parliamentary election campaign. After 1996 elections state-run newspapers were propagandizing in favor of Petru Lucinschi who became a President in 1996. As a result both Teleradio-Moldova and state newspapers were mentioned in OSCE report as being biased and favoring “For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc”, openly supported by President Lucinschi during 1998 parliamentary campaign.

  3. 1999 local election campaign. OSCE did not monitor 1999 local elections, however the Congress of Local and Regional Powers of the Council of Europe did. In 1999 “Teleradio-Moldova” was extremely biased favoring Chisinau Mayor, who at that time was supported by President Lucinschi, as well as by Alliance for Democracy and Reforms holding a majority in Parliament. Throughout the campaign Serafim Ureachean was featured in the news practically every night, inaugurating a petrol station or a portion of a road, doing charity, or scolding his employees for their poor performance.

  4. 2001 parliamentary election campaign. Curiously, it was for the first time that OSCE report on election monitoring had no objections to state-run TV and Radio, however it did point that written press was biased in favor of “Braghis Alliance”, headed by the Prime-Minister at that time. Most importantly, Party of Communists won elections at the time TV and Radio were raising no concerns. Normally, Party of Communists would have wanted to keep or even improve that state of affairs.

  5. 2003 local election campaign. On the contrary, once acceding to power Communists took control over audiovisual and printed media, which has drawn the attention of European institutions. The issue was on the PACE agenda that considered in particular the evolution of the public broadcasting in the country. Referring to Moldova, PACE raporteur stated that amendment of the Law on Public Television twice throughout 2003 brought no changes for the better. An evidence to that was the strike committee set at the television, people being unsatisfied with the selection of Observers’ Council and company leadership, censorship, investigations against journalists who took part in protest rallies, etc.

    Of more relevance is the 2003 OSCE election observation report reading “presentation of distorted data by state-run media, which was heavily biased” throughout the electoral campaign. Moreover, there was a note to the report entitled “Negative trend observed during Moldova’s local elections must be reversed”, signed by the ODIHR Deputy Director Steven Wagenseil. The OSCE report specifically cited the so-called analytical programs “Argumente” and “Rezonans”. Each of the two 45 minutes programs was broadcast weekly throughout the two months of the campaign and was heavily biased in favor of the ruling party and denigrated its political foe, Mayor Urechean received 81% of negative coverage.

    According to Article 37(2) of the Law on Audiovisual and electoral law, CEC together with Audiovisual Coordinating Council (ACC) developed the Concept and Regulation on election coverage (CEC resolution no. 2103, respectively no. 2104 of 4.04.2003). Regulation and electoral law provided that public broadcasters should cover elections by observing the principles of objectivity, impartiality and equal chances to electoral contestants. Article 10 of the Regulation specifically stipulated that “Election related programs, regardless of the time of broadcast, shall be differentiated by a signal to separate them from other shows”. One of curiosities of the campaign was the CEC resolution no. 2131 of 18.04.2003 a follow-up to an appeal submitted by an electoral contestant regarding the abuses of the state TV, citing an explanatory note by the ACC reading “the author of «Rezonans» show made a presentation of the electoral bloc by using a metaphor. «Rezonans» program is produced by the «Mir» office in the Republic of Moldova and is broadcast by TVM 1 on a contractual basis”. First of all, ACC did found that the relevant program was election related, and therefore it should have been broadcast under the “Election” heading in line with Article 7 of the ACC’s own Regulation. However, ACC failed to notice that in fact all the “Rezonans” and “Argumente” programs were election related and biased in favor of the ruling party by denigrating its political foes. It was ACC duty to react when it came across the violations of its Regulation and Law on Teleradio-Moldova Company, specifically Article 2 (providing for accurate, comprehensive and impartial coverage of elections by observing the interests of all the parties).

    ACC acted as if the provisions of letter g) of Article 4 of the Law on “Teleradio-Moldova” Company (providing company’s right to negotiate and sign contracts with other domestic or foreign TV and Radio stations) were an exception from the general rule of impartiality in producing programs. If so, then it is perfect loophole for promoting certain interests. Lets’ say that in order to brainwash public opinion those who are in control of Teleradio-Moldova go and sign a contract with any studio that would produce dozens of programs without bothering to be impartial and unbiased as provided by the law. In fact, “Argumente” did the same, albeit it was the product of Teleradio-Moldova. As a result, in the last elections, Communists enjoyed at least 15 hours additional free air-time for propaganda and denigration of its foes. ACC failed also to notice that the leader of the Association for the Consumer Rights’ Protection, who was not a candidate, was allowed by the public broadcaster to invite the counter candidate of the Communist representative to the debates. Thus, on the eve of elections a 1.5 hours show denigrating an electoral contestant was broadcast twice and this without “Election” bearing. Even if much of what he did say was true, the way those facts were presented was a pure manipulation. It would have been normal for the debates to be held between the candidates. Thus, in 2003 Serafim Urechean had a chance to see the other side of the medal, different from the abusive support he enjoyed in 1999 elections.

    Of special interest is the ACC’s adherence to principles once electoral campaign was over, when it suspended the license of municipal TV and Radio, which according to OSCE report also violated electoral laws during 2003 elections, on the grounds of irregularities found in their statutes. Municipal stations’ abuses — bias in favor of incumbent Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean — had paltry against the aforesaid ones, given the fewer air time and smaller coverage. One may perfectly understand that what they did was a mere response to Teleradio-Moldova’s abuse, still it is not an excuse for what they did.

    Still, according to OSCE and Council of Europe the disorders found in the two municipal stations’ documents after elections, were not enough grounds for suspending their licenses for two months. What is striking is that in this case ACC did follow on the violations found, in contrast to electoral campaign when it did not follow on the violations by Teleradio-Moldova pointed by OSCE, which it had chosen to neglect. Clearly, selective adherence to principles in fact stands for the lack thereof. Otherwise, ACC should have become the main promoter of the document produced by OSCE and Council of Europe “Benchmarks for the operation of public broadcasters in Moldova”, inspired from the experience of similar institutions in Europe and America. But this did not happen yet.

  6. expectations for 2005 parliamentary election campaign. All the aforesaid reveals the morale wavers of the state-run media. It also shows that it didn’t evolve much throughout the years and paints a less robust picture for 2005 elections.

    Moreover, the breaking news of the day is that on June 4 at the meeting with local public administration (rayon) leadership and rayon media the President entrusted the rayon chiefs to tutor the newspapers founded by local government, to help them procure modern equipment, to decrease the rent, etc. President was aware that the move might be a “violation of the free competition”. Apparently, the goal now is to also recruit and arm local media for it to serve the interests of the ruling party.

Aftermath of state media

If a foreigner was to regularly read Moldovan state-run media, than he would probably conclude that Moldovan governors are unfailing. They enjoy extremely positive media coverage, they are portrayed as brave, ingenious, and as fighters for the public good. No deviation from this scenario is to be found in state media, no criticism or debates on the governors’ initiatives, like what happened to the Social Pact, Permanent Round Table, Presidential Decree on settling Transdnistrian conflict, etc — things mentioned by the President in his initiative to establish a Stability and Security Pact for the Republic of Moldova under international guarantees.

If the media coverage is so celebratory, one might rightly wonder: why than Republic of Moldova is the poorest country in Europe? The answer may be found in the same state media — it is the fault of the ruling party’s foes. The latter are featured as malevolent and extremist who thwart all the good initiatives of the ruling party. Predecessors of the incumbent party enjoy similar media coverage, although at the times they were in power, state media was hailing and not denigrating them. The reasonable conclusion is that state-media has been lying then or it is lying now. This way or another, it is in its blood to tell untruth and there are no guarantees that it would stop doing it in the future.

In fact governors are to be blamed for the split and polarization of the society. Governors give the orders to personalize politics, i.e. all the good things come from the unfailing leaders who know exactly what is good and what is wrong and who give precious orders on what is to be done. It is a wide-spread phenomena not only in Moldova. It was described in the article “Amputated Democracy” of the famous researcher and Dean of the London School of Economics, Ralf Dahrendorf, republished in “Der Standart” (“Die amputierte Demokratie”) (27.10.2002). The aftermath of such a behavior showed by the governors is that non-governmental media is forced to become an opposition one.

For example, if a foreigner was to read Moldovan independent press he would probably conclude that the only thing Moldovan authorities do is make mistakes and abuses, which of course is an exaggeration. When asked what authorities did well, journalists of independent media outlets usually answer that state-run media overly exaggerates the merits of the governors, consequently the only thing left is to exaggerate their shortcomings so as to strike a balance. This is yet another example as to how state-run media triggers counteractions and pushes independent media into opposition, which in the end is accused of bias and favoring opposition parties. And this is the main reason why Moldovan society is split.

One holds no illusions that once state media is turned into a public broadcaster or the legal framework is improved, state media would have no room for manipulating public opinion. Still, we may only hope that one day we would reach the condition another famous researcher Umberto Eco is complaining in his article “Duke’s Eye” “El Pais” (26.01.2004) outlining the mechanisms of manipulating public opinion by means of mass media. Eco concludes that if a dictatorship is possible at all nowadays, then it has to be an informational dictatorship. To at least try to prevent this phenomena the most educated citizens have inevitably to be in opposition to the governors, i.e. trying to get society immune to any kind of manipulation. The example cited is the Italian Prime-Minister’s media holding, which apparently complies with the requirements on partial coverage, presenting both “for” and “against” arguments, however the position of the boss is always presented in the end and in such a manner that information recipient ends with opinions favorable to the media mogul. We could only dream to reach such subtleness in Moldova. Here public opinion is shamelessly manipulated in the open.

So far, a solution to creating the minimal conditions for informing the citizens in compliance with the law, would be to enforce the principles aforesaid outlined by OSCE and Council of Europe and oversee their enforcement. These principles should apply both to audio-visual and state-run written press, indeed by taking into account its specifics.

Supreme Security Council When would elections be held?