ISS qualifies information on Primul în Moldova and Accent TV’s effective beneficiaries as state secret
The Information and Security Service decided to qualify the identifying data of the actual beneficiaries of Primul în Moldova and Accent TV as state secret. This specification was provided by the institution as a reply to an official request for information made by Media Azi at the end of last year.
Media Azi requested information on the subject after the Audiovisual Council asked ISS, the National Anticorruption Center and the Competition Council on October 4th to investigate whether Primul în Moldova and Accent TV had changed their effective beneficiary, following a number of press publications. When asked to provide a copy of its reply to AC, the institution’s representatives answered that the information “contains data that results from counter-intelligence activities and special investigations carried out by ISS, thus being classified as a state secret (…), and the physical media is marked Classified”. We also requested AC to provide us with a copy and to confirm or deny that the two TV channels are affiliated, whether directly or indirectly, with the Şor Party, as has been claimed by a number of media outlets. The audiovisual authority justified its refusal to provide the data by referring to their secrecy.
The Audiovisual Council notified the three state institutions after being informed on September 22 by Telesistem TV, the owner of Accent TV and Primul în Moldova, that the company has a new administrator, and several media outlets wrote that the two TV channels would thus come under the control of the Şor Party. The institution’s Chairperson, Liliana Vitu, claimed a reasonable suspicion of media concentration between TV6, Orhei TV, Primul în Moldova and Accent TV.
In November, it became known that Primul în Moldova and Accent TV TV did not only change their administrator, but also changed their final owners in Russia. On October 7, 2022, Ziarul de Gardă wrote that Alexei Polunin, a Russian citizen, became the new beneficiary of the two channels. The audiovisual authority was not informed about the changes and for this reason fined the owner company.
Meanwhile, the Emergency Situation Commission decided to suspend the broadcasting licenses of Primul în Moldova, Accent TV, TV6, Orhei TV, NTV Moldova and RTR Moldova during the state of emergency. The order was issued in the evening of December 16.
Cristina Durnea, lawyer at the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), reminds that, according to law, consumers have the right to be informed about beneficial owners who control, whether directly or indirectly, TV channels. “There is a possibility that part of the information contained in the ISS’s reply to AC represents data that, in case of unauthorized disclosure, could harm the interests or security of Moldova. However, this cannot justify depriving the public of the right to know who the actual beneficiaries of the media service providers are. Therefore, even if a copy of ISS’s reply to AC cannot be provided in its entirety since it contains data that, by their nature, actually require protection, information about the owner beneficiary of the TV channels still has to be provided. The law expressly stipulates the public nature of these data”, the lawyer argues her opinion. And in his interview for Media Azi lawyer Andrei Bivol states that the identity of effective beneficiaries of TV channels is public information, but specifies that “it may be a state secret if it was obtained by ISS through special investigation”.