Criticism of the definition of the notion of misinformation and restrictions on audiovisual content broadcasting, as well as discussions about the need to create an authentic media and advertising market in the Republic of Moldova sounded during the second round of hearings on the project on countering misinformation. The debates were held in the Parliament on April 18.
The draft already discussed was voted in the first reading and criticized by the opposition which believes that this document is aimed at introducing censorship.
NOTION OF MISINFORMATION AS THE APPLE OF DISCORD
Attorney Laura Urschi, who attended the hearings, referred to the use of the phrase “public property” in the suggested definition for the notion of misinformation, which, in her opinion, was used incorrectly in the context. “The notion of property and public property is expressly regulated by the Civil Code and does not refer to information security or security of citizens. These are corporeal things that can be touched. Water, forests, etc. are referred to as public property. I suggest excluding this phrase and going directly to information security threats,” she explained.
Irina Corobcenco, Promo-Lex Association representative in charge of monitoring hate speech, noted that the suggested definition for misinformation contains “a number of vague expressions and may be misinterpreted.” “Although this definition [of misinformation – editor’s note] has some elements in common with the definition suggested by the European Commission, such as the factual essence, intent, economic damage, and economic gain, there are quite many expressions that should be reconsidered to see how they could be adjusted,” the expert explained.
In this context, Liliana Nicolaescu-Onofrei, the president of the parliamentary media committee, mentioned that the authors of the project were guided by the European Code of Good Practice, “But it is true that this is a practical code, not a legislative framework to be used as a reference.”
Ludmila Belicencova, a journalist from Primul in Moldova, referred to those who could decide which information was false or true. “An article in this project says that information which affects the information space is the information coming from an aggressor state. Please provide the journalists with a list of countries officially considered to be aggressor states by a state institution in the Republic of Moldova,” she said.
Evghenii Golosceapov, an independent human rights expert, said he understood the purpose and necessity of the project, such as peacekeeping and security, but “the steps suggested are not always proportionate or necessary.” He remarked that the Republic of Moldova could be the first country to try regulating such spheres as misinformation and related risks and provide “an example that should not be followed.” “First of all, the sphere of misinformation is basically political, and the notions are basically political, whereas we attempt to use legal instruments to regulate this field. For this reason, we don’t have many examples of this sort in other countries, because they have not touched upon these political notions which could be legally defined,” Golosceapov stated.
CIRCULATION OF INFORMATION IN THE CONTEXT OF THE EUROPEAN PROFILE CONVENTION
Evghenii Golosceapov also refers to the suggestions to limit broadcasting TV programs from the countries which did not ratify the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. He specifies that the purpose of the convention was to facilitate information sharing, and the Moldovan authorities had applied it “in a wrong way” in order to limit the information. “I have checked how many countries have ratified the convention. There are 34 of them. Let’s add several European countries that have not ratified the convention, the USA and Canada, and we get a number of about 40. There are approximately 200 countries in the world. What shall we do with the remaining 160? Do these countries spread lies, fakes, or misinformation? Do we really mean all these countries? Why should we limit the possibilities of sharing information to only 40 countries of the world excluding news and analytics from 160 countries from the information space? We are not at war with these countries,” Golosceapov said.
Evghenii Sergheev, RTR Moldova representative, emphasized that the suggested project included the notion of military content, whereas the Code did not specify what it implied. “We understand this notion according to the definition dictionary, but what does this mean within the legislative framework? How could it be defined? For instance, a love drama is broadcast on the TV, and a tank appears on the screen. The protagonists are a tank soldier and a cook – is that military content?” Sergheev remarked.
DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE DOMESTIC MEDIA SPACE
Dumitru Tira, the founder of Realitatea media press group, discussed the role of distributors in the context of the conversation, mentioning that the main purpose of the suggested modifications should be aimed at creating an authentic media market. He considers that the number of foreign TV channels without advertising offered by the distributors is currently higher compared to other years, and if the project suggestions are voted, about 20% -25% of TV channels are likely to disappear from the current offer. “To create an authentic broadcasting market, we should proceed from the national interest; such an authentic advertising marketplace should have the capacity to cope with any challenges. Of course, the war [in Ukraine] will already be a criterion to be regarded as a risk,” Dumitru Tira mentioned.
The media entrepreneur suggested banning entertainment programs from broadcasting, in addition to other types of programs listed in the project.
Cristina Pohilenco, Jurnal TV Deputy Director, also referred to the foreign content which should be broadcast in accordance with the legislation. “Now, we are faced with an unprecedented situation, there is a war in the neighboring country, and certain decisions must be made in the national interest, not in anyone’s personal interest. Foreign content differs greatly from retransmitted content. When you purchase foreign content, you can broadcast it whenever you find it convenient, according to your editorial policies and schedule. Retransmitted content depends on the time of the broadcast on the mother channel,” the journalist emphasized.
As to discussions on the difficulties related to providing local content, she considers that the local market already has TV channels which, for some time, have been able to produce it. “Quality keeps improving day by day. Seven, eight, or ten hours are more than enough for a TV channel to create. During the discussions we have now, we are not merely changing a law, but contributing to development of an entire industry which should exist in a normal country,” Pohilenco said.
In his turn, Dorel Samoila, Publicis Media advertising agency representative, mentioned that, in case of implementing the project requirements on increasing the amount of domestic product in the Republic of Moldova, “the advertising market might collapse.” “We have an impression that there are approximately eight channels able to comply with all the provisions of the Code. In Moldova, people are accustomed to watching a single type of content. When the audience leaves the channels in question, it will not immediately come to the remaining ones,” Dorel Samoila said.
“It demonstrates that we do it not for the sake of advertisement, but because we would like to have healthy media. We are ready to wait for advertizing. Let it appear whenever it appears. But let us proceed the way we should,” Svetlana Buzu, TV8 General Manager, said.
Liliana Nicolaescu-Onofrei mentioned that the deputies were going to consider the suggestion to divide the document into two distinct parts in order to work on its problematic aspects separately.