Freedom of the Press
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Freedom of the Press Scores
Key Developments in 2016:
- In January, as protests took place outside Parliament, journalists were prevented from leaving the press room for several hours, with police citing security concerns.
- In February, the broadcasting code was amended to limit the number of outlets a single person could own to two. However, the amendment does not apply retroactively, meaning those who already own more than two outlets will not be affected until they are due to renew existing licenses.
- In April, journalists were finally allowed back into the Parliament chamber, having been relegated for most of the previous two years to a press room supplied with a video feed of legislative proceedings.
Despite efforts by civil society organizations to encourage improvements in media legislation and policy, press freedom in Moldova remains constrained by outdated or poorly enforced media laws, as well as pressure exerted against journalists by government officials, media owners, and others. Concentration of ownership remains a problem, and smaller local outlets have difficulty competing against better-funded enterprises controlled by the country’s politically powerful business magnates, or oligarchs.
In 2016, journalists were prevented from accessing ostensibly public meetings and other events on several occasions. There were also a number of instances in which journalists covering demonstrations were attacked by protesters. Reporting on the 2016 presidential election campaign was characterized by highly partisan content and outright disinformation.
Moldova’s vibrant civil society groups continued to support journalists’ rights through protests, declarations, media monitoring, and other advocacy during the year.
Legal Environment: 17 / 30
The constitution and basic laws provide for freedoms of expression and of the press, but poor implementation leads to violations or neglect of these rights in practice. Some laws, including civil defamation provisions, can be employed to restrict or penalize journalists, though their use has declined over the last decade.
Compliance with the 2000 Access to Information Law remains weak. Journalists, lawyers, and other stakeholders have been working to develop amendments to the law. A review of most of the proposals by a parliamentary committee was postponed in November 2016, but that month Parliament approved an amendment that increased fines for violations of the law—such as the issuance of documents containing false data—and reduced the window of time officials had to respond to information requests. Some additional regulations must be developed before the amendment’s provisions can come into force. Separately, campaign finance laws obstruct journalists’ access to information, including candidates’ financial reports.
Members of the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) are appointed by Parliament and subject to political influence. The CCA does not always effectively enforce media regulations, and the body drew complaints from journalists’ groups over its handling of election coverage in 2016; the groups said its media monitoring operations did not commence in a timely manner, and that it had not respected the proper procedures for issuing sanctions.
Vibrant and vocal civil society organizations support journalists’ rights through protests, declarations, monitoring, and advocacy. There are no formal conditions for becoming a journalist or for practicing journalism.
The government in March 2016 introduced a draft law, known by its detractors as the “Big Brother” law, that could facilitate censorship and state surveillance of journalists. It requires internet service providers to collect and retain users’ metadata, and would enable the government to block access to content deemed to promote hatred, discrimination, or violence. The measure drew sharp criticism from civil society groups, which pointed out its potential for misuse and noted that their previous input on the bill had been disregarded. The draft law had yet to be approved at year’s end.
Political Environment: 21 / 40
Media outlets are regularly used to advance the business or political interests of their owners. This was apparent in coverage of the 2016 presidential election campaign; media monitoring reports issued by Moldova’s Independent Journalism Center (IJC) found that few outlets prioritized providing information in the public interest. The IJC concluded that partisan coverage, as well as defamation and disinformation, had contributed to an unfair playing field for the candidates.
Journalists continue to voice concerns about politicization of the public broadcaster. Separately, in October 2016, the government appointed Valeriu Reniță, who had previously served as a spokesperson for former president Vladimir Voronin, to head the Moldovan office of the television and radio company MIR, a Russian-language project of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Reniță replaced Ion Terguta, who was known for his criticism of the government and for pointing out government influence in the media.
Direct government censorship is uncommon. However, in January 2016, the national telecommunications operator, Moldtelecom, blocked several channels’ coverage of protests outside Parliament. Journalists’ associations expressed skepticism of Moldtelecom’s subsequent claims that it had experienced a cyberattack. Journalists working for outlets whose owners interfere in news coverage may practice self-censorship to safeguard their jobs.
Officials sometimes obstruct journalists’ access to material or events that they are trying to cover. In January 2016, journalists were temporarily locked in a room at the offices of the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) while party leaders vacated the building in order to avoid questioning. Also that month, as protests took place outside Parliament, journalists were prevented from leaving the building’s press room for several hours, with police citing security concerns. In March, a television crew from Publika TV was banned from city council meetings in Bălți, reportedly after the mayor said he did not approve of past coverage by the channel. In June, a journalist was banned from entering a meeting of the Dignity and Truth political grouping at a town community center, and was forcibly removed when he attempted to enter without permission. The same month, security guards at a court in Drochia similarly removed a reporter who had been prevented from filming inside the premises but persisted in his attempts to do so.
In a more positive development, following protests by journalists and activists, the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM) in November 2016 lifted some restrictions on journalists’ access to its premises. And in April, journalists were finally allowed back into the Parliament chamber, having been relegated for most of the previous two years to a press room supplied with a video feed of legislative proceedings.
There were frequent reports of journalists being harassed or attacked in the course of their work in 2016. Journalists covering protests were assaulted by participants on several occasions, including during the January demonstrations outside Parliament, when a cameraman was robbed of his equipment. Some journalists experienced retaliatory harassment during the year. A reporter who requested comment from the Interior Ministry for a story on corruption allegations subsequently received a summons for questioning, and was warned that if she did not appear she could be compelled to obey the order or fined.
Economic Environment: 18 / 30
Most national television and radio broadcasters are in private hands, as are the majority of press agencies and many newspapers. Media ownership became somewhat clearer following 2015 amendments to the broadcasting code that required radio and television companies to disclose their owners and board members. It was revealed that four of the five television stations with national reach belonged to Vladimir Plahotniuc, an oligarch who serves as chair of the PDM. In addition, Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) legislator Chiril Lucinschi disclosed his ownership of two smaller television channels, TV7 and Bravo. News sources from Russia and Romania are available in Moldova. About 71 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2016.
In February, the broadcasting code was amended to limit the number of outlets a single person could own to two. However, the amendment does not apply retroactively, meaning those who already own more than two outlets will not be affected until they are due to renew existing licenses. Civil society activists pointed out this deficiency during the drafting process, but their concerns were disregarded. Long-standing efforts to adopt a more comprehensive overhaul of the outdated broadcasting code stalled yet again in 2016.
Private media remain dependent on financial subsidies from their 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 during the year. Small, local outlets have difficulty obtaining advertising revenue and competing against the numerous oligarch-owned outlets, which are better funded.