Who really rules the airwaves in Moldova?
April 7, Chișinău: Last year, Moldova underwent a deep political and social crisis. Around one billion dollars were embezzled from the state's coffers. Large periods passed without a sitting government, and discord grew within the governing coalition and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after the immunity of its leader Vlad Filat, a former Prime Minister, was revoked. Filat was arrested at the beginning of October, and accused of passive corruption.
Moldova's woes have continued into the new year, as the nomination of Pavel Filip as prime minister on 15 January provoked the anger of thousands of protesters who started protesting non-stop in front of parliament. They've been there ever since.
The fact that seven broadcast licenses can be owned by a single person seriously affects pluralism of opinion in Moldova.
These political battles have polarised society, and the country's media along with it. Some outlets have supported the government, others have sided with the protesters. Their allegiance largely depends on their funding.
Last March, after civil society and some media outlets began pressuring politicians, Moldova's parliament legally obliged broadcasters to publish data on their owners and final beneficiaries.
Rumours circulated that the most influential TV stations in terms of audience figures were owned by Vladimir Plahotniuc, a local oligarch and politician seen by many as the power behind Filip's government. The evidence only emerged in November 2015 after the necessary amendments entered into force: Plahotniuc owns four out of five TV stations with nationwide coverage, as well as three radio stations.
According to Moldova's Broadcasting Coordinating Council, Vladimir Plahotniuc owns Publika TV, Prime TV, Canal 2 TV, Canal 3 TV and Publika FM, MuzFM and Maestro FM. According to the Moldstreet.md web portal, these four TV stations cover about 70% of Moldova's TV market.
There were further revelations, too: LDP member of parliament Chiril Luchinschi stated that he was the owner of two TV stations, TV 7 and TNT Bravo. Likewise, it was revealed that RTR Moldova, Ren TV Moldova and Accent TV are all owned by Russian companies. Jurnal TV is owned by Victor Țopa, a Moldovan businessman who run his business in Germany, while the final beneficiary of Pro TV is American billionaire Ronald Lauder.
The fact that seven broadcast licenses can owned by a single person (namely Vlad Plahotniuc) seriously affects pluralism of opinion in Moldova. Vitalie Călugăreanu, a freelance journalist and correspondent for Deutsche Welle, remarks that this ownership structure can easily lead to a near-monopoly on public opinion.
“From this point of view,” Călugăreanu says, “the legislative body should take steps to diminish these figures. Beyond the fact that ownership must be transparent, and owners must be known, the Broadcasting Coordinating Council should urge the parliament to change the legislation so as not to allow one politician, and not only politicians, to hold more than two licenses.”
Print media has a comparatively small influence. Last November, a public opinion barometer poll found that just 2% of the population stating that they trust the newspapers. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that few politicians are interested in funding or managing newspapers directly.
But this does not mean that they completely ignore the main broadsheets. While most print media declare their independence, media monitoring data reveal their bias toward certain political parties.
A media monitoring report conducted during elections in November 2014 found that Timpul was biased towards the Democratic Party, Panorama towards the Socialists, Moldova Suverana in favour of the Liberal Democrats, and Nezavisimaya Moldova for the Communists. Importantly, there are still no legal provisions that oblige print media to disclose their real owners.
The Oslo Times