Several media outlets in Moldova say they are forced to allocate resources to defend themselves in cases filed against them in courts, in some cases on complaints against all journalists involved in the production of materials. At the press club dedicated to freedom of expression, organized by the Independent Journalism Center in the context of publication of the study “Enforcement of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments in freedom of expression cases”, some journalists spoke how difficult it is for the media to face these challenges.
The study focused on analyzing the enforcement of the ECtHR judgment in the case of RISE Moldova and Iurie Sanduța v. Moldova. During the discussion, Iurie Sanduța, director of RISE Moldova and author of the investigation “Dodon’s money in the Bahamas”, for which he had been sued by the former chairman of the Party of Socialists, Igor Dodon, and his party colleagues, said that he participated in most of the court hearings on this case in the national courts “to defend his work”. “After seeing the judgment of the first instance court, I said to myself that if we lose in the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ), which I already suspected, since I felt that the judge had been influenced, I would pay with my money, but I would bring this case to the ECtHR. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the first court, and the Supreme Court of Justice, too,” recalled Iurie Sanduța.
According to Iurie Sanduța, RISE Moldova is currently targeted in six pending cases. The outlet lost one case at the SCJ, being obliged to pay damages to one of the persons concerned in the investigation and to delete information from the investigation that mentioned that protagonist. The journalist says that the editorial office wants to complain to Strasbourg in this case, too. “We decided to go to the ECtHR because it would be a new precedent, in which the court forces us to remove practically the entire material just for a few seconds in which one of the protagonists appears,” Iurie Sanduța said. He noted that the lawyer is currently preparing materials. They are expected to be filed in the coming months.
“CONCERTED ATTACKS” AGAINST CU SENS
Journalist Liuba Șevciuc, co-founder of the media project CU SENS, says that her team is currently involved in six lawsuits after they published two investigations, one of which concerned the purchase of computers by the Ministry of Education during the pandemic. “We analyzed this tender and made a material, where we targeted the economic agent that participated in the tender and won it. After we published the investigation, the economic agent sued us, both as a legal entity and as the president of the holding company, businessman Vladimir Rusu. Jurnal TV was also sued in this case, because it disseminated that material,” Liuba Șevciuc said.
The second investigation concerns one of the public-private partnerships implemented by the Chisinau Mayor’s Office and refers to a Chisinau city lyceum. In this case, too, after the investigation was published, the outlet was sued by individuals and legal entities.
The journalist describes such methods of filing cases to court as “concerted attack or harassment”. “This obviously puts pressure on the outlet. It means that you need to find funds in order to seek the services of a lawyer to represent you in court. The more court cases, the more money you need for lawyers, you need time, and media outlets do not have the necessary funds,” Liuba Șevciuc added.
The journalist said that their work is also difficult because the protagonists sued each of the journalists involved in carrying out the investigations – reporter, editor and founders: “There are practically six people brought to court in each case.” The outlet also appealed to the support of the Independent Journalism Center.
TV8, WITH OVER 40 COURT CASES
Investigative journalist and presenter of the Black Box show on TV8, Mariana Rață, said that this station is involved in over 40 lawsuits, including some for defending the honor and dignity of the station’s journalists. “For a year now they have been targets of attacks from which they are not protected neither by law nor by other forms of protection of journalists,” Mariana Rață said. She spoke as an example of a lawsuit filed by the Jewish community after the protagonist of an article was mentioned to have been a member of this community. “We receive preliminary summonses almost after every material, and almost after every material we explain how their right has been respected, they are given the right to reply,” Mariana Rață said. According to her, as a result of these explanations some complaints do not reach the court.
Jurnal TV program director Dumitru Mișin also noted a large number of cases involving investigative journalists, including their TV station. “These are reminiscences of former governments. Unfortunately, this strategy that used to be applied in the past has not yet disappeared. It remains and, unfortunately, in all these cases the judges are accomplices, and this is regrettable, even if we talk a lot about the justice sector reform,” Mișin said.
The project manager at NewsMaker, Jaan Marti Allik, noted that their publication is involved in three lawsuits, in two cases as an intervenor. “Both lawsuits were initiated after video interviews, being based on the facts mentioned in live interviews. Obviously, we could do nothing, because we cannot verify the information that is being broadcast live,” he argued.
Jaan Marti Allik said that the outlet is particularly careful with headlines and information in the leads, after being sued by a company for damaging honor.