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OSCE/ODIHR Report On Media Behaviour During the Elections: the Citizens’ Access to Information was ‘Insufficient’ Because the Media is Politically Controlled

24 May 2019
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The International Election Observation Mission for monitoring the Parliamentary Elections of February 2019, under OSCE, in its final Report , pays attention to several gaps in reflecting the election campaign of February 2019 by the Moldovan media and gives concrete recommendations aimed to remedy them. International observers found that voters’ access to public information was often insufficient because of politically controlled media. There are some discrepancies between the Law on Access to Information and Law on Personal Data Protection, which also limited the access to information of voters. At the same time, the sanctions imposed by the Broadcasting Council (BC) did not have the expected impact, because the BC monitored broadcasters only during the election campaign.

According to the Report, the media in the Republic of Moldova is owned and controlled by political actors, and this has restricted citizens’ access to diverse viewpoints and, ultimately, they did not have enough information to make their choice. International observers also noted that television remained to be the main source of political information in Moldova, followed by online media outlets, but that not all TV media services reflected the election campaign in an impartial way.
At the same time, the International Election Observation Mission expressed some concerns regarding the risks related to the financial autonomy of some media outlets caused by the limited access to the advertising market and the commercial pressures from two dominant players in this sector.

The Report mentions that the journalists’ requests for information were often rejected on the grounds personal data protection. To this end, the authors of the report believe that Law on Access to Information and Law on Personal Data protection should be harmonized in such a way as to ensure appropriate access of citizens to information of public interest.
The Report contains some concrete suggestions for the Broadcasting Council as well. Thus, in order to promote the pluralism in the audiovisual field, the BC should extend the period of monitoring TV shows and debates beyond the election campaign period. This way, the BC would be able to publish the monitoring reports on media behavior in a timely manner and ensure the proper operation of the mechanism for sanctioning the broadcasters that commit repetitive violations of legal rules.

The authors of the Report also reminded that during the previous election campaign, the broadcasting regulator published the monitoring reports on 15 and 21 February, therefore most sanctions were only established four days before the end of the campaign period. The third monitoring report was published only on 18 March and, despite the identification of several violations, the BC did not sanction any broadcasters.

The Mission also recommends to ensure the ownership transparency of online and print media.
The International Election Observation Mission monitoring the Parliamentary Elections of 24 February 2019 included 343 observers from 38 countries. They assessed the compliance of the electoral process with the OSCE commitments, with other international obligations and standards for democratic elections, as well as with national legislation.