Amidst the election process, the Council of Observers of the Public Company Gagauzia Radio Televizionu (GRT) decided on June 3 to prohibit the presence of candidates running for Bashkan position in commercial programs, paid for from the personal funds of the electoral candidate. At the same time, the Election Code of the Gagauzian autonomy provides in Article 64(5) that all media outlets broadcasting or printing in Gagauzia shall be obliged to offer airtime, both for free and against payment, to independent candidates, competitors, parties and to other stakeholders registered as participants to the election in the autonomy.
Facebook – Yes, GRT – No
The candidate Irina Vlah was the one to inform that GRT gave up on commercial programs during the election campaign, by means of a video published on her official Facebook page. She mentioned that on Monday, June 3, she was supposed to take part in the ‘Persona’ show on GRT, based on an agreement signed with the company for the duration of the election campaign, but a company representative announced her that GRT would not broadcast commercial programs anymore, because the Council of Observers decided so.
However, the regional channel had already broadcast so far two commercial programs with the participation of Irina Vlah and another one with the election candidate Serghei Cimpoies.
Vlah believes that CO’s decision is illegal, because the electoral legislation, but also the statement of GRT’s editorial policy during a election campaign allow candidates to appear in the media, both for free and against payment. The candidate to the Bashkan position stated that CO’s decision had been influenced by the former MP from PD, Nicolae Dudoglo – leader of Delvet Movement. In his turn, Dudoglo, according to Nokta.md portal, rejected Irina Vlah's accusations.
How Does the Council of Observers Explain the Decision
When contacted by Media-azi.md, the Chair of CRT CO, Igor Ianak, confirmed that such a decision had been made ‘in order to create equal conditions for all the candidates’. The CO Chair also added that it was CO’s response to the complaint of another election candidate – Dmitri Manol – who asked the members of the CO to consider whether it was legal for the candidate Irina Vlah to participate in commercial programs on GRT public channel, every Monday until June 30, the election day. In Manol’s opinion, Irina Vlah uses GRT airtime ‘for PR purposes and to denigrate her opponents’ (source 1, 2).
Dmitri Manol (on the left), alongside Nicolae Dudoglo. Photo source: Facebook
When asked why the CO passed such a decision in the middle of the election process, Ianak answered that: ‘We counted on the good faith of the participants to the election process, but some of them, due to their financial status, abuse it and thus they violate the principle of equal rights (...). Whoever has more money buys more programs, but those who do not have resources cannot pay for their screen time. Moreover, GRT is a public company...’
When asked if this might violate the Election Code of the Gagauzian autonomy, which allows the presence of election candidates both in free and in commercial programs, Ianak stated that the negative or positive aspects of a law are seen in practice and that he was sure that the given provision was violating the rights of election candidates.
Ianak said that the CO decision concerned only commercial programs. The candidates for the Bashkan position will be able to appear on GRT further on, during electoral debates or advertising.
What Is the Opinion of the Experts from the Region?
The interim report of the ‘Piligrim-Demo’ Mission observing the Bashkan election stated also that the commercial electoral programs violate the principle of free and open election and pose an increased risk in terms of equal access of all candidates to the media. ‘In particular, some candidates (the ones who will afford buying more airtime on various TV channels and radio stations) will be able to carry out more active election campaign activities to their advantage and to their opponents’ disadvantage’ mentioned the Piligrim-Demo report.
Please note that four independent candidates registered to run in the election campaign for the position of Bashkan of ATU Gagauzia – Dmitri Manol, Irina Vlah, Serghei Cimpoies and Ivan Burgudji. The election will take place on 30 June 2019.