Attacks on the Press 2000: Moldova

STATE PRESSURE ON MOLDOVAN MEDIA REFLECTED broader political tensions between the country’s Romanian- and Russian-speaking citizens. This linguistic conflict, and related questions of sovereignty and identity, motivated government attempts to impose far-reaching restrictions on Russian- and Romanian-language media. Also, the state continued to impose large fines in libel cases, and several newspapers and journalists were harassed for exposing corrupt officials.

On March 23, Parliament approved amendments to the Electoral Code that prohibited domestic political advertising in so-called foreign media, including rebroadcasts of foreign television and radio programs and the local editions of foreign publications. Since many Russian-speaking Moldovans favor newspapers and television programs from Russia, the new amendment not only affects the Russian-language media business, but also alienates Russian-speakers from political discourse in Moldova.

Media outlets that violate this provision can lose their publishing or broadcast licenses, while political candidates can be disqualified. President Petru Lucinschi’s initial veto of the amendment was overturned by over 80 percent of the votes in the legislature.

At the end of February, the Moldovan official responsible for licensing television and radio frequencies urged electronic media from Romania to apply for broadcast licenses in Moldova and generally expand their presence in the country. This followed 1995 amendments to the country’s media legislation that now require 65 percent of all broadcasting to be in Romanian, in proportion to the Romanian-speaking population of the country.

Six months later, the Audio-Visual Council, with support from Parliament, suspended the licenses of several popular Russian-langage television and radio stations for three months for violating the 65-35 language ratio. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned the suspension for limiting the rights of local ethnic minorities, and the government of the Russian Federation pressured Moldovan authorities to repeal the order. Ultimately, the Moldovan Constitutional Court ruled the language-balance requirement unconstitutional for private media.

In a June 8 decision, the Constitutional Court upheld articles of the Civil Code that proscribe “spreading information harming [any]one’s honor and dignity,” rejecting an appeal from left-leaning legislators and the local Helsinki Committee on Human Rights. Journalists and media outlets that violate these articles face hefty fines. In August, Parliament substantially increased the fines for electronic media.

At the end of the year, all branches of the state agreed that at least a dozen laws, including the Media Law, needed amending to comply with the Access to Information Act that Parliament had passed in the summer. Parliament was expected to continue working on media legislation in 2001, with the aim of matching West European standards for freedom of expression.

Kommersant Moldovy

The Prosecutor General’s Office released a formal statement warning the Russian-language Kommersant Moldovy that it risked closure for using terms “directed against Moldovan statehood,” the official Moldpress news agency reported.

According to the statement, Kommersant Moldovy‘s repeated use of terms such as “the Transdniester Moldovan Republic” and “the Supreme Soviet of the Transdniester Region,” when referring to the mostly Russian-populated Dniestr region in the east of the country, amounted to the propagation of separatism and the implicit recognition of a second state on Moldovan territory. The statement added that such language violated the Moldovan Constitution, which defines Moldova as a “sovereign, single, and indivisible state.” If the paper continued publishing material in which the Moldovan state was represented as the enemy of people living in the Dniestr region, “measures [would] be taken to stop its activities.”

However, at year’s end, the paper continued to publish.

Novy Poryadok

On the morning of January 10, the downtown Chisinau offices of the Russian-language weekly Novy Poryadok were attacked by unidentified persons, who painted swastikas and slogans such as “Russian occupiers, leave Moldova!” and “Freedom to Chechnya!” on the walls of the building. Meanwhile, some 60 protesters picketed the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, demanding an end to the war in Chechnya.

In response, Novy Poryadok issued a press release declaring that the action was “an attempt by extremist elements or organizations to intimidate [our] staff.” The weekly denied favoring the Russian minority in Moldova and asserted that all ethnic groups in the country should be treated with full respect. Novy Poryadok added that the war in Chechnya was “Russia’s internal matter,” and claimed that its Chechnya coverage was based on “unbiased materials from foreign news agencies.”

Novy Poryadok, which specializes in political investigative reporting and is known for its moderate tone, is associated with a newly established political movement of the same name, which means “New Order.”

Moldavskie Vedomosti

The PRAG-3 publishing house in Chisinau unexpectedly refused to print the forthcoming issue of the Russian-language weekly Moldavskie Vedomosti, citing an overdue balance. According to the printing house’s new owner, Anatol Stati, Moldavskie Vedomosti owed them 18,000 lei (about US$1400) for producing the previous three issues.

In a statement, the weekly’s editorial board rejected PRAG-3’s explanation as ridiculous, though it admitted that some minor payments might have been pending. Moldavskie Vedomosti editor Dmitry Ciubasenco added that Stati had close links to President Petru Lucinschi. This, Ciubasenco claimed, was the real reason why PRAG-3 stopped printing the paper, which is known for its sharp criticisms of Lucinschi.

Andrei Turcanu, free-lancer

Free-lance journalist Turcanu began receiving anonymous calls threatening him and his family with “extermination” after he published an article alleging corruption in the privatization of the state tobacco industry, according to CPJ sources.

The piece ran on June 30 in the opposition weekly Messagerul, published in the city of Chisinau. Turcanu’s piece explored possible misappropriation of funds by certain Communist Party members associated with the privatization.

After the threats began, Turcanu filed a complaint with the Chisinau prosecutor’s office and requested security guarantees for himself and his family. His complaint was forwarded to the Chisinau police department, which informed him that it would determine whether he had a case before taking action.

Turcanu is known for his investigative reporting on corruption at high levels in government agencies, including the parliament and the president’s office. He told CPJ that while he had written many stories critical of government officials in the past, he had not previously received death threats.

Russian-language broadcast media

On August 29, the Audio-Visual Council, a state body that oversees television and radio licensing, imposed three-month suspensions on the cable television station TVC-21 and on the radio stations Evropa Plus and Serebryany Dozhd. All three stations rebroadcast programs produced in Russia, and were sanctioned for breaching legislative provisions requiring that at least 65 percent of broadcast programming be in the Romanian language.

In September, the Chisinau Court of Appeals upheld these suspensions and added another eight stations to the list of suspended networks, also for exceeding their Russian-language programming quota.

This move was condemned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which declared that Moldova’s broadcast language laws abused the rights of local ethnic minorities and could be imposed only on state media, not on private organizations.

Under pressure from international organizations and the Russian government, President Petru Lucinschi urged parliament to overturn the court ruling and declared that his government was drafting legislation that would annul the language-ratio system. Toward the end of September, parliament passed legislation stipulating that only programs originally produced by local networks must comply with the language requirement, thus allowing unrestricted rebroadcasting of programs from Russia. After the vote, however, 26 right-wing deputies who were unhappy with the new legislation announced that parliament had overstepped its jurisdiction and that the voting procedure had been rigged. When their motion to impeach the speaker failed, the dissenting lawmakers walked out of parliament, jeopardizing the current session.

On December 15, the Constitutional Court ruled that the language ratio for domestic programming was unconstitutional. The ruling came on an appeal by President Lucinschi and member of parliament Ion Morei, who argued that the provision constituted “state censorship and repression of freedom of expression.”

Eugen Pascari, Vremea
Iulia Korolkova, Vremea

The Prosecutor General’s Office announced criminal charges against Pascari and Korolkova, respectively editor and reporter at the Russian-language independent daily Vremea in Chisinau, for “insulting the honor and national dignity of the Moldovan people.”

The charges were brought at the request of the Graduates of Romanian and Western Universities (CAIRO), a civil group known for its anti-Russian stance, over a December 1 article by Korolkova, entitled “A Suitcase, a Railroad Station, Russia.”

In her article, Korolkova criticized the Moldovan government’s discrimination against Russian-speaking citizens, including an effective ban on the use of the Russian language and limited opportunities for Russian speakers to hold public office.

Citing academic research, Korolkova also alleged widespread corruption among police and tax authorities, most of whose staff are Romanian-speaking ethnic Moldovans.

In a January 9, 2001, statement, Pascari said that the suit violated constitutional free-speech provisions and called on the prosecutor’s office to indict CAIRO for libel.

The case had not yet gone to trial at press time. If found guilty, the two journalists face up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 10 months’ salary.