Unfair Competition and the Advertising Market. President of the Competition Council: “We Don’t Get Any Other Information than the Statements Made by the Press”

Unfair competition on the advertising market has not disappeared, according to Mariana Rata, one of the founders of the TV8 channel. On the other hand, Alexei Ghertescu, President of the Competition Council, affirms that the institution he heads is faced with certain limitations which prevent it from investigating the facts regarding unfair competition covered in the press. This topic was discussed during the Mass-Media Forum 2022, in a debate with the participation of journalists and representatives of the state institutions and the regulatory authorities.

During the discussion, Mariana Rata emphasized that the money from advertising was very important for the media. “If it can be earned honestly, you have independent press, and if you have no legal and honest source of funding, press becomes vulnerable, easy to manipulate, to bribe, and to influence,” she affirmed. The journalist reminded the authorities of their commitment to get down to real de-monopolization of the media, including by advertising market liberalization, to provide conditions for sustainable development of the independent press. Yet the two laws adopted in 2021 and 2022 by the Parliament, the one which obliged the broadcasters to refuse from advertising lotteries, games of chance, or sports betting, as well as the amendments which limited microfinance service advertising, reduced a large share of the income, becoming a “blow” for the press. “Discussions about the amendments to the Audiovisual Code intended to bring order to the market and create a fair competition environment started in 2021, and have been recently published in the Monitorul Oficial. It took a year. We’ll have to see the way they will be implemented and the expected outcome. We don’t know whether their impact is negative or positive. It is certain that the first two projects affected the media negatively,” Mariana Rata emphasized.

The journalist mentioned that the media still operates in an environment of unfair competition. “Unfortunately, the Competition Council is reluctant to get involved in it for the time being and sort things out with the other state institutions authorized on this market. Over 70% of the advertising budget, which is already reduced, goes to the media institutions broadcasting in the territory of the Republic of Moldova. These are mostly Russian TV channels. The money from advertising which is intended for developing the domestic product does not remain in the Republic of Moldova. This is not only an issue for the media, but also for you, dear governors. (…) We may lose part of the independent press unless a timely intervention takes place. The larger institutions will stay, and they will also be supported by the donor community. In this case, I’m not sure how we could deal with the problem related to the lack of pluralism of opinions,” the TV8 journalist mentioned.

Alexei Ghertescu, President of the Competition Council, admitted there were several challenges in the advertising sphere. However, he claimed there were certain limitations in the activity of the institution conducted by him, and they prevented it from investigating the facts of unfair competition published by the press. He believes that better communication between the institution and the journalists is required, because many problems result from the media’s misunderstanding of the duties of the Competition Council. “I don’t agree with the statement that we’re reluctant to get involved. We’d like to get involved whenever we have the information, when we have data on certain violations of competition law. The problem is that when some unannounced concentration in a certain market is being discussed, we don’t get any other information than the statements made by the press. Quite often, even the journalists themselves misunderstand how the Competition Council works and what it should get involved in. I’m not saying the journalists are to blame, yet there should be some mutual communication, so that we could also understand what the others expect from us better. Currently, such communication is lacking,” Alexei Ghertescu also remarked.

The Mass Media Forum 2022, an event held on November 22-23, is organized by the Press Council and Freedom House in partnership with the Independent Press Association, the Independent Journalism Center, and the Electronic Press Association.

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