This year marks the 30th anniversary of the proclamation of World Press Freedom Day. In this context, the media non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that signed this memorandum appreciate the progress made over three decades in consolidating press freedom in the Republic of Moldova. At the same time, the signatory NGOs note that in fulfilling their mission to inform citizens about issues of public interest, media professionals still face multiple challenges and impediments.
MEDIA NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS:
Believe that the Republic of Moldova, a state with candidate status for accession to the European Union, must prioritize the objective of maintaining and consolidating the genuine freedom and independence of the press;
Call on the authorities of the Republic of Moldova to reaffirm their commitment to respecting the right to seek, receive, and distribute information and ideas through any means of communication;
Note that pre-existing problems related to the editorial independence of the media, the limited resilience of the press during crises, reduced media pluralism, threats to journalists' safety, a lack of transparency in media ownership, the precarious financial sustainability of the press, difficulties in accessing information, and the erosion of public trust in information persist and require effective and prompt solutions.
Emphasize that implementing mechanisms to counter threats to the security of the national information space can take place only while respecting international standards and without prejudicing press freedom.
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA
From May 3, 2022 to May 3, 2023, press freedom in the Republic of Moldova was affected by serious issues in a tense political, social, and economic context. Although some slight progress has been made in certain segments that influence the social mission of the media, currently that progress cannot be qualified as a stable trend. The pandemic, an energy crisis, and a refugee crisis along with potential threats to the security of the Republic of Moldova have dominated the government's agenda; developing and implementing state policies to develop the media sector have not been a priority in the past year.
The legal environment for the press has seen some improvements, mainly due to timely changes in existing media legislation and the addition of new norms necessary for regulating the industry's activities. Nevertheless, the segmented insufficiency of regulations and the defective application of legal norms have kept that legal framework in a state marked by serious issues.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the declaration of World Press Freedom Day, authorities persist in hiding data of public interest despite the ratification of international treaties and the constant revelations of obstructing access to information by journalists who continue to face abusive refusals and evasive responses.
The political climate in the country has been strongly influenced by the war in Ukraine and has had a negative impact on mass media. This recent period has witnessed condemnable actions by ill- intentioned political actors against the press, especially at the regional and local levels.
The national economy has been affected for three consecutive years by unprecedented crises that have had a direct impact on media activity. Although some independent media outlets have sought to diversify their sources of funding, external grants have continued to represent a significant part of editorial budgets, hindering most press institutions from adopting sustainable financial and editorial models that would ensure real economic and editorial independence.
External and internal pluralism continues to be distorted by the over-representation of the press in the capital and the under-representation of it in the country's regions, by the predominance of general content at the expense of niche content, and by a limited diversity of media offerings. The quality of journalism has been degraded by relatively new phenomena such as the "ostrich tactic" used by some television stations in their (non)coverage of the war, and the burnout syndrome experienced by journalists.
The military aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine has also exposed vulnerabilities in the information space of the Republic of Moldova, making it more susceptible to hybrid threats. During the period in question, the authorities have shown a greater interest in information security which has led to some legislative changes. The Audiovisual Council (CA) made efforts to reduce the flow of fake news and disinformation in the audiovisual space through monitoring and sanctions. Towards the end of the year, CA efforts were complemented by the suspension of broadcasting licenses for six television stations in a decision of the Commission for Exceptional Situations (CSE); however, some civil society organizations expressed critical views regarding the restrictive measures imposed by the CSE arguing that any actions taken should be based on convincing arguments and clear evidence in order to ensure the legality and proportionality of the intervention. It should be noted that the effectiveness of these actions may be limited as long as the online space remains unsecured.
In addition to traditional risk factors for the security of media institutions and journalists during the reference period, new factors caused by the war in Ukraine intervened. These new threats included targeting the cybersecurity of several independent media institutions (blocking websites for users from the Russian Federation or blocking media content on social networks) and the danger to which war correspondents are exposed in hot zones in Ukraine.
The current situation of the media is also confirmed by the Press Freedom Index in the Republic of Moldova in 2022, which revealed major problems with its functioning.
THE IMPACT OF WAR ON PRESS FREEDOM
Against the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, media NGOs express their solidarity with journalists covering the war against our neighboring state as well as their deep regret for the large number of media professionals who have lost their lives as a result of war crimes committed by the aggressor.
The signatory organizations emphasize the efforts of all reporters, including those from the Republic of Moldova, who at the risk of being injured or arbitrarily detained continue to provide the public with information from the theater of war: data that contribute to the protection of civilians against threats and attest to the grim reality of war and bring this war to the attention of the international community.
We also note the strategic and aggressive efforts of the Russian Federation to impose its narratives on the public in order to influence the situation in the region, including in the Republic of Moldova. Public discourse during the war as reflected in the media has raised many questions among international decision makers, media regulatory authorities and self-regulatory bodies, media organizations, online platforms, the academic community, and civil society. We believe that this issue should be a priority for the authorities of the Republic of Moldova to streamline their policies and interventions to address the situation.
In order to encourage and protect a free press, we recommend that in accordance with their legal responsibilities the Government and Parliament develop, legislate, and implement democratic mechanisms capable of:
Improving and completing media legislation by regulating all types of press;
Aligning national media legislation with international standards in the field;
Improving decision making at the audiovisual regulatory authority to protect the public from war propaganda without affecting press freedom;
Developing and implementing effective mechanisms to ensure the transparency of media ownership and to counter anti-competitive practices;
Abandoning the practice of hastily amending media legislation for doubtful temporary effects;
Strengthening institutional capacities to counter propaganda, misinformation, and media falsehoods;
Developing cooperative relationships with technology giants to establish acceptable rules for moderating media content on social networks;
Preventing and ending acts of threat and/or aggression against the media while holding perpetrators accountable;
Training law enforcement agencies to effectively investigate cases of obstruction of media activity and intimidation of journalists;
Developing and implementing legal and economic public policies to ensure fair competition and transparency in the activities of media institutions to protect them from the danger of bankruptcy and disappearance;
Promoting transparency in the funding sources of the media as an important factor of credibility;
Developing and implementing economic support policies for media institutions that act in the public interest;
Supporting and encouraging investment in diversifying media products offered to the public;
Improving legislation on access to information, ensuring the correct and uniform application of the law, and strengthening the institutional capacities and professional skills of public officials who process requests for access to information;
Adjusting the training of journalistic personnel to the real needs of media institutions;
Developing real media pluralism, including by stimulating the emergence of new thematic audiovisual media services at the local/regional level and by harnessing the potential of nonlinear media services;
Preventing and countering political interference in the professional activity of journalists and media institutions.
Independent Journalism Center
Environment and Ecotourism Journalists
Association Media-Guard Association
Electronic Press Association
Independent Press Association
Center for Investigative Journalism
Committee for Press Freedom