Testimony and remarks June 30, 2020
Moldova: Address the Lingering and New Challenges Facing Access to Information
Statement given on June 23, 2020 at the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Expression
Freedom House calls on OSCE participating States, and the Representative of Freedom of the Media (RFoM) to:
- Under pandemic conditions, encourage Moldova to follow the international norms and standards to which it is obligated, as well as Freedom House’s pandemic principles, including time-bound, transparent, and proportionate justification of restrictions around access to information;
- Continue to offer assistance and technical support for the media reform agenda, specifically reform of the Law on Access to Information.
Freedom House calls on the Moldovan government to:
- In cases where restrictions of access to information must continue under pandemic conditions, provide clear, legitimate justifications, well-grounded in law, for each restriction;
- Where possible, work proactively to share and publish information on the ongoing crisis with the public and journalists;
- Re-initiate efforts on the improvement, review, and passage of the Law on Access to Information in close consultation with civil society.
Shortcomings in the Law on Access to Information (the Law) and its poor enforcement continue to affect journalists’ ability to bring the right to truth to the public in the Republic of Moldova. The Law is undermined by protections of officials’ privacy, and is often invoked to refuse release of legitimate public interest information. Officials also use the Law to impose exorbitant fees in an effort to thwart journalists’ requests for public interest information.
Key improvements to the Law, which were developed with input from civil society and the international community as part of a parliamentary working group in 2017-2018, languish in draft stage. In September 2019, the previous government drafted a law to exempt media outlets from paying fees for obtaining information of public interest. The initiative was not passed before the dismissal of the government last November.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these existing issues. Access to information of public interest was an early target of Moldova’s pandemic-related restrictions. On March 18, the Commission on Emergency Situations significantly extended the length of time that journalists must wait for state institutions to respond to information requests. No official explanation was provided for the rationale behind this change. Additionally, politicians from across party lines allow selective access to press conferences for journalists, provide conflicting information, and often do not allow journalists to ask questions. As COVID-19 cases in Moldova continue to rise precipitously, it is essential that citizens receive timely and accurate information from the media, and that media have access to critical information about what the government will do to mitigate the pandemic for the public’s safety, in addition to their fundamental right to truth.
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