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The BC Argues that it Cannot Sanction the Biased TV Channels in the Election Campaign. Ion Bunduchi: “If the BC does not understand something, that does not mean that the law does not provide them with levers”

11 October 2019
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The Broadcasting Council (BC) cannot sanction the TV channels that favor or disfavor certain electoral candidates, but it can take measures against the broadcasters that do not provide the right to reply to the people mentioned in the video reports. These statements belong to some members of the BC and were made within the Parliamentary Committee for Mass-Media, which was held on Friday, the 11th of October.
 
The members of the Committee examined how the BC monitors the behavior of the media service providers in the current election campaign. The BC Chair, Dragos Vicol, explained why the Council decided to monitor a smaller number of channels compared to other elections, having stated that only the broadcasters using state frequencies were subject to monitoring. In response to the remark made by the members of the Committee concerning the fact that several TV channels remained outside the monitoring of the BC, Dragos Vicol said that the mechanism of notification and self-notification is valid and can be used in relation to other channels, which were not included in the list of monitored media service providers.
 
In this context, Vicol specified that the BC was notified in relation to other channels by two BC members so far, who requested that the main newscasts of 11 TV channels be monitored and a notification was received from the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) concerning some channels, which favored certain candidates.
 
Vicol stressed that the regulatory authority could find the violation in terms of the lack of the party concerned in a TV material, but not the favoring of one or another candidate. “The favoring of one candidate or another does not fall under any article of the Audiovisual Media Services Code. For us it is much more important to see if the second source is present, if the opinions are separated from the facts and so on”, said Dragos Vicol.

 

At the same time, the BC Chair stated that he will collaborate with the media NGOs, and the findings of the civil society reports would be taken into account during the review of the second BC monitoring report. “And if we identify certain elements, which, in our opinion, are subject to sanctions from the perspective of the provisions of the Audiovisual Media Services Code, we will not hesitate to take certain measures”, said Vicol, adding that the BC would include in the final report the information on whether or not one channel favored certain candidates.
 
The MP from the PAS Faction (ACUM Bloc), Lilian Carp, was dissatisfied with the Moldova 1 public television broadcaster, which, according to him, presented certain candidates in a positive manner, while the others only neutrally. The MP considers that this fact would influence the public opinion.
 
In response, Lidia Viziru, a BC member, said that the BC cannot impose sanctions in such situations: “Yes, we can find that one channel or another favors a political candidate, but we cannot apply sanctions in such cases. According to Article 13 of the Code, the sanctions shall be applied only when the right to reply is not observed and the person concerned is not allowed to express his/her position in a particular situation”, explained Lidia Viziru.

Note that IJC sent two notifications to the BC concerning the violations it detected during the monitoring of ten TV channels in the first two weeks of the current election campaign. Among others, IJC pointed out that three private channels – NTV Moldova, Accent TV and Central Television – continued to be involved in political partisanship by favoring certain electoral candidates. At the same time, a great part of the monitored channels used only one source of information. In this regard, IJC requested the BC not to interpret its notifications as ‘mere recommendations’. “We insist that the broadcasting regulator ensures the compliance with the broadcasting legislation and electoral provisions, so that the broadcasters remove the deficiencies of their activity, and the citizens be informed objectively and truthfully”, it is mentioned in the second notification of IJC, sent to BC on Friday, 11th of October.
 
Comment of the APEL executive director, Ion Bunduchi
 
At the request of Media-azi.md to express his opinion whether or not the BC can apply sanctions against broadcasters who favor or disfavor certain electoral candidates, the executive director of the Electronic Press Association (APEL), Ion Bunduchi, who participated in the development of the Audiovisual Media Services Code, commented as follows: “The BC either did not read, or read and did not understand what the Audiovisual Media Services Code and the Electoral Code say, as these documents provide everything necessary to sanction anyone who deviates from the activity in the legal area. If the BC does not understand something, that does not mean that the law does not provide them with levers. That's how I see the things’, commented Bunduchi.
 
In the same train of thoughts, APEL Executive Director explained: “It is true that the BC, on the one side, should be guided by the electoral law - the one that prevails in the elections. On the other side, it is the public interest, defined by the national law and, apparently, not understood by the BC. My personal impression is that some of the BC members have not understood what the Media Services Code, nor the Electoral Code say (if I am wrong, we can organize a public knowledge contest). We also refer to the letter and the spirit of the provisions. In essence, what are we waiting for? To be informed how exactly the law was complied with or how much the media providers monitored by the BC contributed to the proper information of the voters through their activity? - wondered Ion Bunduchi.
 
At the same time, he mentioned that there were also some significant differences between the provisions of the Audiovisual Media Services Code and the provisions adopted “in the dark” of the Electoral Code on the coverage of election campaigns. “I refer particularly to Article 70(3) providing that “All debates shall be conducted and broadcast live only during prime time - between 07:00 and 10:00 p.m. on working days and between 05:00 and 10:00 p.m. during the weekends”. I have looked again and again for the author of this unfortunate provision to simply ask him: how could 50 radio and 60 TV channels have the candidates in the debates (let’s agree that we as listeners/viewers get bored by the representatives of the candidates even more than the candidates themselves, and the fault is not ours, but either the structure of the debates is boring, or the topics to be discussed are inadequate, or it is the participants’ fault). In this context, I would like to remind what the BC did with the Radio Moldova during the monitoring, namely it established that this radio channel broadcast debates in violation with the law. Yes, the law is defective, but this is the law and it should be observed by the BC as well”, stressed Ion Bunduchi.