On December 16th, the Committee for Emergency Situations (CSE) adopted a decision to suspend for the period of the state of emergency the broadcasting licenses for six TV channels (Primul în Moldova, RTR Moldova, Accent TV, NTV Moldova, TV 6 and Orhei TV), citing the reason for "protecting the national information space and preventing the risk of disinformation by spreading false information and attempts to manipulate public opinion". The CSE's decision has sparked several contradictory reactions among political parties, civil society and media in the Republic of Moldova. The criticisms against this decision referred in particular to three issues: (1) the unjustified restriction of the right to free expression and property, (2) the non-observance of the principle of proportionality in the sanction imposed by the CSE and (3) the lack of convincing arguments put forward publicly in support of this judgment.
After all, the central issue related to the suspension of broadcasting licenses for tv channels is aimed at ensuring the security of the information space in the context of the russian federation's war against Ukraine. The introduction of the state of emergency on 24th February, in the context of the "situation related to regional security and the danger to national security", as well as the empowerment of cse by the Parliament to implement measures related to combating disinformation, fake news and disinformation, speak for themselves about the framework in which the CSE operates and the prerogatives of this entity. Moreover, this subject cannot be treated in the absence of a broad understanding of the impact of propaganda and disinformation on national security, as well as on the formation of the public perception of the war taking place in the immediate vicinity of the borders of the Republic of Moldova. Today, the efforts of internal destabilization, illegally financed and orchestrated by the Kremlin through various intermediaries, are amplified through various media channels, including those designated in the CSE decision.
The affiliation of the six TV stations to Kremlin’s proxies is obvious
According to the latest information, four of the six TV stations (Orhei TV, TV 6, Primul in Moldova and Accent TV) are controlled through intermediaries by Ilan Shor. If the links between Ilan Shor and the people behind Orhei TV and Tv 6 were well known for many years, the change in September this year of the administrator of the last two stations aroused question marks regarding the transfer of control over these TV stations from the PSRM to the Shor Party, being notified by the Audiovisual Council in this regard, the Information and Security Service, the National Anticorruption Center and the Competition Council. Although the responses provided by the institutions concerned have not been publicly communicated, the affiliation with either party leaves no room for interpretation regarding the russian federation's control over these two media sources. The same applies to RTR Moldova and NTV Moldova channels, managed either from Moscow or by PSRM affiliated companies.
The CSE provision refers to the list of persons and entities subject to international sanctions, which includes, among others, Ilan Shor and Igor Chayka. After the U.S. Treasury introduced a series of sanctions at the end of October for their involvement in campaigns of malignant influence and systemic corruption in the Republic of Moldova, Ilan Shor's ties with the Russian Federation were reconfirmed including in press investigations. These landmarks, preceded by the "Bahamas" file, prove that the six media institutions above-named represent nothing but tools of manipulation and disinformation that serve the interests of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova, regardless of their declared owner.
Given that the authorities of the Republic of Moldova have openly acknowledged that the Russian Federation is trying to destabilize the Republic of Moldova, the introduction of measures to counter theinstruments used by the Russian Federation for this purpose is fully necessary and reasoned. The role of the CSE in this context is to respond to the signals sent by the relevant national institutions, such as the CA and the SIS, to act in useful terms and limit their impact on the security of the Republic of Moldova.
"Achilles' Heel" - public perception of the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine
From 24 February until now, a serious problem reflected by the opinion polls conducted at national level is related to the way in which the citizens of the Republic of Moldova relate to the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. For example, the data of the Public Opinion Barometer of November 2022 mention that about 38% of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova believe that the Russian Federation is conducting an unjustified invasion on Ukrainian territory, and about 32% see the war as an attempt by the Russian Federation to defend the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics from Ukraine's attacks or as an operation to liberate Ukraine from Nazim. Undoubtedly, the conclusions that can be drawn after 300 days from the beginning of the war clearly indicate that a part of the Population of the Republic of Moldova is still a victim of fake and manipulative news regarding the situation in Ukraine. This endangers the citizens' trust in state institutions, especially those responsible for the management of the security and defense sector that should respond to an eventual attack by the Russian Federation on the Republic of Moldova.
The influence of the six TV channels in the formation of citizens' perception of the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is considerable. According to the data measuring the audience of the TV channels, four out of the six TV channels are in the top seven most watched TV channels in the Republic of Moldova, and RTR Moldova and NTV Moldova even occupy the leading positions in this ranking. These measurements, correlated to the editorial policy of these posts, focused on the tendentious reflection of the events related to the war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, demonstrate their malignant role in the local media landscape.
Instead of conclusions...legislation was improved, but still needs to be adjusted
The amendments voted on in June this year to the Audiovisual Media Services Code have brought a number of improvements to the sanctioning framework for the content qualified as disinformation. The tightening of the fines and the reduction of the number of sanctions necessary to request the suspension or withdrawal of the emission license have managed to limit the manipulative information flows, with a tinge of disinformation. Even in these circumstances, in 2022 alone, the six TV stations together accumulated 84 sanctions, an aspect invoked in the case of the suspension of their broadcasting licenses.
In order to strengthen the legislative framework and monitoring capacities of the Audiovisual Council, it is necessary to apply the methodology for monitoring disinformation in the media. In the absence of such an instrument, the solutions available to the authorities to the existing problems will remain limited. At the same time, it is necessary to develop an institutional monitoring framework and to introduce a sanctioning mechanism to promote disinformation and fake news in the online environment, the place where media institutions with a suspended broadcasting license operate today. This mechanism must, however, be closely linked to a transparent and well-structured evaluation methodology to avoid possible abuses or slippages.
Mihai Mogîldea is deputy director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE).
This Op-Ed is published within the project "Strengthening awareness and understanding of the security and defense issues of the Republic of Moldova", implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation Moldova, in partnership with the Zonadesecuritate.md and the Zugo.md media platforms,as well as as a result of an IPRE partnership with IPN within the “We and Europe” project supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the Republic of Moldova.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.