Online Harassment of Journalists in the Republic of Moldova: An Expanding Phenomenon

In the recent years, the phenomenon of online harassment (cyberbullying) of journalists has reached an alarming level in the Republic of Moldova, and this fact causes serious consequences for the freedom of the press, also and encouraging self-censorship. Cyberbullying against the press manifests itself as using information technologies for contacting media representatives in order to insult them, to disturb them, or to threaten them with physical injuries or murder. Online bullying can be committed by individuals or groups of persons and typically happens on social media.

In most cases, journalists become targets of online threats and hate speech due to their professional activities. As a rule, actions of those who demonstrate various sorts of intolerance against the press are reactions to the content of published journalistic materials. For instance, in December 2022, after Mihail Sirkeli, the journalist working for the Nokta portal, published a post about the shelling in Ukraine, which happened on the day when the European Parliament declared the Russian Federation to be a “state sponsor of terrorism,” a social network user threatened Mihail Sirkeli claiming that “a brick could ‘accidentally’ fall on his head.”

In October 2022, two other cases of threats to murder journalists were registered. Viorica Tataru, TV8 reporter, was threatened by a Facebook social network user that she would be killed for the questions she had addressed the participants of the protests organized by the Sor Party.

“Such texts appear quite frequently, especially after the protests or events organized by the pro-Russian parties. The messages contain all sorts of swear words and curses, as well as death threats. They also often appear in the comments to my posts on the social networks and are aimed to attack me directly: you’ve been paid for that and you’ll pay for it, you’re a hireling at heart, you provoke people on purpose, go home and cook some cabbage soup instead of going to the protests. I studied the profiles of those who threatened me and discovered that many of them posted Christian messages and slogans, while the others seemed to have a rather dubious level of culture and posted indecent videos; in addition, some people simply disappeared after demonstrating their aggression in their messages, blocking their accounts”,” the journalist recalls.

The Ziarul de Garda editorial board members, following the publication of an investigation related to the same protests, were also threatened with being beheaded, and TV8 representatives spoke about harassment campaigns which were manifested by hiring some influencers who were regularly making live broadcasts in which they denigrated the journalists, told lies, and made accusations related to basically any issues, ranging from financial abuse to extramarital affairs. This information was later picked up by some obscure websites or Telegram channels. “We filed a complaint against these influencers to the Police, the Police imposed some fines, they were contested in court, some trials still last to this day, yet we have several decisions on defamation. One of the persons in question is Cristian Rizea who was convicted of defamation and ordered to disprove the information he had published. He no longer resides in the country and could not be contacted. Obviously, the court decision did not produce any effect,” Mariana Rata says.

In the case of Jurnal TV, after an article was published in June, journalist Vadim Ungureanu launched “an aggressive harassment campaign against Jurnal TV and staff. It was lasting for several weeks, during which Ungureanu was spreading a number of fakes, blackmailing the staff with non-existent video images and all the insults and curses possible. In addition, after a Jurnal TV investigation into several police officers’ eventual involvement in corruption schemes was published by us two years ago, online harassment of Jurnal TV staff continues to this day. The police officer’s wife and his other relatives denigrate the image of Jurnal TV by comments and insults in which they make false accusations against our TV channel.”

Remedies Provided by Criminal Legislation

The Criminal Code includes a separate article on criminalization of acts which create intentional obstacles to the media or journalists’ activity, as well as intimidate the media or journalists for criticism (Article 180/1). These actions are punished by fines from 25000 to 32500 lei, with or without deprivation of the right to hold certain public posts for a term of up to two years. Intimidating a journalist by threats of violence is an aggravating circumstance, and the law provides for fines from 37500 lei to 67500 lei, with or without deprivation of the right to hold certain public pots for a term of up to five years.

At the same time, threats of murder or serious damage to physical safety or health, including those committed by using an information technology system, is punishable by a fine from 27500 to 37500 lei, or unpaid community works, or imprisonment from 1 to 3 years (Article 155).

Tips for Preventing or Minimizing Risks of Online Harassment

  • Pay attention to the type and amount of information you voluntarily publish online. Restrict other persons’ access to the content on your social media profiles. It will help reduce the risk of harassers using the information about your private and family life in defamation campaigns or threatening your relatives or close people.
  • When reporting on sensitive topics which could cause coordinated attacks from trolls, be careful about using social media hashtags. Tagging the types of content for notifying the audience makes it easier to identify targets of cyberbullying attacks.
  • Report expressions which represent threats or hate speech to the online platform administrators.
  • Document the case of harassment. Keep the screenshots to have evidence of the content of the expression, the date of publication, the user’s (author’s) first and the last name, etc.
  • File a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office or the Police. Any threat or act of attack against journalists or their family members, including those taking place online, should be reported and made public.

The digital rights promoting campaign in the Republic of Moldova is implemented by the IJC within the “Greater Internet Freedom” project financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content of this material is the responsibility of the IJC and does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Show More

💬 ...

Back to top button