Moldova has emerged from the Soviet era with many of the problems that plague other states in the region: an ongoing separatist conflict dividing the nation’s ethnic populations, widespread government corruption, financial hardship, and a biased judiciary. Unlike many other former Soviet republics, however, Moldova has neither the natural resources nor the geopolitical importance to make it attractive to foreign investors. Under these harsh conditions, it has been difficult for a free press to develop and flourish.
The Moldovan press can be divided into three categories: state-owned, party-owned, and privately owned. Editorial content usually reflects the views of those holding the purse strings. Since the Communist Party swept back into power in Moldova’s 2001 elections, the climate for the country’s fledgling independent and opposition media has become more restrictive. The new civil and criminal codes, which went into effect in January 2003, are one example of the government’s intent to rein in critical media outlets. Under the Civil Code, there is no longer a cap on the amount an official can win when suing a journalist for libel–a change that could bankrupt a publication with a single lawsuit. And under the new Criminal Code, libel can carry a prison sentence of up to five years.
Throughout 2003, opposition media outlets that published reports on government corruption or topics deemed troublesome by the Communist administration endured police raids, the confiscation of archival material, detentions, and interrogations. Authorities also employed less direct forms of intimidation against the opposition press, such as scaring off advertisers and accusing journalists of taking bribes.
Ongoing attempts to transform the state-run Teleradio-Moldova into a public broadcaster served as a barometer for press freedom in 2003. Under pressure from the Council of Europe, Moldova’s Parliament passed a series of amendments to facilitate this transition, including one creating an independent supervisory board. Nevertheless, President Vladimir Voronin still maintains a large measure of control over the station through political interference in its editorial policies. In October, Parliament passed an amendment granting itself the right to close and reorganize Teleradio–a power that may be used, sources say, to fire employees who are not loyal to the ruling Communists.
Despite these government efforts to intimidate Teleradio staff members, many protested government censorship. After the station neglected to broadcast reports of mass demonstrations against censorship in 2002, a group of Teleradio employees walked out in solidarity with opposition journalists.
The conflict between ethnic Russians and Romanians in the country continues to affect the media, as well as Moldova’s overall political stability. Sixty-five percent of Moldova’s 4.5 million citizens are ethnically Romanian (Moldova was part of Romania before it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940), but nearly half of the publications that circulate nationally are in the Russian language. Moldovan is the official state language, and many Moldovans resent plans by Voronin–an ethnic Russian–to reinstate Russian as a state language.
Ethnic tensions are also at the heart of the 10-year-old conflict in the Trans-Dniester region, a separatist enclave largely populated by Russians. Hundreds of Russian troops are still stationed in Trans-Dniester, which the Moldovan government claims as its own.
In January, television broadcasts from Romania restarted, after being banned since August 2002 amid deteriorating relations between Romania and Moldova’s pro-Moscow government.