IPN interview with executive director of the Association of Independent Press Petru Macovei
– Statistics show that the number of nongovernmental organizations founded has increased. Is this true about the media civil society organizations (CSOs)? What does this trend reveal?
– This is true. The number of nongovernmental organizations in general is on the rise and this should be gladdening on the one hand. This means that our people are more active and want to form groups that would aim to achieve certain goals. As regards the mass media sector, the number of NGOs working in this area remains constant. Moreover, some of the more active NGOs reduced their activities so that there are 5-6 organizations active in the mass media sector.
– The number of national broadcasters has practically doubled over the last few years. Does this trend determine changes in the work of the media NGOs?
– I do not possess statistical data to be able to say if the number doubled or not, but this increase is not necessarily based on objective criteria and causes. On the contrary, the media market in Moldova is very small and the broadcasters working on this market do not make profit. This shows that other interests are pursued when radio stations and TV channels are founded, probably political or to manipulate the public opinion. This reality changed significantly our strategic objectives, especially because the rise in the number of broadcasters brought problems. The main problem is the lack of transparency as regards ownership and a side effect of this lack of transparency is the excessive concentration. These phenomena determine the media NGOs’s behavior. We are put in the situation when we must exert pressure on the Government and Parliament so that they modify the legalities and ensure transparency and limit concentration on the broadcasting segment.
– What definite steps did the media NGOs take in this respect?
– Our activities aimed at achieving this objective are different. First of all, we carry out an intense advocacy activity in order to convince decisions makers that reforms are imperatively needed to ensure transparency and limit concentration so that the mass media develops in Moldova. The media NGOs also provide assistance in drafting bills that are examined by experts in the country and abroad and are then debated publicly because it is important that society knows the existing problems and realize the importance of these reforms. We also work with journalists who, volens-nolens, have to obey the editorial policies of the media organizations, which are sometimes aimed at manipulating the public opinion. It is thus very important for the journalist to oppose manipulation and promote media products of a high quality. Besides these activities, the media NGOs represent a source of expert advice for the European organization working in Moldova, including as regards the ensuring of the freedom of the media. In some of the cases, when Moldova is asked to present reports on certain aspects concerning democratic development, an important part of this information refers to the mass media and then the representatives of media organizations present alternative information. Comparing the viewpoints of the officials and the media NGOs, the European officials perceive the real state of affairs as the rulers all over the world tend to exaggerate things, while civil society on the contrary presents the reality as it is or even more critically so as to make the authorities work more efficiently.
– In the current conditions in Moldova, journalism is more often associated with a chase for sensational and shocking stories and with manipulation in the interests of certain groups and, thus, to the determent of the public interest. What leverage do the CSOs have, want and can use to maintain things within normality and democracy?
– Unfortunately, it becomes harder to maintain things within normality because the influence exerted by the political class on the mass media intensifies instead of decreasing. The politicians purchase shares in media organizations with the aim of manipulating the public opinion. What can we do? We must take measures to diminish this phenomenon as it is impossible to definitively exclude the effect of manipulation. We make effort to educate the consumers of media products so as that the people are able to make a difference between a good journalistic product and a product of a poor quality. In Moldova they use more sophisticated technology to manipulate the public opinion and we try to educate the people so that they know the effects of manipulation and how informational manipulation takes place. We also intend to reveal the most serious cases of manipulation of the public opinion through the mass media. We launched a campaign within which we will monitor mass media organizations so as to tell the people that certain television or radio stations or a certain news agency manipulated the public opinion when they presented a news story as they presented it. We will also try to develop the critical spirit of the consumers of media products.
– How protected is the journalist and journalism in Moldova and what is the CSOs’ contribution in this respect?
– From legislative viewpoint, the journalist are protected. There is legislation that can ensure protection when necessary. At the same time, at the incipient stage of democratic development, at which Moldova is now, a law does not necessarily protect you because the law stipulates one thing, but the things that happen in reality are totally different. There are cases when the journalists are prevented from coming into possession of information of public interests, when they are mistreated by public servants or other persons.
I would say that the media CSOs’ contribution to defending the legal rights of the journalists is determinant because the media NGOs act like watchdogs when the journalists are abused. Moreover, the media NGOs provide consultancy to the journalists who came into conflict with the law and make approaches for the legislation to be changed so that the journalist protection degree is increased.
– Whist is the role of the media CSOs: to supervise or to support the press?
– I think that in our situation, the credible media nongovernmental organizations must be equally supporters and supervisors because there is no press of only a good quality. There is boulevard press and bought journalists. When there is a diversity of journalistic products, the media organizations must protect the good journalists and responsible editorial staffs on the one hand, and condemn the manipulation attempts made by the journalists on the other hand. In other words, the media NGOs must act on both sides.
– What is the quality of the programs, messages and services of the media CSOs?
– In general, the nongovernmental organizations formed themselves as a nucleus of very good experts who act in concert to achieve common goals. Surely, there are many things that can and should be modified. Regretfully, there is not much solidarity among the NGOs when we are late in taking attitude towards certain events that take place in society. However, I think that the NGOs working on the media market now do their job well.
- What area do they cover, including from geographical viewpoint?
– The media NGOs cover the whole country with their activities, providing assistance and wide ranger of services for all the journalists. Unfortunately, the colleagues from the Transnistrian region and sometimes those from the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia do not always take part in the activities we carry out or the participate on certain conditions. Thus, we face certain problems in strengthening the professional ties with the journalist from these regions. A problem is also the division of the Moldovan journalists according to linguistic criteria. My opinion is that these are artificial impediments that can and should be overcome.
– What do the CSOs need today to be more robust and efficient?
– Many media NGOs lack qualified personnel. When a lot of citizens work abroad and the experts formed by the media nongovernmental organizations are easily recruited by international organizations that offer them better conditions and higher salaries, the media NGOs often have to recruit new staff and invest resources in their training. As the other civil society organizations, the media NGOs face the problem of ensuring the durability of the initiated programs. We all have strategies and objectives, but they often do not fit the financing programs of the donors. This means that the NGOs must adjust their own plans to donors’ strategies. Durability means ensuring financially the organization’s development even when you are unable to use foreign funds. In our case, this means providing services for the national mass media organizations. As the press in our country is poor and there are few media organizations that make profit, the possible initiatives of media NGOs to organize for example training courses for money are doomed to failure or there will be achieved modest results. Maybe this will be possible in several years, but now the media organizations are as dependent on foreign funds as the other NGOs of the country.
– If the law that enables the people to choose to which NGO to transfer 2% of the paid tax is adopted, why do they select a media CSO?
– I’m rather skeptical that this law will be passed in the next several years. If it is adopted, the implementation of the law will depend on every organization separately, In Romania, where such a law was adopted several years ago, only the churches managed to profit from its advantages. The people do not know much about the CSOs and are not really interested in what they do. Therefore, the CSOs must focus on promotion so as to convince the people to donate a part of the taxes to a certain organization. In the long run, such a provision can indeed partially ensure the NGOs’ sustainability. Everything will depend on how well we convince the people.
Alina Marin, IPN.