Freedom of Press in Moldova still a matter of concern
The media market of the Republic of Moldova is quite rich, although there are some issues regarding it. The most difficult part can be found in Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria which does not administrate the zone.
The case of Ernest Vardanean is the most resonant incident which deals with freedom of press. Journalist Vardanean was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charge of ‘spying for Moldova’. He was pardoned one year later by the so-called president of Transnistria, at that time Igor Smirnov. Ernest Vardanean was in prison since April 2010.
The worst incidents the Moldovan media experienced took place during the violent riots of April 2009, when thousands of people took to the streets contesting the result of the elections. The protesters, mainly teenagers, organized the protest on the internet. When the number of demonstrators increased significantly, the leadership shut down the main social networks, such as FaceBook, Twitter, Odnoklassniki (a popular Russian social network).
During the protests, which turned violent, several bloggers were beaten up, local and foreign journalists detained and the transmission of some opposition TV channels has been cut off. Their websites were suspended and the access to internet was restricted in some places.
Moldova’s well known Pro TV channel had their broadcasting cut off and the website unavailable, because it was an important criticizer of the leadership. They had to switch their updates on the website of Pro TV Bucharest (Romania) during the demonstrations.
Other media outlets, such as UNIMEDIA news portal launched an English version of the website providing live updates from the ground in two languages (Romanian and English). They were also supposed to change the domain because the previous version was temporarily blocked by the Security Service of Moldova.
International correspondents from AP, AFP, and Reuters were barred from entering the country, while others were expelled from Moldova.
According to Reporters without Borders, Moldova ranks the 53rd level out of 179 in the latest worldwide index on freedom of press. Moldova scored 3 points and a status of partly free press for 2011 from Freedom House.
The United Nations Mission to Moldova believes that the country still deals with serious issues, such as threats to journalists for reporting fairly, the freedom of the media to broadcast on difficult thematic issues is violated, and sometimes there is no respect for diversity of opinion, including as a regulatory issue.
“We have been supporting a number of efforts in the area of freedom of the media, such as expert international law advice in the matter of a ban on Moldova 1 broadcasting a film on LGBT rights, as well as support for the reform of the public broadcaster TeleRadio Moldova,” Claude Cahn, the UN Human Rights Advisor told Moldova.ORG.
The UN official said they are working closely with a group of journalists from Moldova in order to bolster the diversity in terms of reporting of multiple issues.
“We work closely with a number of journalists aiming to strengthen diversity. We are increasingly also working with Transnistrian media, in an effort to strengthen the quality and independence of the media sector there,” Mr. Cahn added.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who visited Moldova in November 2011 said that Moldova registered a significant progress and major steps have been made in reforms around freedom of press. Even though things get better, the UN Commissioner noted that there are certain matters of concern in this field.
“I am very concerned at a punitive fine issued against the weekly journal Ziarul de Garda. This case is currently still the subject of legal proceedings. The mere fact of the threat of this fine has a troubling, chilling effect on independent media. Such measures are incompatible with democratic societies based on the rule of law,” Navi Pillay said.
Journalist Valentina Ursu works for the newsroom of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Chisinau. She experienced many difficult situations while performing her job in Moldova. Mrs. Ursu believes that the civil society does not have a very kind and warm attitude toward the journalists.
“The way the press in Moldova works is related to an inferiority complex. The people, especially from the rural areas, express a hideous attitude against journalists. Nobody will go on the streets in support for journalists. There is also a matter of professionalism and solidarity of journalists,” Valentina Ursu explained for Moldova.ORG.
Although Moldova has a partly free press, the reporter believes that the state’s media market has many opinions and outlets.
“Of course there is pluralism. We have many media outlets and many opinions, but this does not mean there is freedom of speech,” Mrs. Ursu said. According to her, the level of freedom of press has increased during the last years.