Presentation of the topic
The protest on October 4, 2015 was the center of attention of Moldovan mass media. The majority of television stations gave a lot of airtime to the event. Journalists presented details about the brief siege of the Parliament and the Global Business Center buildings and about the protesters’ clashes with the police. The event was also the topic of analysis programs on the majority of TV channels.
The television stations analyzed in this case study covered the topic in different ways: Some focused on chronological criteria while others focused only on some aspects of the event.
Public television Moldova 1 in the item “A new protest in the center of the capital”, said that “… later, dozens of protesters went to Parliament. They demanded that a Parliamentary meeting be convoked and tried to force entry into the building. The police formed a cordon and did not allow them to enter. Protesters were stopped by the leaders of the DA Platform who quickly managed to calm them down.”
The article presented several opinions of participants in the protests and of four representatives of the DA Platform.
Publika TV in the story “Clashes at Parliament. DA protesters occupied the stairs in front of the Parliament building”, said that “… protesters led by activists of the DA Platform occupied the stairs in front of the Parliament building. They carried chrysanthemums in their hands. They tried to get into the building but were stopped by police officers with shields. Clashes happened between policemen and the protesters who chanted Thieves, thieves!” The report also said that “… earlier, Minister of Internal Affairs Oleg Balan declared that protesters led by the DA Platform would try to get into the Parliament building helped by instigators.”
In another item, “Clashes in front of Parliament”, (broadcast at 00:00–04.54), the reporter appeared on the screen together with another journalist who described the clash between protesters and policemen. “… There was a clash lasting several minutes and an attempt to force entry into Parliament, but the law enforcement officers managed to stop it in time.”
In the story “Reinforced security measures at the protest” (04:55–06:54), Publika TV informed viewers about the security measures taken to ensure public order on October 4. The story quoted Minister of Internal Affairs Oleg Balan and interim head of the General Police Inspectorate (GPI) Gheorghe Cavcaliuc. The item was followed by the comments of media analyst Cristian Tabara in the news studio who said (07:26–12:53) that “…Those of the DA seem to have been playing with fire … On the one hand, we hear all kinds of aggressive appeals for civil disobedience and various other forms of radical demonstrations, and on the other hand we hear DA leaders saying that they do everything peacefully. And now we saw that things got close to the edge…”
In the story “They came to take their country back”, Jurnal TV presented exclusively the opinions of participants in the protest who expressed their discontent with the current situation in the country. The newscast continued, “They will initiate actions of civil disobedience”, which included fragments of speeches by the DA Platform leaders.
In the item “Tensions in front of the Parliament building”, Jurnal TV said: “A group of protesters from the Great National Assembly Square went there to see whether authorities had convoked the joint meeting of Parliament, the Government and the Presidency as the Council of the Great National Assembly had demanded earlier. When they came to the place, protesters found out that their demand had been ignored. Some of them tried to get into the Parliament building, but the DA Platform leaders convinced them to protest peacefully. Eventually, protesters handed out chrysanthemums to the police officers who surrounded the Parliament building.”
Pro TV presented the protest events in chronological order in the report “Protest on the edge”: “… Thousands of protesters from the DA Platform surrounded Parliament and the offices of the companies headed by Vlad Plahotniuc, and in some places they broke the cordons of police officers mobilized from around the country.” The report presented the statements of several representatives of the DA Platform and of participants in the protest. The reporter mentioned, “… However, as usual, since the protests started no official has reacted to the demonstrations in the center of the capital.”
In the story “Protests with clashes in the center of the capital,” Prime TV stated that “… dozens of protesters tried to force entry into the Parliament building that was guarded by hundreds of policemen.” Also, in the context of “unprecedented security measures,” the channel quoted Minister of Internal Affairs Oleg Balan and interim head of the GPI Gheorghe Cavcaliuc.
Another story on Prime TV, “Protests organized by the ‘Dignity and Truth’ Platform degenerated into violence”, mentioned without indicating a source: “… Especially violent were the combatants. Supporters of the DA Platform also tried to take down the fence around the building. Some of them threw stones into the building. (…) One former military man called on protesters to attack the building. Protesters were also violent at Parliament where they tried to enter with force.”
The story presented the opinion of Minister of Internal Affairs Oleg Balan who said that, “We have operative information that attempts will be made today through instigators in the Great National Assembly Square to get into public institutions.” In addition, the story contained the position of one of the DA Platform leaders, Stanislav Pavlovschi, taken from Radio Free Europe: “No one can predict the extent that the revolt could reach if these demands are not fulfilled. Don’t forget that Moldova has the experience of the Transnistrian conflict. We have a lot of people, combatants and former military with real fighting skills, not the children who stand for the government, and the government thinks that these poor 18-year-old policemen will be able to manage the situation when they are not even fed.”
Problems of professional conduct
The above-mentioned stations focused on the chronology of events, trying to offer the public neutral or partially neutral information. Moldova 1 showed care in covering the event, marked by the open conflict between the protest movement asking for the resignation of the management of the public broadcaster Teleradio-Moldova and by the demonstrations organized at its offices by the DA Platform. However, the story in the newscast on October 4 was unbalanced presenting only the position of one party—the protesters—without offering the opportunity to reply to the authorities who were the target of the protesters’ criticism.
Pro TV kept strictly to the chronology of events and did not seek out official sources (except the police) who should have offered their own comments and views on the event. The public does not know whether they ignored the media or did not want to offer information.
The two TV stations did not say whether they tried to contact the second party in the conflict, thus violating an important journalism rule stipulated by the code of professional ethics in terms of ensuring balance. The police cannot be considered the second source because they were involved in the event and had clear duties. The code of professional ethics indicates exactly the manner in which a journalist should proceed in such situations: “The journalist shall ask for the opinion of all parties relevant to the topic.” (p. 2.2.).
Publika TV and Jurnal TV had a different approach. They offered the public information that could influence their perceptions of the event. In the articles analyzed, Jurnal TV covered the protest on October 4 exclusively from the protesters’ point of view, presenting to the public the opinions of protest organizers without the position of the authorities. The channel gave the topic a lot of airtime in the newscast suggesting partisanship in favor of the protesters. Thus, Jurnal TV covered the event one-sidedly not offering a complete perspective to viewers.
Publika TV focused on the risks posed by the protests. Journalists presented statistics on the large number of policemen and suggested the unwanted nature of the demonstration: “… The police deployed significant troops in order to prevent possible mass unrest. It happened after the DA Platform activists called people to the protest declaring that today is decisive in the protest with tents in front of the government building. The law enforcement authorities mobilized employees from all subunits, including horses and dogs. The buildings of state importance are also guarded by hundreds of policemen.” This focus on statistics on the police forces mobilized, the equipment used and the involvement of horse guards and dogs suggests that the authorities anticipated the use of force and that the protests could create hysteria in society. The news stories on Publika TV quoted the police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs as sources while the opposing sources were absent.
Prime TV also presented the police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs as sources focusing on the clashes and on their violent nature. An exception was the story that quoted DA Platform leader Stanislav Pavlovschi. At first glance, the article seems balanced, but it should be mentioned that Pavlovschi’s opinion came from an interview on Radio Free Europe on September 12, 2015.
In the chapters “Obtaining and treating information” and “Accuracy and verification of facts,” the code of professional ethics for Moldovan journalists clearly states:
1. Journalists shall present information in an honest and balanced manner and only after verifying it.
2. Journalists shall seek the opinions of all parties relevant to the topic.
3. Journalists shall usually verify information from two independent sources.
While in their newscasts Prime TV and Jurnal TV tried to abide by professional rules, they failed to do so in their analytical programs. They either suggested dangerous scenarios with street fights and attacks on public institutions or justified the protesters’ actions presenting them as a victory and thus defending their position.
The “De Facto” program on Prime TV on October 5 compared the events of October 4, 2015 with those of April 7, 2009 (known for their bloody ending). “Yesterday’s events on the edge, the attempts to enter Parliament and the office of a private company, reminded a lot of people about the events of April 2009. We were on the verge of disaster. And we still are…,” the host says at the very beginning. The program presented the stories of several people frightened by the events in the Great National Assembly Square who said they were afraid the scenario in eastern Ukraine might be repeated in Moldova. The program offered the opinions of citizens with a single point of view as an argument, a fact that stressed its manipulative nature. The program did not present a source (official or other) that could calm the population and explain the events from another perspective.
Jurnal TV offered a similar program, “Mai pe scurt” [“In brief”], on the topic “A decisive step to victory!”. “In brief, what happened yesterday, October 4? Did we win, or did we lose? Will the protest have positive effects on us and on the country or no effects at all? I know that the people are divided into two camps: those who find yesterday’s protest a victory and those who find it a loss. Victory because we showed the government our force and that we could have occupied Parliament and Plahotniuc’s nest if we wanted to. Victory because we saw the fear of the governing bandits who brought the entire country’s police force to Chisinau. Victory because we managed to avoid bloodshed. It is what those who find yesterday a victory think.” Jurnal TV tried to defend the protesters’ point of view and declared itself deeply involved in this event.
According to Article 1 of the Broadcasters’ Code of Conduct, their “…first duty is to tell the truth, regardless of the consequences it might have on them. It is a duty that arises from the constitutional right of the public to be informed fairly, completely and properly.” In Article 4, the Code specifies that, “Information on issues of public interest of a political, economic or social nature should aim at ensuring impartiality, balance and support for freely making opinions by presenting the views of all parties involved and, if appropriate, the main opposing views.”
We find that most of the coverage on the television stations analyzed had a relatively correct approach to the news. They offered details describing the situation in the central square, but they still were unbalanced because they avoided giving airtime to opponents. The situation with analytical programs was much worse, especially on Prime TV and Jurnal TV where they had a deeply partisan nature. The channels placed themselves on different sides of the conflict, presenting reality through the prism of their political preferences.
The case study has been produced within the project "Freedom of expression and media development in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and South Caucasus", implemented by IJC with support by Deutsche Welle Akademie and financed by German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The opinions expressed in this material belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the financer’s opinion.