The undersigned civil society organizations (CSOs) voice concern regarding the enactment of the recent mechanism for suspending television licenses, which entails the temporary cessation of permissive acts without requisite judicial intervention. The signatory CSOs censure the lack of transparency throughout the development, voting, and implementation phases of the new legal mechanism and urge the authorities to abandon such practices.
On the evening of December 29, 2023, a decision was disseminated by the Council for the Promotion of National Importance Investment Projects (CPNIIP). This decision resulted in the suspension of broadcasting licenses for six television stations—entities previously targeted in the suspension directives of the Commission for Exceptional Situations (CES). According to the document, the restrictions were imposed “for the period necessary to provide information and documents” requested because the authority found that the six media institutions had made “investments in areas important for the security of the state.”
We would like to remind that on December 8, 2023, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Dorin Recean, made an announcement regarding the 12 TV stations whose licenses were suspended by the CES. He stated that these media outlets would not be able to broadcast in the new year, emphasizing, “Previously, I mentioned that the Government is preparing – and has now adopted – several legislative packages to enable the Executive to manage such situations outside the state of emergency. Therefore, the 12 television stations, focusing on propaganda, illegal financing, and serving criminal groups, will not be able to broadcast even if the state of emergency ends.” On December 12, 2023, the President of the Parliament, Igor Grosu, further declared the existence of “legal solutions for several CSE decisions, including the closure of the 12 TV stations.”
We want to highlight that until December 29, 2023, when the restrictive measures were approved, the authorities kept the legal mechanisms they intended to implement secret, despite the press’s attempts to obtain information about the “legislative packages allowing the Executive to manage the situation outside the state of emergency.”
In fact, the mechanism for suspending television licenses outside a state of emergency was legislated through a bill that was voted on and promulgated on December 22, and subsequently published on December 23, 2023. Originally, the targeted bill outlined a series of interventions across multiple normative acts, with the aim of “ensuring the integrity and functionality of the electricity market.” This proposal underwent consultation and approval by relevant authorities during the period from August to November 2023 and was voted on in its first reading.
On December 18, 2023, just four days before the final vote, the bill designed to ensure the “integrity and functionality of the electricity market” was supplemented with an amendment proposed by Deputy Radu Marian. The proposed articles, introduced at the eleventh hour, included the mechanism for the temporary suspension of television licenses outside a state of emergency. These amendments were voted on in the final reading without undergoing public consultations.
The suspension of a broadcasting license constitutes a profound infringement upon the right to freedom of expression. Prior to the introduction of the new mechanism for halting permissive acts of audiovisual media service providers, the law permitted the forced suspension of broadcasting licenses only based on a court decision, which represented an additional guarantee of the legality of the authorities’ decisions. We believe that the recently legislated powers held by the CPNIIP have significant potential to be used to the detriment of press freedom.
The lack of transparency demonstrated by the authorities in the legislative process of the license suspension mechanism represents a practice that contradicts the laws governing the involvement of civil society in governance processes (Law no. 797/1996 for the adoption of the Regulation of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova; Parliament Decision no. 373/2005 approving the Concept of cooperation between Parliament and civil society; Law no. 239/2008 on transparency in the decision-making process; Law no. 100/2017 on normative acts).
In light of the fact that the suspension of a television broadcasting license constitutes an infringement on the freedom of the press, public consultation on legislative initiatives with implications for this domain is of particular importance. We emphasize that transparency and citizen participation in the decision-making process, in general, and civil society, in particular, are key instruments in the development of good governance. Secrecy and underestimating the importance of a thorough and nuanced review of proposed legislation, based on the recommendations of stakeholders and experts in the relevant field, are incompatible with the principles and values of a democratic state.
In the context of the aspirations of the Republic of Moldova’s to join the European Union, we would like to remind that Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union enshrines the principle of transparency, stating that decisions should be taken in as open a manner as possible and as close to the citizen as possible.
The undersigned organizations request the authorities:
(1) To ensure that any restriction on freedom of expression is allowed only to protect a legitimate interest as provided by the law and only when the restriction is proportional to the situation that prompted it, maintaining a fair balance between the protected interest and freedom of expression, as well as the public’s right to be informed;
(2) To ensure the observance of conditions for public consultation and involvement of relevant stakeholders in the process of identifying legal and necessary solutions.
Independent Journalism Center
Amnesty International Moldova
Association of Electronic Press
Legal Resources Center from Moldova
Association of Environmental and EcoTourism Journalists of Moldova
National Association of European Trainers from Moldova
National Youth Platform for Active Participation
Foundation for Educaíon and Development – Moldova