Popular Moldovan radio station still off the air; CPJ deplores shutdown

New York, January 19, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the suspension of the popular Chisinau-based public radio station Antena C. The station, which frequently aired reports critical of the government, has been off the air for more than a month, and local sources said they fear it is part of an official clampdown on news ahead of May elections.

Broadcasting was interrupted at 3 p.m. on December 16, while the station was airing a report that criticized a new government plan to privatize Antena C and the television station Euro TV, local sources told CPJ. Antena C journalists had also recently protested the authorities’ decision to change the station’s management; Veceaslav Sitnic, former chief editor for the government radio station Radio Moldova, had been named the new director.

Police arrived at the station at 2 a.m. the next day, claiming they had received a bomb threat targeting the premises, Antena C correspondent Lucia Culev told CPJ. Police searched the building and forced employees to leave, Culev said.

Victor Badulescu, general director of the state regulator Radiocomunicatii, initially blamed the interruption on a technical malfunction, according to press reports. By January 10, with the station still off the air, Badulescu cited a new reason. He told Antena C staffers that a new contract between Radiocomunicatii and the station must be signed and approved by the Ministry of Information before the station could return to the air, Antena C said in a statement.

Authorities have not commented publicly on the suspension of Antena C’s broadcasts, and they did not return messages left by CPJ seeking comment. Article 27 of the Television and Radio Code says a station’s license is automatically revoked if it does not broadcast for 45 days, and some have speculated that the government could seek to close the station under that provision.

“Antena C is an important source of objective news for Moldovans, especially now as the election approaches,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The government’s vague and shifting explanations make it hard to see this as anything but a politically motivated effort to shut down an objective news source. We call on authorities to restore Antena C to the air immediately.”

Despite its government affiliation, Antena C has been regarded as independent in its coverage. “While most stations are under government control, Antena C was covering all events in the country and they were not afraid to criticize the government or the municipality,” Valeriu Saharneanu, president of the Union of Journalists in Moldova, told CPJ in a telephone interview. “The ruling party was afraid of the station’s independence and popularity.”