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The Parliament approved in the first reading the draft law on establishing parliamentary control over Teleradio-Moldova

21 October 2021
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At the plenary meeting on October 21, the Parliament approved in the first reading the draft law that provides for the return of the public company Teleradio-Moldova (TRM) under parliamentary control. The PAS party’s initiative was supported by 52 MPs, and three opposed it. Opposition representatives called for postponing the examination of the draft to hold public discussions and have an international expert examination, but the parliamentary majority rejected the proposal.

The document provides for a number of amendments to the Code of Audiovisual Media Services, including the return of TRM under the control of the Parliament, as it was before 2019. PAS party’s MPs propose that TRM’s general director be appointed by the Parliament at the proposal of TRM’s Supervisory and Development Board (new name for the Supervisory Board). At the same time, the authors propose allowing MPs to dismiss the TRM’s general director is case of “improper performance or non-performance of his duties,” among other things.

MPs want the rejection of the annual activity report of the Broadcasting Council to entail “dismissal of the members of the Broadcasting Council.” According to the initiative, the term of office of the current members of the Supervisory Board, of TRM’s general director and his deputies will end once the amendments enter into force. The legislators also propose that the term of office of the current members of TRM’s Supervisory Board, the TRM’s general director and his deputies be terminated on the date of entry into force of the initiative.

Adela Răileanu, MP from the faction of the Bloc of Communists and Socialists (BCS), requested postponing the examination of this issue until it is publicly debated. “We ask that this draft law not be included [on the agenda], as media-related civil society insists on it being discussed and then examined in plenary meeting. It is a sensitive project. It is about Teleradio-Moldova, an institution that people fought not to be subjected to political control,” Adela Răileanu said. The parliamentary majority rejected the proposal.

The head of the specialized parliamentary commission, Liliana Nicolaescu-Onofrei, explained the urgency of approving the changes. “The elaboration of this draft law was determined by the need for urgent measures by which the state could protect the citizens’ right to correct, truthful, and unbiased information, to ensure proper functioning and accountability in order to achieve quality in the performance of the national public media service provider, public company Teleradio-Moldova, as well as the Broadcasting Council,” she said.

The MP Adela Răileanu mentioned that the BCS faction would not vote for this draft law, one of the reasons being that the procedure of conducting and completing parliamentary control and the criteria underlying the rejection of activity reports of the targeted entities are not clearly explained. “The vote for law 283 will be a vote for censorship and against the journalists of Teleradio-Moldova, as well as a wrong step towards a regime with dictatorial habits,” Adela Răileanu said.

“Please do not speculate. (...) We can only express our regret. You did not want to participate in the commission either, but it would have been necessary, nevertheless, to put your shoulder to have maximum accountability in these two institutions,” was the reply of Liliana Nicolaescu-Onofrei.

“LET’S CAREFULLY ANALYZE WHAT PRECEDENTS WE CREATE”

Media expert Aneta Gonța says she understands “the impatience of the government to change things (for the better, I’d like to believe) at TRM and the Broadcasting Council.” “As a beneficiary of information, I am waiting for these changes, too. It is true that we have been witnessing for years a continuous demonstration of the lack or insufficiency of professionalism, efficiency, vision, organization, and, above all, good faith in compliance with the law and deontology both within the public media provider, at managerial and editorial level, as well as within the Broadcasting Council,” Aneta Gonța told Media Azi.

The media researcher is of the opinion that the current approach of the parliamentary majority regarding TRM “is not the worst thing,” given that competitions were not done correctly until recently. “The fact that the current government wants to make a political commitment for these changes, including by modifying the procedures for appointment of members for the Supervisory Board, is, eventually, a renunciation of hypocrisy,” Aneta Gonța commented.

At the same time, she warns that this issue must be approached carefully, so that positions of responsibility are occupied by professionals as a result of these changes. “This commitment should be understood in the sense of designating the best professionals, who know what a public service means and act in accordance with the law, and not in the sense of appointing people according to political criteria, loyal to the government. Because, of course, governments are almost guaranteed to change from time to time. And then it is good to analyze very well and carefully what kind of precedents we create,” Aneta Gonța said.

THE BENEFITS AND RISKS OF THE INITIATIVE

Media researcher Victor Gotișan believes that both the Broadcasting Council (BC) and the Supervisory Board (SB) are currently “professionally impotent and bring no added value to the media, broadcasting, or public sector.” He thinks that the government’s inaction in this direction would amount to “an enormous waste of money, time, and opportunities to make reforms.” “The question I ask myself in this regard, and the new government asks itself, is whether we can afford 4 more years of inactivity of this BC and stagnation of TRM? I think we can’t. For the simple reason that both institutions and/or areas must be the ones to set the tone for reforms in the private and public audiovisual media sector. Therefore, from this perspective – in the short run – I understand and agree with the initiatives proposed by PAS,” Victor Gotișan told Media Azi.

In the expert’s view, the problem might arise in the long run, when other governments resort to such adjustments. “I do not rule out the fact that, in 4 years, the new government will introduce new amendments to bring ‘their’ people to these institutions. This is probably one of the major risks,” Victor Gotișan underlined.

In his opinion, the solution is for the future members of both structures to separate from the political factor and from those who promoted them. “This is what the new leadership of both the BC and the SB will have to do: tell those who promoted them ‘Thank you for choosing us and believing in us, in the fact that we are professionals, but our roads part here – you are dealing with politics, we are dealing with the media and reforms in this sector,’”, Victor Gotișan concluded.

Cristina Durnea, legal advisor of the Independent Journalism Center, said, “The inefficiency of the management and supervision bodies of the public provider of audiovisual media services may be one of the causes that hinder the development of TRM and undermine its functionality.” “However, the establishment and regulation of control and sanctioning mechanisms, formerly applied to the national public broadcaster, may bring back the vicious practices of interference in the activity of TRM by the governing political forces and distance the provider from its primary objective – to serve public interest ", Cristina Durnea wrote in a comment for Media Azi.

Angela Aramă, a former journalist of TRM, described the initiative as “absolutely inadmissible”. “They [PAS MPs] want everything related to the public company Teleradio-Moldova and the broadcasting regulator – the Broadcasting Council – to be subordinated to the current government (absolute parliamentary control), so that it can appoint and dismiss anyone and whenever it wants. All decision-making mechanisms in this regard will be subordinated to the parliamentary majority, i.e. the ruling party,” Angela Aramă wrote on her Facebook page.

Several media NGOs have expressed concern about the proposals to amend the Code of Audiovisual Media Services, inserted in the draft law registered in the Parliament on October 14, 2021. “The establishment and regulation of former control and sanctioning mechanisms in the national public broadcaster can intensify the vicious practices of the ruling political forces interfering in the activity of TRM and may distance the provider from its primary goal – to serve the public interest.