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.
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.
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.