Watchdog criticises new Moldovan media laws as Chisinau tries to curb Russian influence

Watchdog criticises new Moldovan media laws as Chisinau tries to curb Russian influence
By bne IntelliNews July 13, 2016

Media laws under consideration by Moldova’s parliament breach international standards on media freedom, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media Dunja Mijatovic said on July 13.

The statement comes after the parliament adopted in its first reading three amendments to the Audio-visual Code aimed at limiting broadcasts in foreign languages earlier this month, the OSCE said. The changes are aimed at restricting Russian influence through the media ahead of elections later this year.

According to Deschide.md, the amendments to the Audio-visual Code envisage that Moldovan TV stations should broadcast eight hours of locally produced content every day, while at the same time forbidding the broadcast of informative, informative-analytical and military programmes which are not produced in EU states or in countries that have ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.

“It is counterproductive to try to limit speech through excessively restrictive legislation ... In my view it seems excessive and may be ineffective,” Mijatović wrote in a letter to Moldovan parliament speaker Andrian Candu.

“I trust that the draft laws will be carefully reviewed by the members of parliament before being adopted in the second reading, ensuring that the regulation does not pose undue limits on free expression and free flow of information,” Mijatovic added.

Romanian is the official language in Moldova, but Russian is still widely spoken in the former-Soviet country and has the status of "language of interethnic communication". It is also an official language in the separatist republic of Transnistria and the semi-autonomous Gagauzia region. Around two thirds of the foreign audio-visual channels broadcast in Moldova are from Russia, according to Radio Free Europe.

This is a worry for the country’s ostensibly pro-EU ruling parties ahead of the autumn general election, as they fear the influence of Russian broadcasters on voters.

The Moldovan population and politicians are divided between support for Russia and the EU. A recent study showed that more than half of the surveyed population, 54.4%, considered the country should be closer to Russia than Europe (45.6%).

While the ruling coalition is highly unpopular, pro-EU opposition parties are trying to find a joint candidate to defeat Igor Dodon from the pro-Russian Moldovan Socialist Party (PSRM). Dodon currently leads in the polls, but pro-EU candidates are in second and third place. They would most likely benefit from the restrictions.

Following the vote in the Moldovan parliament, the Russian foreign ministry called the move “an unfriendly action” taken amid a general upswing in the Russian-Moldovan political dialogue.

The changes were criticised by the Association of Russian Journalists from Moldova which asked the parliament to cancel the “unconstitutional amendment,” TASS reported. They claim the amendments violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a number of Moldovan laws, including the article in the Constitution referring to the right to information.

The laws have also raised tensions within Moldova, where the authorities in Gagauzia have already announced that cable TV operators from region will continue to broadcast content from Russian channels even if the amendments are kept in the final version of the code.

Moldova fell four places to 76th position out of 180, in this year’s media freedom ranking from Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF). Moldova’s media are diversified but extremely polarised, like the country itself, which is characterised by chronic instability and the excessive influence of its oligarchs, according to RSF's evaluation.

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