Freedom of the Press
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Despite ongoing attempts by civil society organizations to encourage improvements in legislation and policy, press freedom in Moldova remains constrained by partisanship and pressure from both the government and media owners. Concentration of ownership is also a problem, and accessing public information is difficult.
- In March 2015, the parliament passed amendments to the broadcasting code that, among other things, require radio and television companies to disclose the names and stakes of their owners and the names of board members, managers, broadcasters, and producers.
- The authorities barred several journalists from Russian outlets from entering Moldova.
- Government agencies and officials made a number of pronounced efforts to obstruct journalistic access to public information.
Legal Environment: 17 / 30
The constitution and several laws provide for freedoms of expression and the press, but poor implementation leads to violations or neglect of these rights in practice. At the same time, while some laws allow for restrictions on journalism, they are not actively used to persecute members of the media.
A number of planned legislative improvements, including a long-awaited new broadcasting code, remained stalled in 2015. In March, ostensibly with the goal of advancing media development and protecting state security and human rights from infringements committed through media, legislators introduced draft amendments to the existing broadcasting code and the Law on Freedom of Expression. In a legal analysis of the proposed amendments, the Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media warned that their vague language and content restrictions fell below international standards and could be used to limit journalistic freedom and encourage self-censorship. While not explicitly stated, the need to counter misinformation and propaganda from Russian state-controlled outlets appeared to be a major impetus for the proposals. The draft changes generated significant pushback from local media rights groups and had not been passed at year’s end.
Moldova decriminalized defamation in 2009, and the quantity and adjudication of civil defamation cases has reportedly improved somewhat since then. Nevertheless, various groups continue to file cases against media outlets in the courts, which have a reputation for being extremely corrupt. Local press freedom groups could not assess how many defamation cases were filed in 2015, as many courts either refuse to provide the information or lack qualified personnel to respond to information requests.
Compliance with the 2000 Access to Information Law remains weak, as no state body has the authority to enforce or monitor its implementation. Journalists and civil society organizations regularly report obstruction of their information requests by government agencies. In a positive step in 2014, the Economic Council of the Prime Minister made basic information about companies registered in Moldova available online through the country’s e-government service, at no cost to users. However, those seeking information about the founders of companies were required to pay a fee. In 2015, the National Center for Personal Data Protection made a number of moves to obstruct the processing of requests for information on the founders and owners of companies, citing vague concerns about privacy and the abuse of personal data. Amid resistance from the center, the Economic Council advanced an initiative to publish the names of founders of registered companies; the information was made freely available online in August.
In July, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Moldova (CIJM) filed a lawsuit against the presidency for refusal to provide information about the recipients of state awards and about the executive’s rejection of judicial promotions—information that CIJM said was in the public interest. In April, a Chișinău court dismissed a claim of infringement of access to information lodged by the investigative newspaper Ziarul de Gardă against the office of the prosecutor general; the paper initiated the suit over the office’s refusal to provide documents related to housing deals for prosecutors. The ruling was upheld on appeal in September.
The decisions of the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA), whose members are appointed by the parliament, remained subject to political influence in 2015, and press freedom watchdogs continued to voice concerns that the government could use the regulatory body to punish critical outlets or otherwise restrict media coverage.
In February 2015, legislators approved broadly worded new accreditation regulations, leading critics to warn that the rules could be abused to bar certain media outlets from covering the parliament.
Political Environment: 21 / 40 (↓2)
Media outlets are regularly used to advance the business or political interests of their owners. In 2015, media freedom advocates continued to express concern about government attempts to influence the public broadcaster, Teleradio-Moldova, particularly through its Supervisory Board. The nine-member board’s operations have recently been jeopardized by delays in the appointment of new members to six vacant seats. In March 2015, the parliament elected four new members affiliated with the ruling coalition. The two remaining seats were still vacant at year’s end.
In the run-up to local elections in June 2015, the political leanings of major television stations were apparent in their coverage of candidates and issues. Monitoring conducted by the CCA and nongovernmental organizations found that most private television channels were aligned with particular parties or interests in their electoral reporting, giving the corresponding candidates more airtime and more positive portrayals; online and print media were found to provide more diverse coverage.
Generally, the monitors found that major national broadcasters Prime TV, Publika TV, Canal 2, and Canal 3 exhibited strong bias in favor of the center-left Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), which along with the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) forms the country’s ruling coalition. The channels are registered under the General Media Group, which is owned by business magnate and PDM power broker Vladimir Plahotniuc. According to the CCA, TV7 and N4 exhibited a slant toward the PLDM; Jurnal TV provided coverage that was heavily critical of the ruling coalition; and Accent TV showed bias in favor of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM). Pro TV Chișinău and the public Moldova 1 provided balanced content. The CCA issued warnings and minimum fines to several private television broadcasters during the electoral period, but overall it was unable to enforce regulations on fair, balanced, and impartial coverage.
Media bias was also prominent in coverage of mass anticorruption and antigovernment protests that took place during the year, and in reporting on a criminal investigation into former prime minister Vlad Filat, who was arrested in October for alleged involvement in the theft of $1 billion from Moldovan banks.
The government limits journalistic access to official sources. Since 2014, members of the media have been barred from free and direct access to the plenary hall of the parliament and are restricted to a separate press room where screens provide selected footage.
Direct government censorship is not common. However, journalists working for outlets whose owners interfere in news coverage reportedly practice self-censorship to safeguard their jobs.
Media pluralism and the volume of locally produced programming have expanded in recent years. Television remains the most popular source of information for Moldovans, followed by the internet and radio. At the beginning of 2015, the CCA issued 72 licenses to television stations and 58 to radio stations. According to the most recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, there were more than 170 newspapers and 250 magazines registered in Moldova.
Russian-language media play a prominent role, and many local stations rebroadcast content from both private and state-owned Russian outlets; locally produced content in the Russian language is limited. In 2015, government officials continued to express alarm about the dissemination of misinformation and propaganda from Russian state-controlled outlets. In May, the CCA fined four private television stations that carry Russian-language programming and temporarily suspended retransmissions of Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 24, finding that the channels manipulated public opinion and distorted facts in their coverage of current affairs in Ukraine.
Some media workers reported being obstructed by local authorities or the security personnel of public officials while reporting in the field. The authorities barred a number of journalists from Russian outlets from entering Moldova during the year. For example, correspondents from TV Zvezda were denied entry upon arrival at the Chișinău airport in April, and journalists from NTV and Rossiya 24 faced similar treatment in October. Moldovan officials usually cited concerns about security, propaganda, or the purpose of the journalists’ visits. On several occasions, journalists were assaulted by demonstrators while reporting at public gatherings. Retaliatory violence and physical threats against journalists are not common, and few cases were reported in 2015.
Economic Environment: 18 / 30 (↑1)
Most national television and radio broadcasters are in private hands, as are the majority of press agencies. In March 2015, legislators amended the broadcasting code to require radio and television companies to disclose the names and stakes of their owners as well as the names of board members and senior staff. The legislation was drafted by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), which, along with other civil society organizations, had for several years pressed the government to uphold transparency of media ownership. The amendments came into force in November, verifying long-standing assumptions about ownership structures and high market concentration. Information published in accordance with the amended code confirmed Plahotniuc as the owner of four of the country’s five national television stations—Prime TV, Publika TV, Canal 2, and Canal 3—in addition to three radio stations. PLDM legislator Chiril Lucinschi disclosed his ownership of two smaller television channels, TV7 and Bravo. The package of amendments did not require that media outlets disclose the owners of stakeholder companies that are registered offshore.
Under an international agreement, Moldova had committed to completing its transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting by the middle of June 2015. In the months leading up to the deadline, media groups voiced concerns about the lack of a clear strategy or preparation for the switchover. In July, the parliament extended the timeline of the transition through the end of 2017.
Private media remain highly dependent on financial subsidies and advertising revenue from owners as well as affiliated businesses and political groups, rather than market-driven advertising and subscriptions. The allocation of state advertising and subsidies is poorly regulated and often nontransparent, allowing government agencies to favor certain outlets. Economic pressures continued to force media outlets to cut costs and shift from print to online operations in 2015. Online news portals and social media are popular. Approximately 50 percent of the population had access to the internet as of 2015.
Note: The scores and narrative for Moldova do not reflect conditions in Transnistria.