EU Ambassador to Moldova at the Mass Media Forum: Disproportionate Restriction of Freedom of Expression during the State of Emergency Should Be Avoided

Suspending the licenses of several TV channels during the state of emergency remains a concern “which could threaten the freedom of the press and citizens’ trust,” Ambassador Jānis Mažeiks, Head of the EU Delegation to the Republic of Moldova, said at the inauguration of the Mass Media Forum 2023. The event is organized in Chisinau on December 4 and 5.

At the inauguration of the Forum, Jānis Mažeiks referred to the recently suspended broadcasting licenses of several TV channels, emphasizing the need to establish “a robust regulatory framework which ensures accountability while complying with the principles of freedom of expression. Faced with Russian disinformation campaigns and manipulations from other actors, we should stay vigilant.”

“In the spirit of open-heartedness and freedom of expression, we should also consider the concerns which could threaten press freedom and citizens’ trust, such as suspending certain media outlets which were used for spreading fake information. While protecting the public from harmful effects of disinformation and protecting democratic institutions and processes is essential, it is equally important to protect freedom of expression, and supreme standards of the rule of law and due procedure should be maintained during the state of emergency, while disproportionate restriction of freedom of expression should be avoided,” the diplomat explained. He also mentioned the “lack of credibility” referring to TV channel audience assessment, as well as the part which the new Center for Strategic Communication and Combating Disinformation is supposed to play.

In her speech, the President of the Republic of Moldova referred to the statistical increase in the 2023 Press Freedom Index published by the Reporters Without Borders earlier this year. Besides, “last month, Moldova joined two important initiatives – the Partnership for Information and Democracy and the International Fund for Public Interest Media – which will assist us in promoting freedom of opinion and expression more efficiently and providing access to free and credible information,” Maia Sandu commented.

She also discussed the impact of the war in Ukraine, hybrid attacks, political destabilization attempts, and the economic crisis which also causes “continuous threat” for the freedom of the press. “A well-developed and self-sustaining media market is what both citizens and the state need – editorially and economically independent media outlets which inform the public correctly and leave no space for disinformation or manipulations. On the other hand, it is important for the public to know how to sort out the wheat from the chaff. (…) This year, we also suggested applying a national security strategy, where we assume implementing certain steps at the state level to protect the free press, including the investigative one,” the Head of State also remarked.

Maia Sandu listed a series of legislative amendments introduced last year, such initiatives as the Ministry of Culture assuming the task of coordinating policies in the media sphere, the new Law on Access to Information, or approving the National Media Development Program for 2023-2026, emphasizing, among other things, that “we still have some work to be done in the advertising market where unfair competition persists, which has its impact on the independent media.”

Kent D. Logsdon, US Ambassador in Chisinau, referred to the importance of managing the challenges currently existing in the media sphere in Moldova. “A healthy information environment can only be achieved when the media, the government, the private sector stakeholders, and civil society cooperate. (…) Free press educates, elucidates, discovers, and unmasks. It is the guardian of truth. This activity ensures that every citizen has access to fact-based information about the events in Moldova and around the globe. It is not an easy task – you have to figure out how to obtain suitable information and to cope with economic challenges and an unprecedented amount of disinformation. The Russian Federation’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine has merely amplified this challenge for the media in Moldova,” the diplomat considers.

More than 160 journalists, editors, media managers, media organization and association, representatives, as well as professors and students from faculties of journalism are taking part in the Mass Media Forum 2023 which started in Chisinau on Monday. The agenda of the event held for the eighth time includes the debates about the state of the media in the country, the public’s trust in the press, and disinformation’s harmful impact on democracy, and it is joined by journalists and experts from the country and abroad, and public institutions’ and regulatory authorities’ representatives.

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