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Media Freedom in Moldova

World press freedom ranks: Republic of Moldova (2006 - 2017)

While media freedom is well safeguarded in Moldova, the case of the separatist region Transnistria is quite different. Soviet-style repression of independent media and a politicised state media apparatus are a reality in the breakaway region. The country remains highly polarised politically and socially, which is why journalists face a somewhat insecure working environment.

Moldova performs average in terms of press freedom in comparison with other Balkan countries. The most recent Press Freedom Index by the media watchdog organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB) ranks Moldova 80th of 180 countries. However, in 2014 Moldova was still ranked 56, with only Romania (45th) and Serbia (54th) performing better in the region. The loss of 24 ranks is the strongest deterioration of media freedom in all analysed countries in 2017. Freedom House’s assessment rates the country as "partly free". The EU-funded "Media Freedom Watch" project’s alternative ranking of the Eastern Partnership countries (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) clearly sees Moldova as leading in terms of guaranteeing media freedom, enforcing the notion that Moldova’s press is relatively free – not only by South East European standards, but in the wider post-communist world.

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed by the Moldovan constitution and the relevant laws. The Freedom House report however notes that "these rights are often limited by other laws and in practice." In the case of the Law on Free Expression, the IREX Media Sustainability Index 2016 concludes that law has a limited impact due to poor knowledge of it and flawed enforcement of the legislation. Defamation was decriminalised in 2009, making Moldova one of the earliest countries in the region to take this step. Despite this a number of actors continue to file civil defamation cases and the often highly corrupt courts still show reluctance to apply the newest amendments of the Freedom of Expression Law relating to defamation. Journalist’s access to public information in accordance with the relating 2000 law has become easier and more institutionalised, at least in the capital. Further strengthening of the legal framework for press freedom has been undertaken. In late 2012 the criminal code was amended to forbid the censoring of public media and punish those who obstruct, threaten or assault journalists, so Freedom House. Also in March 2015, the parliament passed amendments to the broadcasting code. According to Freedom House, these amendments "require radio and television companies to disclose the names and stakes of their owners and the name of board members, managers, broadcasters and producers."

This is not to imply that violence against journalists is commonplace in Moldova. Cases of actual violence against journalists remain extremely rare. Threats are voiced, especially in relation to investigative reporting. Intimidations of reporters often relate to investigations about corruption or Moldovan oligarchs, so an analysis of the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The IREX report however notes that none of these cases of violence or intimidation resulted in court cases. In a subtler manner journalists are currently being obstructed from their work observing the activities of the parliament. From 2014 until April 2016, parliamentary reporters were banned from the session hall. Instead, journalists can watch sessions live on a screen in a room with video monitors. They were also not allowed to access the corridors and meeting halls. NGOs have appealed to parliament to solve the issue that poses a serious threat to press freedom in their view. Since the beginning of April 2016, journalist "regained access to Parliaments plenary sessions as a result of concerted media campaign", so Moldova Partnership for Sustainable Civil Society. However, the 2017 IREX report mentions that "information of public interest is usually given first to media that are politically aligned with the government". Over the course of the Ukraine-conflict, "making disrespectful statements about Russian troops stationed" could have resulted in a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Despite the relatively free framework for journalistic practice in Moldova and the absence of actual censorship, journalists and media outlet often practice self-censorship in order to avoid possible civil law suits for critical reporting or in line with the interests of the (often secretive) media outlet owners. Editorial independence as an ideal also appears naive when considering that many newspapers are directly owned by local and city authorities, as the US report notes. This highlights the threat to media freedom that Moldova’s non-transparent media ownership structure poses. The lack of transparency was commented upon by OSCE Media Freedom Representative Dunja Mijatović in Chişinău as one of the main obstacles for real media freedom in Moldova. The broadcast media appear to be a focal point in this regard.

The latter’s independence is further restricted by the often apparently politicised actions of the regulatory body, the Audiovisual Coordinating Council. Its decision of April 2012 to shut down the pro-Communist TV channel NIT was criticised internationally as being disproportionate, despite the reason for this step – the programme’s refusal to present diverse opinions – evidently having some ground in reality.

According to Freedom House, "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."

Sources:

Lina Rusch, KAS Media Program South East Europe

2016 adjusted by Rebecca Kittel, KAS Media Program South East Europe

2017 adjusted by Lena von Holt, KAS Media Program South East Europe