The Republic of Moldova Takes Its First Steps towards Peace Journalism

Felicia Nedzelschi, journalist

The Republic of Moldova has always been a playground for the great forces, both territorially and ideologically. As a result, in the Moldovan space, in spite of its extremely compact area, large numbers of concepts intersect and ideas collide. What about propaganda? We’ve got it. The impact of the war in the region? We feel it. Hybrid warfare? Of course! Ethnic and linguistic conflicts? Definitely. A separatist zone? Sure thing! Minorities and discrimination? Absolutely! The fact that we still remain “sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania” (according to a cliché many Western journalists seem to be fond of), that is, between the EU and the war unleashed by Putin, also has an enormous impact on us.

This hotchpot of circumstances has been quite a challenge for our entire nation, and I’m not afraid to assume it has also raised and developed a very specific “reign” of journalism. The current Moldovan journalism is, to a certain extent, the grandchild of the journalism poets and writers were involved in, but it also descends from the party press. Writing and complying with the standards of independent journalism has been a long and complicated route. Large-scale changes have been taking place only during the last 15 years.

As they are not rooted in any secular traditions of journalism and stay in the epicenter of rather specific geopolitical circumstances, it seems to me that what our journalists have managed to do for diversifying the way we work for the press is an enormous progress. In this context, I would like to refer to solution journalism, constructive journalism, and peace journalism.

Comprehending Peace Journalism

Peace journalism is a relatively new concept in general, and it is even a newer one for the Republic of Moldova. Peace journalism is about selecting the way to present a certain topic and a story in order to contribute to non-violence and settling conflicts. It is a concept which helps us see things differently and raises existential questions. “But isn’t journalism supposed to be combative?”; “But is it a journalist’s role to act as a peacemaker?”; “But doesn’t peace journalism exclude investigations, news about illegalities, or debunking?”

As a journalist from Eastern Europe, residing in a country which has an armed conflict in the neighborhood and a Russian army in its territory, I admit I’ve also asked myself whether peace journalism could be practiced in the Republic of Moldova. After long and thorough documentation, I have become convinced that peace journalism could be opposed to war journalism, but it should not be opposed to high-quality journalism. The optics and the language are the things which matter most.

Moldovan Realities

Those who promote peace journalism affirm that this genre offers space for alternative voices in reporting, human stories which contribute to peaceful conflict settlement, assuming that fact-checking and impartiality are essential. Besides, journalists should also be careful about the language they use in their materials and the way it could help avoid, limit, or prevent conflicts from escalating. Therefore, some journalists and media outlets from the Republic of Moldova may have practiced peace journalism without even being aware of the fact that it had a particular name.

It could be affirmed that, in the recent years, when the Republic of Moldova registered a spectacular progress in the Press Freedom Index, ranking 28th out of 180 monitored states in 2023, the circumstances for practicing peace journalism have become more favorable. It should be kept in mind, however, that editorial independence is a crucial factor for implementing this concept.

In the recent years, especially after the change of the central authorities and the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the urge to clear up the Moldovan media landscape has been noticeable. In 2022, the authorities prohibited airing Russian newscasts on the radio and TV. Later, the Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova issued orders on blocking a number of online resources which were spreading fake news in the spheres affecting national security, and online sources which incited hatred, mass disorders, or war in the messages they shared. These steps certainly could not eradicate Russian propaganda which migrated online to social media, but it at least muted its voice on the official channels.

Therefore, we could say the purified media implies that we are able to start practicing new journalistic styles. However, Moldovan realities make me suggest that peace journalism is more easily adopted when you are not involved in any conflicts.

The Transnistrian Conflict VS. the War in Ukraine

The Republic of Moldova actually has a foreign army in the territory of the country itself. The frozen (or not-so-frozen) conflict in the Transnistrian region makes many people adopt a categorical position when covering this topic in the media. The problem seems to become even more personal when journalists from the right bank of the Dniester are not allowed to enter or even detained by the self-proclaimed authorities from Tiraspol. The most recent case is that of journalists Viorica Tataru and Andrei Captarenco who were interrogated separately for three hours only for having filmed a protest in Tiraspol, that is, for practicing their professional activity.

In my opinion, direct involvement in a territorial, ethnic, or ideological conflict makes it harder to practice peace journalism. It is a real challenge journalists in the Republic of Moldova have to face and to process in order to consciously choose the point of view of the topic to be covered. It can also serve as a test of personal and professional maturity and a choice we must go through in the context of our own generational and geographical traumas.

Meanwhile, the Moldovan press demonstrated implementation of peace journalism practices as soon as the Russian invasion in Ukraine broke out. From the very first weeks of the war, the press covered refugees’ stories, provided examples of their integration, reports from their new jobs in the Republic of Moldova, the newly founded communities, holidays celebrated here, and these people’s contribution to our society. When the war started, and a trend of blaming refugees for “merely receiving money” and “making a mess” emerged on social networks, a team of journalists successfully investigated where exactly this rhetoric had started and verified the facts, thus neutralizing the objections. This example of peace journalism is more than worthy.

A Necessary Alternative

Peace journalism starts making its way into the Moldovan media landscape. At the 2023 Mass Media Forum, a separate discussion was dedicated to this journalistic genre, and Moldova State University and Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu State University in Cahul initiated this media course for their journalism students. In 2024, the year in which the world will hold the greatest number of elections in history, the year which begins with two large-scale wars next to us – the one in Ukraine and another one in Gaza – providing balanced, peace-oriented materials is a vital task.

This year, the Republic of Moldova will have presidential elections and the referendum on the EU accession. The elections are a test for every journalist and will certainly bring us under the magnifying glass of Russian propaganda once again. At the times when people in our country could be provoked against each other again, peace journalism can actually make a difference. Avoiding borrowed narratives and revealing not just bare facts but also empathy in our materials will be more important than ever.

This analysis is made possible by the generous support of the American and British people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and UK. The contents are the responsibility of IJC and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK, USAID or the United States Government.

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