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State News Agency ‘Moldpres’ on the track of becoming a public institution. Media experts consider that the new statute may enhance political control over the institution

04 July 2018
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State News Agency ‘Moldpres’ is to be transformed from a state-owned enterprise into a public institution directly subordinated to the  State Chancellery, and its management will be appointed by the State Secretary General, according to a recently developed draft decision. The ‘Moldpres’ management states that this is a good initiative, while media experts are concerned that the Government may establish a greater control over this press institution.
 
The state-owned enterprise ‘State News Agency “Moldpres”’ is being reorganised into the public institution ‘State News Agency “Moldpres”’, according to the publicly debated draft decision.The State Chancellery will act as the institution founder..‘The draft was drawn up in the implementation context of the Strategy on the public administration reform for 2016-2020’, according to the rationale note.
 
‘State-owned enterprises are Soviet period structures and are inefficient’, Vlad Darie, the ‘Moldpres’ Director, commented for Media-azi.md. At the same time, he claims that these transformations will increase the prestige of ‘Moldpres’. ‘We did not found the state-owned enterprise statute for the official news agency even in CIS. In a way, it was shameful. In other countries, the official state agencies have a very high statute, but in our country it is a state-owned enterprise, alongside other enterprises. These transformations will raise its status to a certain degree’, says Vlad Darie.
 
According to the same draft, once transformed into a public institution, the ‘Universul’ Publishing House is to be incorporated into the new structure. Vlad Darie believes that this provision could be excluded. ‘It is being discussed at the moment and it is not yet clear whether the draft will be voted in such a formulation. The founder has mentioned the idea that print services could also be included, but it is worth studying more details of the ‘Universul’ Publishing House situation. The issue must be examined with the maximum caution’, says the ‘Moldpres’ Director.
 
The initiative also stipulates that the ‘Moldpres’ public institution will use its own revenues, but budget subsidies are not excluded. Vlad Darie explained that the Agency was self-managing in the last eight years the, but could also use the Government's financial support, given the ever-increasing expenditures: ‘If the trend of increasing the number of publications and normative acts on behalf of all institutions is kept, we may need state subsidies’.
 
The new public institution will be led by a Council of 5 or 7 members and a Director, all of whom will be appointed by the State Secretary General. Vlad Darie does not see a problem in this regard, because, he argues, ‘the one in charge of the institution’s activity also appoints the members of the Council’.
 
Media experts share a different opinion. ‘It does not seem relevant that the Agency Director to be appointed by a decision of the State Secretary General. It is a position to be filled in through a contest. Probably, the Council members’ positions should be as well. However, public money are at stake’, says Petru Macovei, the Association of Independent Press Executive Director.
 
The expert does not exclude that reorganization would cover the intention to subordinate ‘Moldpres’ to the government interests at a higher degree. ‘I think this reorganization will subordinate the Agency even more and we will have a press institution not focusing on the public interest, but pursuing the Government's interest only’, Petru Macovei commented for Media-azi.md.
 
Cornelia Cozonac, the Center for Investigative Journalism President, shares the same opinion. She had previously worked at ‘Moldpres’ and in 2003 was dismissed from the position of the News Department Head, after publicly complaining about the interference of the Communist government at that time in the editorial politics of the Agency. ‘I would like to see some beneficial changes for ‘Moldpres’, but I’m afraid these would not occur, considering the general tendency of the current government to control the press, to subordinate it and not allow equidistant journalism be practiced as the ethics demand.
 
‘Moldpres’ was founded in 1990 following the liquidation of the Moldovan Informational Agency ATEM, from the Soviet period. In 1994 it was transferred from the Parliament subordination to the Government. At the end of 2017 there were 83 employees, 18 of which worked in the News Department. According to a report published by the State Chancellery, in 2017 ‘Moldpres’ registered a net profit of more than MDL 400 thousand. The State Information Agency ‘Moldpres’ is also responsible for publishing the Official Gazette of the Republic of Moldova.