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“Within normal limits.” How the BC assessed the TV and radio stations during the campaign and what experts think about the Council’s “unprecedented indulgence”

23 October 2020
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The members of the Broadcasting Council (BC) are of the opinion that the activity of media service providers during this electoral campaign falls “within normal limits,” even if they have committed some violations. At its meeting on October 22, the BC decided to give only oral notice to the stations concerned. However, some representatives of media NGOs are of the opinion that the BC showed “unprecedented indulgence” during this period, and that some of the providers “deserved something other than finger pointing.”

The Council’s first monitoring report covered the period from October 2 to 15. Initially, the BC’s rapporteur intended, at the meeting of October 22, to speak about the coverage of electoral competitors by media service providers, but he spoke only about the public station Moldova 1, where independent candidate Igor Dodon, supported by the Party of Socialists, had the highest rate of appearances, being followed by the Action and Solidarity Party leader Maia Sandu. The BC Chairman Dragoș Vicol asked the rapporteur to refer only to the tone of the candidates’ presentation by the 15 monitored stations.

WHO BENEFITED FROM “MARKEDLY POSITIVE” TONE

According to the BC monitoring, Moldova 1 generally presented electoral competitors in a neutral and positive manner, with the exception of Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu, who were presented in an insignificantly negative tone. The BC also found that Igor Dodon benefited from a markedly positive tone on the stations Primul în Moldova and NTV Moldova. In the newscasts of Televiziunea Centrală, the candidates were approached in a neutral or insignificantly positive manner, with the exception of Violeta Ivanov and the party she represents, which appeared in a clearly positive context. Igor Dodon was presented mostly negatively on this station.

According to the BC, Violeta Ivanov was also presented positively by Prime TV, while the candidates Maia Sandu and Igor Dodon were presented insignificantly negatively. Also insignificantly negative the activity of Igor Dodon appeared on TVR Moldova, Canal 3, and TV8. Canal 3 had the same approach in relation to Violeta Ivanov. On Jurnal TV, the tone of coverage of the campaign was neutral, positive, and negative, on Pro TV Chisinau it was generally neutral and/or insignificantly positive and negative, and RTR Moldova provided generally neutral and markedly positive information about some political subjects.

Also, the television stations Publika TV, Prime, Primul în Moldova, TVR Moldova, Canal 3, and NTV Moldova broadcast materials about the results of an electoral opinion poll, in which some obligatory elements were omitted, such as proof on the notification of the Central Electoral Commission, the person who ordered the poll, the source of funding, the time frame in which the poll was conducted, the method used, and so on.

HOW THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL SEES THE ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN

After examining the report, the BC Chairman Dragoș Vicol said that he was left with the impression that this electoral period “was not marked by major tensions.” “Moreover, I want to tell you that, to my surprise, without giving any examples, some television stations that have stood out in previous electoral campaigns for virulence, corrosivity, acidity, this time – I hope I am wrong – either they keep their stocks of weapons for the next period, or they really learned the lesson and want to stay within legal framework, so they did not use such procedures,” Dragoș Vicol said.

“I would characterize this first period, with maximum responsibility and with the necessary reservations, as one that falls within the limits of legality, within the limits of compliance – in general, I repeat, I do not idealize – with the Code of Audiovisual Media Services from the perspective of the Regulation on the coverage of the electoral campaign, within normal limits,” concluded the BC chairman.

In this context, the monitored TV stations that admitted violations were only warned by the BC about the way the electoral campaign was covered and, at the same time, about the observance of legal provisions.

“LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OR BAD FAITH?”

Some representatives of media NGOs that monitored the media service providers in the current campaign have a different vision.

Nadine Gogu, Executive Director of the Independent Journalism Center, notes “unprecedented caution and indulgence” on the part of the Broadcasting Council in relation to the targeted TV stations. “The decision to verbally warn all monitored stations, regardless of the violations committed, further indicates that the members of this so-called public interest institution either do not understand their mandate or act in bad faith,” Nadine Gogu believes.

In her opinion, by this decision the BC “disregarded” the legal requirements for the correct and balanced coverage of candidates by the media. “Both our monitoring reports (1, 2, 3) and the BC monitoring show very clearly that some stations have adopted an editorial policy that obviously favors some competitors, through the massive airtime provided and the positive tone, while disadvantaging others by means of limited access and biased selection,” says the Executive Director of the IJC.

Nadine Gogu also gives an example from the BC report, which mentions that Igor Dodon and Violeta Ivanov were presented markedly positively on several television stations. “However, the BC chairman finds that this is within normal limits. We definitely cannot talk about equal access, fairness, and balance as long as some television stations cover only the campaign activities of a candidate who has ample space to talk about his platform and electoral promises, while the other candidates are listed in the same newscasts in the ‘checklist’ of those who run in elections,” argues the IJC representative.

“A SIMPLE WARNING IS NOT ENOUGH”

The Electronic Press Association (APEL) Executive Director Ion Bunduchi agrees with the BC that “service providers were closer to what they had to do compared to what they did in the previous elections – parliamentary and local general,” but he believes that the activity of each provider must be related to the requirements of the law and not to the way they manifested themselves in the past.

“If the issue had been addressed this way, some of the monitored providers would have deserved something other than finger pointing or urges to stop doing so. It is an axiom: The BC must encourage those who obey the law and discourage those who break the law. So, a simple warning, even if it is public, is unlikely to cut the desire of some providers to show their preference in the news towards one competitor or another,” argues Ion Bunduchi.

He also believes that the assessment of the correctness of television stations “should not be done in terms of the nature of the campaign, but in terms of the law.”

In this campaign, the BC targeted the main newscasts of 15 television and radio stations: Moldova 1, Publika TV, Prime TV, Primul în Moldova, TVR Moldova, Canal 2, Canal 3, TV8, NTV Moldova, Jurnal TV, Radio Moldova, Pro TV Chișinău, BTV, RTR Moldova, and Televiziunea Centrală.