Moldovan press remains at subsistence level, Mass-Media Forum

Limited access to information, media market concentration and the advertising market monopoly keep the Moldovan press at a subsistence level. Real media can’t sustain itself without the help of external donors and journalism as a profession and product cannot develop.

These factors caused Moldova to drop ten positions this year in the Press Freedom Index, ranking 91st out of 180 countries. The statements were made by Viorica Zaharia, Moldovan Press Council chairwoman, at the Mass-Media Forum.

According to Viorica Zaharia, state authorities were made aware of the access to information issue. If measure to assure access to government data and other actions promised by the State Chancellery will affect progress în the matter, this will be visible in a few months. Additionally, officials responsible for the communication of public interest information to the media should be more open. Major changes are still expected in regard to the other two big issues, the concentration of the media and of the advertising market, said the Press Council chair.

“Two TV channels from a large media group have renounced national frequencies. This confirms the situation that media NGOs have been reporting for years. The media market is concentrated in the hands of political interest groups and received a lot of financing from them, including because they were in government”, said Viorica Zaharia. According to the Press Council chairwoman, the authorities are required to be vigilant in this regard. The Audiovisual Council has all the necessary levers to ensure the correct functioning of the TV channels. Previously TV outlets defied the Audiovisual Code and the Code of Ethics, knowing that the Audiovisual Council will tolerate it.

At the event, Prime Minister Maia Sandu said that the situation of the press in the Republic of Moldova is dramatic. For years, the free press has struggled for survival, under tough legislative and economic conditions. The sources of financing from advertising are artificially limited through cartel agreements. According to Maia Sandu, the closure of politically affiliated media institutions does not necessarily mean the normalization of the Moldovan media market. “Today we are witnessing a redistribution of the spheres of interest in the media field. Another media company affiliated with socialist politicians is being built up. Accent TV has recently received the right to relay in our country the broadcasts from the most popular television station in Russia. While one affiliated media holding has weakened, another is gaining strength”, the prime minister said.

According to the prime minister, the Audiovisual Council in its current composition is clearly outdated, which is seen in its decisions. Teleradio-Moldova needs a better, more balanced and more courageous administration, while the Competition Council must monitor the advertising market and intervene when disparities impede the free competition and the balanced development of the media sector, said Maia Sandu.

According to the prime minister, the main objectives of the government in regard to the media are to support the free press, to create conditions so that it may exist without interference and may develop in the Republic of Moldova. “My colleagues in the Parliament have prepared several bills for legislative changes aimed at bringing clarity and responsibility to media and competition regulators”, said Maia Sandu.

Sweden’s Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova, Anna Lyberg, said that ensuring freedom of expression and independence of the press are Moldova-EU association agenda commitments. “We see that important steps have been taken by the government in this regard”, said Anna Lyberg. According to the ambassador, even so, there is a need to accelerate the adoption of policies that would encourage the development of the press. The new Audiovisual Code, which entered into force, should be enforced. The Swedish ambassador added that the media plays an important role in the issue of gender equality. She appreciated the efforts that journalists make in this regard.

Scott Hocklander, USAID mission director in the Republic of Moldova, said that the United States supports media freedom and pluralism in Moldova. The role of the media needs to be understood in order to strengthen a correct media protection framework. The director of the USAID Mission said that Moldova, like other countries, is facing misinformation, which erodes democracy. In this context, it is important for people to have critical thinking and to inform themselves from several sources of information.