“Disinformation is a danger that has been materializing for a long time. We are not talking about something hypothetical, but something that has already taken place in the Republic of Moldova,” said Director of the Intelligence and Security Service Alexandru Musteata on the Decoded podcast produced by the Platform for Security and Defense Initiatives and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation.
According to Musteata, in Moldova there are “many public actors who propagate disinformation or certain views for the benefit of another state.” These are various individuals, entities, legal entities, TV and radio stations, websites, and Telegram channels that the ISS monitors.
“When they propagate war, violence, or other extremist actions, the ISS can intervene and block the websites, inform the Prosecutor’s Office, and together with the prosecutor investigate the activity — in this case, criminal activity with the application of several special investigative measures. Searches and detentions were carried out, and computers and mobile phones were seized. When it comes to TV and radio, then the Broadcasting Council (BC) is informed and has the role of applying certain sanctions,” said Alexandru Musteata.
In this context, the ISS director admitted that there is still a lot to be done in the fight against disinformation.
“The role of combating disinformation does not only belong to the ISS. We have a rather narrow vision: we see how another state, through its services and its specially designed instruments, propagates certain messages with the idea of destabilizing the social and economic situation in the country. This is also the role of several institutions such as the BC, civil society, and the objective press that does its job properly,” the source said.
According to Musteata, the fight against misinformation can also be done through the communication by governmental institutions of “truthful, correct, and timely information to each citizen.”
On January 19 order, ISS Director Alexandru Musteata signed an order requesting the blocking of the portals eadaily.com and bloknot.ru, which “promote information inciting hatred and war.”
According to the ISS, “the order containing binding instructions was sent to the National Registrar of the top-level domain .md and the providers of electronic communications networks and/or services to block immediate access to the above-mentioned sources for users in the Republic of Moldova in accordance with the law.”
In 2022, the ISS requested the blocking of several sites in the context of the security crisis in Ukraine. Portals such as Vkurse.md, Sputnik.md, Gagauznews.md, Ehomd.info, Acasa-24.site, Svpressa.ru, Rta.md, Flux.md, Iurierosca.md, Rosca.md, Moldnod.ru, and Rusnod.ru were blocked for disseminating information justifying “military aggression against the legally elected power in Ukraine” and distributing “information of a false nature intended to undermine national security through the propagation of war.”
The content published by some of the previously blocked sites is still accessible to the public in the Republic of Moldova. On February 26, 2022, Media Azi wrote that after the ISS requested the blocking of Sputnik.md, the Sputnik Moldova agency announced that it had launched three new online portals on the morning February 26. The three platforms, Sputnik Moldova (md.sputniknews.com), Sputnik Moldova RU (ru.md.sputniknews.com), and Sputnik Moldova-Romania (ro.md.sputniknews.com), can still be accessed today, and some of the content published relates to the situation in the Republic of Moldova.
The stations Primul in Moldova, Accent TV, TV6, Orhei TV, NTV Moldova, and RTR Moldova, which were suspended by the Commission for Exceptional Situations (CES) on December 16, 2022 during the state of emergency, have complained to the court.
Initially, the complainant TV stations filed appeals to the Chisinau Court of Appeal, the court of competent jurisdiction to examine appeals against the regulatory acts. However, the judges of the Court of Appeal merged the six cases into one and sent them to the Chisinau Court on the grounds that the CES provision is an individual administrative act, not a regulatory act, and such appeals are heard by the court of first instance.
On January 9, the Chisinau Court ruled that the CES provision is not an individual administrative act, but a normative act to be judged by the Court of Appeal. Therefore, the first instance judge suspended the examination of the case and sent the file to the Supreme Court of Justice, so that the highest court could determine where exactly the case of the six TV stations should be adjudicated.
On January 18, the Supreme Court of Justice examined the matter but postponed the outcome to an unspecified date.
Independent Journalism Center (IJC) lawyer Cristina Durnea argues that the CES’s decision to suspend the licenses of the six TV stations meets all the criteria of an individual administrative act and that the case must therefore be examined in the first instance by the Chisinau Court. Lawyer Andrei Bivol, a member of the Press Council, spoke about the fact that the CES’s provision is an individual administrative act in an interview for the IJC’s portal, Media Azi.
The Information and Security Service (ISS) has classified the data on the identity of the beneficial owners of the channels Primul in Moldova and Accent TV as a state secret. The designation is contained in a response by the institution to an official request for information sent by the IJC Media Azi portal late last year.
On October 4, the Broadcasting Council (BC) asked the ISS, the National Anticorruption Center, and the Competition Council to investigate whether Primul in Moldova and Accent TV had changed their final beneficiary. The BC referred the matter to the three state institutions after it was informed on September 22 by Telesistem TV, the owner of Accent TV and Primul in Moldova, that the company had a new administrator, and several media outlets wrote that the two TV stations would thus come under the control of the Shor Party. BC President Liliana Vitu invokes a reasonable suspicion of media concentration between TV6, Orhei TV, Primul in Moldova, and Accent TV.
Media Azi asked the BC to confirm or deny that the two TV stations were directly or indirectly affiliated with the Shor Party. The institution’s representatives replied that the information it had received from the ISS “contains data that is the result of counterintelligence and special investigative work carried out by the ISS and is therefore classified as a state secret.
At its public meeting on January 27, the BC approved the list of must-carry audiovisual media services, whose retransmission is mandatory for all cable media distributors.
Nine TV channels were included in this list: Moldova 1, Moldova 2, TV Gagauzia, TVR Moldova, TV5 Monde, Jurnal TV, TV8, Prime and R Live TV.
The TV Gagauzia media service, which belongs to the regional public provider Gagauziya Radio Televizionu (GRT), will be broadcast on a mandatory basis in ATU Gagauzia, and in the other localities, depending on the technical capacities of media service distributors.
On December 29, Parliament passed the first reading of a legislative initiative which, if passed in the final reading, will replace the current State Tax Act. The document comes with several new provisions requiring persons participating in the act of justice to pay fees when exercising certain procedural rights in court.
In a commentary for the cji.md website, IJC lawyer Cristina Durnea estimates how the provisions of the new law on the state fee will affect the pockets of journalists who are subject to justice.
According to her calculations, to be able to challenge a refusal to provide information, a decision of the BC, or a decision of an official to impose a fine for libel, the journalist or media institution will have to pay a stamp duty of 200 lei (10 euros) to the court. It should be noted that at present persons bringing administrative proceedings are exempt from this fee.
The new legislative Initiative also makes the right to request the recusal of a judge, expert, specialist, interpreter, or court clerk conditional on the payment of a fee of 400 lei (20 euros) for each person whose recusal is requested. “In the case of a panel of three judges, the luxury of recusal can be up to 1,200 lei (60 euros),” says the author.
Other additional expenses, to which the author of the commentary refers, are 100 lei (5 euros) for hearing a witness and between 100 and 3,200 lei (155 euros) for postponing a court hearing from once to more than three times.
In conclusion, Durnea notes that, due to the lack of financial sustainability, the costs involved in a court case have always been a challenge for the independent press. “At present, these financial hardships are limited to covering legal aid costs. The provisions passed in the first reading will, however, further increase the burden on the shoulders of journalists who can be tried,” warns the IJC lawyer.
The Broadcasting Council (BC) fined Moldova-2, RTR Moldova, PEH TV, N4, Cinema 1, ITV, Zona M, TVC 21, and TV-Gagauzia for not broadcasting enough local or Romanian-language programs. The total amount of the fines is 240,000 lei (12,000 euros).
During the December 29 meeting, the BC members heard the monitoring reports of 12 TV stations, which were subject to review on different days from December 2–14. Nine of them were fined between 10,000 lei (500 euros) and 42,000 lei (2,100 euros) each for violating one or more provisions of the Moldovan Audiovisual Media Services Code (AMSC).
The main infringements relate to the average daily duration of local programs — at least 80% of them must be in Romanian, and 75% must be broadcast during prime time.
In March 2022, the BC classified RTR Moldova, PEH TV, and Cinema-1, along with three other TV stations, as national private media providers, which requires local content to be broadcast with an average daily duration of at least eight hours. This is double the number of hours compared to their former status as regional stations. The Chisinau Court of Appeal confirmed this decision on December 5, 2022.
Two of the three channels, RTR Moldova and Cinema-1, do not even meet the quotas for regional channel status, says BC President Liliana Vitu. According to her, these stations “have had enough time to adapt to the new national status, to prepare themselves both financially and in terms of human resources, […] which is why I think we should go for national classification today,” said Vitu.
In the last month of last year alone, the BC imposed fines worth more than half a million lei (26,600 euros) for non-compliance with the proportion of local content in the schedule of media service providers, their broadcasting times, and language, according to data on the institution’s official website.
At its meeting on January 20, the BC sanctioned Media Pro Group, the founder of ITV, and General Media Group Corp, the founder of Prime, with a public warning, based on two petitions sent by the IJC. Both were received from viewers on the T(V)E Priveste platform.
In the IJC’s petition, ITV was sanctioned for airing several episodes of the Russian film production “След” (in English: “Trace”) on November 28 and 29, which contained scenes of violence that may affect the psychological development of minors. The Romanian subtitles also violated language rules, obscuring the perception of the content.
The subject of the second petition refers to the Vorbeste Moldova Relatives’ Inquiry talk show broadcast in reruns without mentioning this fact (with an original broadcast date of April 1, 2021).
Following the monitoring carried out by the BC, as well as the discussions that took place during the meeting, the BC members voted unanimously to sanction Prime with a public warning for violation of the provisions of Article 15 para. (6) of the AMSC, according to which “the broadcasting of audiovisual programs likely to affect the physical, mental, or moral development of minors, in particular those containing scenes of pornography or unjustified violence, is prohibited in linear audiovisual media services,” as well as the provisions of Art. 13 para. (13), according to which “repeat broadcasting of audiovisual programs must be accompanied by the words ‘Rebroadcast’ for the duration of the broadcast, with the exception of cinematographic works.”
Regarding ITV, the members of the BC voted to issue a warning for infringement of Article 19(13). (2) according to which “media service providers shall ensure compliance with the orthographic, orthoepic, morphological, and syntactic rules of the Romanian language and other broadcast languages in audiovisual programs.”
The BC has sanctioned the television channel Primul in Moldova with two fines totaling 27,000 lei (1,350 euros) based on a petition sent by the IJC. The sanctions were imposed for repeated violations of two legal provisions requiring to inform the public impartially and in good faith and the requirement to separate political advertising from editorial content. The infringements were reported by a viewer on the T(V)E Priveste platform.
The complaint underlying the IJC’s petition reveals that on November 28, 2022, Primul in Moldova broadcast the audiovisual program “Tema” with the participation of PACE Party leader Gheorghe Cavcaliuc. During the broadcast, the moderator neglected the obligation to expressly request the guest to prove the accusatory allegations, as well as to provide the right of reply to the persons concerned. At the same time, the moderator did not intervene to warn Gheorghe Cavcaliuc about the inadmissibility of using language inciting hatred and violence. The viewer pointed out that the moderator’s biased attitude and lack of good faith violated the right of media consumers to fair and objective information.
The monitoring carried out by the BC confirmed the irregularities reported by the IJC. Moreover, it revealed an additional breach concerning the neglect of legal provisions obliging TV stations to clearly differentiate journalistic content from commercial content.
The BC sanctioned TVR Moldova with a public warning at its January 27 meeting, following a complaint sent by Elena Pahomova.
On December 30, the petitioner complained to the BC that on the December 23 edition of the program “Punctul pe Azi” (“Today’s View”), Deputy of the Action and Solidarity Party Oazu Nantoi, Chairman of the National Unity Party Anatol Șalaru, and Romanian foreign policy expert Mihai Isac were invited, but opposition representatives were absent. They complained that presenter Vasile Munteanu did not intervene to condemn some of the remarks made by Anatol Șalaru and Oazu Nantoi against minorities, which were allegedly discriminatory and hateful.
During the discussion of the subject by the members of the BC, the BC Vice President Aneta Gonța stressed the need for the journalist to intervene live on air regarding the statements made by the guests against the Gagauz ethnic group in the absence of their representatives. The members of the BC found no justification for other accusations made by Pahomova.
The moderator of the program in question, Vasile Munteanu, accepted the comments of the BC but rejected the petitioner’s accusations of discrimination or incitement to hatred. According to him, the guests referred to certain groups in the Gagauz region, who try, especially in this period, to promote inflammatory messages, “which harm not only the Gagauz ethnic group but also the Republic of Moldova.”
The decision to sanction the station was approved by a vote of four out of the seven board members.
At the same meeting, a unanimous vote approved the application to extend TVR Moldova’s broadcasting license for the next nine years.
The website Sputnik.md was blocked in February 2022 for being a “promoter of information inciting hatred and war under the state of emergency.” New portals launched by the Sputnik Moldova agency continue to be accessible to Moldovan media consumers.
On January 19, the website Ru.md.sputniknews.com headlined “СИБ Молдовы заблокировал работу двух русскоязычных новостных сайтов” (“Moldova’s ISS has blocked the activity of two Russian-language news websites”).
The headline and the text of the news item contain nuances that can be described as forms of “classic manipulation,” says media researcher Victor Gotisan. The ISS press release does not state that the institution is calling for the sites to be blocked because they are “Russian-language,” but because they “promote information inciting hatred and war.”
According to the media researcher, highlighting national or ethnic elements in this situation is irrelevant. “Sputnik aims to play on the emotions and feelings of representatives of an ethnic group to create discontent and indignation among them. I think this is incorrect from the point of view of professional ethics, but also dangerous, considering the internal situation and especially the situation in the region,” says Victor Gotisan. Proof that Sputnik is deliberately targeting the Russian-speaking audience is the fact that “nuance is used only in the Russian-language version of the news and is missing in the Romanian-language version,” says the researcher.
Since April 2017, students in Moldova have been studying the optional Media Literacy course. This is due to the initiative of the IJC, which over the past six years has managed to implement this project in 100 schools with instruction in Romanian and Russian. More than 130 teachers have been trained and Media Literacy manuals have been developed for primary, secondary, and high school students. So far, almost 12,000 students at all levels of education in the country have studied this subject.
The guests of the January edition of the cuMINTE Podcast reviewd the results achieved in this chapter and talk about their plans to expand and deepen the Media Literacy course. At this stage, they aim to integrate this optional course into core school subjects.
IJC project manager Mariana Tabuncic says that the initiative to include Media Literacy concepts in other subjects came also from teachers “who realized how important it is to develop students’ critical analysis skills.”
A few months ago, the IJC, in collaboration with DW Akademie, launched a strategy document setting out the steps Moldova needs to take to integrate Media Literacy concepts into the education system. The document was drafted by a group of experts guided by education expert Natalia Griu, who is also one of the authors of the Media Literacy textbooks.
In the program, Natalia Griu argues that this document provides relevant steps on teacher training, both initial and in-service, on the integration of media literacy concepts into the curriculum, but also, more importantly, between the Ministry of Education and civil society, because media literacy is a responsibility of all educational actor. According to Griu, “it is very easy to achieve a natural level of integration of media content into the educational process because media is what the child encounters every day.”
The contest is conducted by the Independent Journalism Center within the project “Promoting media literacy among citizens through quality media content”, implemented between November 2022 and March 2023, with the support of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).
Only 4% of young people and 5% of people with disabilities have a high or very high level of trust in the media, according to the IJC study “Vulnerable and/or marginalized groups in relation to the media: access, consumption and media literacy.” According to the data, the most trusted sources of information for the most vulnerable groups in the Republic of Moldova are family members, co-workers, relatives, neighbors, social networks, news websites, and local public authorities.
The study shows that the traditional media is treated with a high degree of mistrust by representatives of vulnerable groups. At the top of the distrust list is television, which 43% of young urban dwellers, 37-38% of women surveyed, and 41% of refugees do not trust. Magazines are distrusted by 42% of young people and a third of refugees; newspapers by 40% of young people and 32% of refugees; and radio by 47% of urban young people, 35% of rural young people, and 32% of refugees.
When asked “How much trust do you have in media sources in the Republic of Moldova?”, 43% of urban women who participated in the survey said that they trust the media neither too much nor too little, and about 42% of them have little or no trust. Also, just over 10% of rural women and only about 7% of urban women have a high or very high level of trust in media sources in the Republic of Moldova.
The study was carried out by the company Date Inteligente SRL at the request of the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), within the project “Building cohesion in Moldova through promoting social inclusion and diminishing discrimination.” The project is carried out by the IJC as part of the program “Joint Initiative for Equal Opportunities – Phase II”, implemented from the resources provided by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
The same study also set out to examine how vulnerable groups relate to the media and social networks.
When asked “On which of the following social networks do you spend at least 30 minutes a week?”, 86% of women, 93% of urban youth, and 74% of rural youth answered that they prefer to use Facebook. Also, 43% of people with disabilities, 41% of the elderly, 53% of Roma, and 64% of refugees own and use a Facebook account.
Instagram is the second most popular platform. More young people in rural areas (78%) have an Instagram account than a Facebook account.
The Telegram app is considered by rural young people “as the safest platform.” It is mainly accessed by young people: 72% in rural areas and 67% in urban areas have an account on this network.
At the same time, only a small proportion of refugee respondents (6%) mentioned that they have an account on Odnoklassniki. This network is accessed to some extent by other groups, especially rural women (37%), urban women (32%), and urban youth (32%).
Snapchat, Twitter, and VKontakte are used to some extent by young people and almost not at all by the other groups, and LinkedIn is the least used network of all those mentioned.
Also, according to the IJC survey, some 30% of Roma cannot find information in their mother tongue at all, 39% find it difficult, and only 22% claim to identify such information easily or very easily.
The research also finds that Roma get their information mainly from TV (65%) and Telegram and Viber (58%), and to a lesser extent from podcasts, NGOs representing this ethnic group, and magazines.
Respondents in this category consider themselves better-informed thanks to civil society initiatives and information in the press (72%), and 52% confirmed that they have medium to high trust in media sources in the Republic of Moldova. The Roma, however, have the highest trust in the information they receive from family members, colleagues, relatives, and neighbors.
The types of information sought by the analyzed group in media sources are related to news and current events in the Republic of Moldova (70%) and the world (51%); there is lower demand for the category of science and technology (9%) and sport (7%). On the other hand, Roma are interested in 83% in information about Roma culture and traditions, and 53% of them consume more than one source of information.
Respondents to the quantitative survey were asked how easy it is for them to find information in their mother tongue. 30% of Roma said they could not find such information at all, and 39% said they found it difficult. Only 22% of Roma said they easily or very easily identify information in the Roma language, and 9% do not look for it at all.
IJC and Internews Updates
In 2022, the media situation in Moldova was marked by serious problems. Even if there was a slight improvement compared to previous years, the progress cannot be qualified as a stable trend, according to the 2022 Index on the State of the Media in Moldova (ISPM) released by the IJC on January 31.
The ISPM methodology includes seven indicators relevant to media realities in the Republic of Moldova: legal regulatory framework, political context, economic environment, professional environment, quality of journalism, information security from a media perspective, and journalists’ security. This methodology allows not only for an analysis of the media as a whole, but also of each aspect separately, as well as the determination of the areas where interventions are needed to remedy the conditions of media activity so that the press can fulfill its commitments. The year-by-year production of the Index shows the improvement or, as the case may be, regression of the situation over time.
The report shows, inter alia, that although the laws governing media activity have been amended/complemented with new, necessary, and timely legal rules, poor enforcement remains a major problem, making it more vulnerable to ensuring access to information of public interest. In this context, the ISPM evaluators underlined that the Gagauz People’s Assembly has continued to enact and observe provisions that defy the principles and standards of national and EU legislation.
The study also reveals how the tense political, social, and economic context throughout 2022 influenced the work of the media. At the same time, old factors influencing the security of the press and journalists have been compounded by new issues arising from the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
The paper’s author, media expert Ion Bunduchi, proposes a set of recommendations that could improve the situation.
The ISPM is being prepared for the seventh consecutive year and provides a diagnosis of the media as a whole, specifying problems as well as key developments in Moldova’s media sector.
This report was conducted by the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) as part of the “Media Enabling Democracy, Inclusion and Accountability in Moldova” (MEDIA-M) project, funded by USAID and the UK and implemented by Internews in Moldova, which aims to promote the development of independent and professional media and create a media sector more resilient to political and economic pressures.