Moldova’s struggle against Russian misinformation: shortcomings and electoral calculation, OP-ED



The eradication of “fake news” implies greater involvement on the part of the state, the mass media and even the people...


Dionis Cenuşa

The year 2018 started in Moldova with the legalization of penalties for disseminating informative-analytical media products coming from countries that didn’t ratify the European Convention on Transfrontier Television of 1989. The EU countries, some of which neglected the ratification of the (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland) and the U.S. are an exception from the new rules of protecting the country’s information security (IPN, December 11, 2017). The representatives of the Democratic Party used the temporary suspension of the country’s President from office, which was the second one in 2018, to amend the old Broadcasting Code (12 January, 2018). The key element introduced in the law is the conception of “information security”, which implies protection measures against the “misinformation or manipulating informing attempts from outside”. Even if the new restrictions cover also the countries with which Moldova has close partnerships, such as Belarus, it is the information flow produced and spread by Russia that is the real target of the new amendments. For violations of the new legal provisions, the national media institutions can be fined 70 000 to 100 000 lei (between €3 500 and €5 000 per violation) and be stripped of license.

EU and U.S., neither double standards, not internal propaganda

The moment chosen by the Democrats to introduce the media restrictions was inspired and synchronized with the approaches of the countries of the West against the “fake news” created and multiplied by Russia to distort the democratic processes in the U.S. and the EU. Even with the risk of getting black marks when the progress for receiving macro-financial assistance is assessed at the start of 2018, the Democrats launched the struggle against Russian misinformation in Moldova too.

The diplomatic missions of the EU and the U.S. in Chisinau formulated rather balanced public disapproval than criticism of the bans imposed by the government. Thus, the Americans and the Europeans recognized the risks of the Russian propaganda for Moldova, but also those risks produced by the internal propaganda generated by the national political control over the mass media. In other words, the EU and the U.S. asked to extend the fight against misinformation so that this also covered the media outlets of Moldova and for ensuring efficient protection for the independent mass media (U.S. Embassy, December 2017). Engaged in different actions to counteract Russian “fake news”  (EU Parliament, January 2018), the EU and the U.S. would fall under the incidence of double standards if they harshly criticized the government of Moldova for implementing similar measures.

Moldova is vulnerable to the media content that is premeditatedly distorted by the Russian media that is politically controlled by the Kremlin. That’s why the European Convention on Transfrontier Television offers a set of useful tools for imposing rules on the media market, which goes beyond the national borders. This refers to the responsibilities of the states that ratify the Convention to respect human dignity and human rights in the transmitted media products and to make sure that the disseminated news correctly present the facts and events to contribute to the free formation of options by media consumers. For this purpose, the banning of products from countries that refuse to ratify the Convention seems an optimal solution only if it pursues a real, permanent and achievable goal, not a populist and purely electoral one. 

Electoral motivation of PDM

The media bans have a double meaning for the Democrats. First of all, through their agency pressure can be exerted on the pro-Russia political forces that possess media sources that retransmit Russian TV channels (Parity of Socialists - NTV channel).

This way, these will have to offer only the own informational-analytical content whose impact and legitimacy will be inferior to the media production transmitted from Russia. In the absence of the Russian propaganda, the pro-Russian parties could find themselves in conditions of informational inequality compared with the ruling PDM that has the own propagandistic machinery, of local make.

Secondly, the fight against the Russian misinformation is used by the Democrats to attribute to themselves the role of the major political force that is able to confront Russia for keeping the European course. In reality, one of the main TV channels, “Prime”, which is associated with the leader of the Democrats Vladimir Plahotniuc unconditionally retransmitted media products of the Russian public TV channel “Pervyi Kanal” “First Channel”). So, in 2009-2014 the Democrats practically tolerated the Russian propaganda that was also aimed at discrediting the Association Agreement with the EU and the governments declared pro-EU. The earlier complicity of spreading the Russian propaganda reduces enormously the credibility of the initiative to censure the Russian informational-analytical content.

Shortcomings of struggle against Russian misinformation

Even if Moldova needs to protect the media landscape from foreign infiltrations that are dangerous for the internal democratic processes, the banning mechanism proposed by the Democrats contains a series of drawbacks.

First of all, the bans are aimed at the propaganda disseminated through TV channels. Polls show that the share of TV channels as the key source of information during the past 13 years decreased by about 10%. At the same time, the online sources grew by over 25%, helping the Internet to outstrip the radio and to rank second in the list of source of information preferred by Moldovans. Moreover, Russia massively applied online instruments (false profiles, dissemination of fake news etc.) to impact the electoral behavior of the population in the U.S., France, Germany and Spain, at least during the past two years. The same risk is anticipated in the case of the elections in Italy (March 2018) and the elections for the European Parliament (May 2019).

Table. First source of information among Moldovans (%)


November 2004

March 2009

November 2014

November 2017













For the two reasons described above, the fighting of the Russian misinformation through ether only is insufficient. Currently, the major information war is fought through social networking sites and other online platforms for disseminating news (Youtube), which are not at all covered by the ban imposed on Russian information products. This refers to the Moldovans that access the Russian website Odnoklassniki at least 1 million times a month as well as Facebook, where the propaganda is not yet banned.

The second weak ring in the anti-Russian propaganda mechanism resides in the real capacity of the Broadcasting Coordination Council to appropriately identify and penalize the institutions that deviate from the new rules. Both civil society and the political forces of the opposition signaled on different occasions the selective approach of the Council to the violations committed by national TV channels. Thus, before placing new restrictions referring to the Russia mass media, the lawmakers should strengthen the capacities of the Council.

Another visible deficiency derives from the inexistence of concrete and narrower criteria that would delimit toxic information from the rest of the media products. Besides invoking “information security”, the authoress should also take into account the concept of “fake news” that the U.S. and the EU want to counteract. Owing to the extended character of the restriction mechanism aimed at the Russian mass media, both the pro-Kremlin channels - Pervyi Kanal, NTV, RenTV – and the independent and opposition channels, such as “TV-Rain”, risk becoming the targets of the anti-propaganda struggle.

The fourth drawback resides in the non-tackled danger of internal propaganda that is used by practically all the political forces, in different quantities and depending on the held political and media monopole.

Least but not last, the media bans imposed by the government cannot affect the private players, such as the political players, which are active consumers and multipliers of the Russian propaganda promoted later through interventions in the TV, radio and social networking sites. Thus, President Igor Dodon and other pro-Russian politicians will supplement the own misinformation content with conspiracy theories that are intensely promoted by “Russia Today” or “Sputnik”.

Instead of conclusion...

The struggle against Russian misinformation or any other external information interference that can negatively affect the democratic processes in the country should be based on strict rules and criteria. Or the media cleaning process can also eliminate the useful content and can distort the access to information of public importance.

The mechanism proposed for restricting the propagandistic information content is imperfect. There are clear signs that this satisfies temporary electoral needs rather than introduces durable and efficient solutions for complex problems related to the integrity of the information consumed by society.

The eradication of “fake news” implies greater involvement on the part of the state, the mass media and even the people. Nothing can be more efficient in the fight against them than the critical thinking that can appear if the authorities liberalize the whole media sector and treat all the market players in a non-discriminatory way.

Dionis Cenuşa


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.

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