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Final Report on Media Monitoring During the Election Campaign: Fake News Have not Disappeared from the Media Landscape, while ‘Many Bad Things’ Still Happen Online

13 March 2019
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There were fake news during the February 2019 election campaign as well, however less than in other election campaigns. What remained unchanged though, was favoring or disfavoring some political actors by certain media. In addition, the sanctions applied by the Broadcasting Council (BC) were insignificant and disproportionate to the deviations from the broadcasting law on the part of the broadcasters. The participants in the ‘Mass Media in Elections: Information, Misinformation and Electioneering’ round table, held on Wednesday, 13 March, discussed these and other issues. The event was organized by the Independent Journalism Centre (IJC) and the Association of Independent Press (API), which launched the Final Report on Media Monitoring during the Election Campaign for the Parliamentary Elections of 24 February 2019.

How the political pluralism was ensured
According to the report, the protagonists of the materials monitored during the reference period were mainly the party representatives, but also the independent candidates in single-member constituencies. The President Igor Dodon, along with the Prime Minister Pavel Filip and other representatives of the Government, were also the subject of many news and shows on some monitored stations.
According to the frequency and duration of recorded and live appearances on the news, shows and debates, the most featured were the Democratic Party, ‘ACUM’ Electoral Bloc, Party of Socialists of Moldova, ‘Sor’ Political Party and Liberal Party.
The most visible (by the frequency and duration of appearances (quotations/direct speech)) election candidates of the 15 political parties and groups registered in the nationwide constituency on the monitored online portals and newspapers were: the Democratic Party, followed by the Party of Socialists and ‘ACUM’ Electoral Bloc, ‘Sor’ Party, Communist Party and Liberal Party.

Fake News Phenomenon has diminished, but is still present
The participants in the round table asked about the frequency of the fake news during the monitored period. API Executive Director, Petru Macovei, said that there was no shortage of such news in the online media, and some media outlets used elements of fake news in their materials. However, this time, media consumers and journalists showed a much more critical approach to such news, and it did not appear so massively as in the previous campaigns.   ‘People have become more critical of the media, and it is likely that this implies greater attention to the information provided by the media’, Petru Macovei said.
The fake news phenomenon has diminished in the case of broadcasters. IJC Executive Director, Nadine Gogu, has explained this by the fact that, compared to online portals, there is a regulator in the broadcasting sector that can sanction TV stations, and the latter are more careful in such cases. ‘I have noticed during several election campaigns that, for example, the newscast on a TV station is relatively clean, balanced, while on the online portal belonging to the same group, the same news is presented with more details, deviations from journalistic requirements. This shows once again that more bad things, so to speak, happen in the online media, which is not regulated, than in the case of the broadcasters’, Nadine Gogu noted.

BC should extend its monitoring period
The member of the Broadcasting Council (BC), Olga Gututui, who attended the round table, noted that the results of the BC monitoring are basically similar to those of the monitoring carried out by the civil society. However, in the opinion of the BC’s member, the regulatory authority should monitor the TV stations not only during the election campaign but also during the pre-election period, as the civil society did. This is because the civil society report has shown once again that ‘some media outlets get involved in backstage games long before the start of the actual election campaign and do not offer a quality information product’, Olga Gututui said.
With regard to the insignificant sanctions applied by BC, when some stations, although having violated the broadcasting law, were imposed a fine of only MDL 5,000, the BC member pointed out: ‘The Broadcasting Code states very clearly that every fine should be proportionate, including to the seriousness of the violations admitted by one media outlet or another. And when such violations are admitted, one has to assume responsibility for them.’

CEC supports more stringent sanctions
The Media Communication Officer of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), Corneliu Pasat, agreed that the fines imposed on media outlets that violate the law are, in general, small. ‘It is quite disproportionate, especially when we look at the cost of one minute of advertising on a TV station, which reaches even USD 5,000, compared to a fine of MDL 5,000,’ Corneliu Pasat said.
According to the participants in the round table, amendments are required to the Regulation on the Coverage of Election Campaign. For instance, the Regulation does not define clearly the media outlets that are obliged to cover the election campaign.
Another issue highlighted by the participants in the round table was the broadcasting of electoral debates by some TV stations at inconvenient time, like early in the morning. The law does not oblige broadcasters to broadcast the debates in prime time, however they should broadcast them at peak viewing times, so the voters have access to them.

Note that the representatives of the media outlets monitored by the Independent Journalism Center and the Association of Independent Press were also invited to attend the round table. The event was attended only by the representatives of the public broadcaster Moldova 1.