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The 2019 Media Forum, About the Concentration of Media in the Hands of Politicians and the Redistribution of Spheres of Influence in the Field

04 November 2019
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The limited access to information, the concentration and the dominant positions on the media market, as well as the recent trends towards the redistribution of spheres of influence in the media were among the key topics discussed during the opening of the fifth edition of the Media Forum, which takes place in Chisinau between 4 and 5 November 2019. The event is attended by journalists, media managers, representatives of the civil society and of the academia, Government officials, MPs, diplomats, media experts from Moldova and abroad.

Viorica Zaharia, Chair of the Press Council from Moldova (PC), mentioned that a limited access to information prevents the proper conduct of a journalist’s work and decreased the quality of journalism, while the concentration and the dominant positions on the media market create a high volume of manipulative information. In addition, the monopoly on the advertising market suffocates the media, which runs out of their main income sources. According to her, these factors prevents the free media to survive and develop without the help of external donors. ‘Of course, an underdeveloped or biased journalism is only one of the hindrances to the democratic development of a state. Also, due to the same factors, our country continued to lose positions in the Press Freedom Index, prepared by Reporters Without Borders’, pointed out Viorica Zaharia.

Zaharia mentioned that the Government’s proposals as regards the access to information of public interest could improve this situation. However, the other two problems are yet unsolved, i.e. the concentration of the media in the hands of politicians and the monopolisation of the advertising market. According to PC Chair, one can currently notice ‘the fall or, at least, the decline of certain media groups’, which confirm that they were financed by their owners who were at the governance. In this context, the PC Chair added: ‘There are signs that the spheres of influence on the media market are being redistributed. We urge the authorities that claimed so far to support the true democracy, to be vigilant’, highlighted Viorica Zaharia.

According to PC Chair, the Broadcasting Council has all the leverage to regulate the media field, but it does not use them, and, as a result, certain TV channels that violate the Ethics Code have felt more relaxed lately, because they were not afraid of the possible sanctions of the BC.

The Forum was also attended by the Prime Minister Maia Sandu who described the situation of the Moldovan media as being dramatic. In her opinion, the free press is struggling to survive as the funding sources for advertising are artificially limited by cartel agreements and monopolies imposed, while the external sources are limited. Maia Sandu said that after former leader of the Democratic Party, Vlad Plahotniuc, decided to withdraw from the public life, ‘his media empire falls apart’. ‘The TV channels that are part of General Media Group renounce the national frequencies and lose people. Some of them will probably close. (...) Another holding company, affiliated with PSRM, is getting strength. Accent TV has recently received the right to rebroadcast in our country the programs of the most popular Russian TV channel. A political pole has weakened and another one tries to strengthen’, added the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister added that certain interventions aimed at improving the current state of affairs in the media are under preparation. ‘I have three priorities as regards the media: the first is to support the free media, to create conditions so that it can exist without interference and be able develop in the Republic of Moldova. The second is about strengthening the independence and the creative capacity of the public media outlets. The third refers to strengthening the capacities of the advertising and media regulators to keep the market stable, to protect the information space from internal and external interference and to sanction abusers,’ said Maia Sandu.

Among other things, the Prime Minister harshly criticised the Broadcasting Council, claiming that its current membership is outdated and that it needs proactive and professional members, independent of the political factor.

Present at the event, BC Chair Dragos Vicol denied these critics and said that ‘the political factor wants to interfere with the Council’s work’ and that certain Moldovan politicians did not like him.

The Forum was also attended by the Ambassador of Sweden in the Republic of Moldova, Her Excellency Anna Lyberg, who mentioned that the freedom of expression and independence of the media are principles included in the Association Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Moldova. According to her, the Government needs to foster the adoption of media development policies. ‘It is very welcome that the new Audiovisual Media Services Code entered into force and we need to ensure its proper enforcement’, said Anna Lyerg.

Scott Hocklander, Head of USAID Mission to the Republic of Moldova, had a message of support of the free media and media pluralism. He mentioned the Media-M program, which is being implemented in our country during five years, in order to support the independent media, the product diversification and media sustainability. According to the American official, Moldova, like other countries, is struggling with the phenomenon of misinformation and it needs to develop the critical thinking of its media consumers in order to fight it.

The Forum is organised every year by the Press Council of the Republic of Moldova in partnership with the Association of Independent Press (AIP), the Independent Journalism Centre (IJC) and the Electronic Press Association (APEL).