Media & Elections -> Moldova
Overview of an electoral campaign
MASS MEDIA PERSPECTIVE
22.03.2005: Artur Corghencea
Beside continuous, “natural” evolution, mass media has certain periods of transformation. The first is determined by changes in social and economic life, and, as reaction, comes from inside. The second kind of transformation is determined by political factors and often needs no inside will. And it happens once in four years – in electoral campaigns.

During the first years of transition, the number of media institutions used to boost before elections, local or general. Nowadays, when newspapers, TV and radio stations which survived the competition have got a name, there is another phenomenon. Once in four year, their budgets boost, so that some newspapers come in a more attractive format, some Radio stations improve their news programs and some TV stations re-design their studious.

...Last year, everybody in Moldova was surprised to see a small aired TV station getting a re-designed news studio, launching new programs, and, most important, getting permission to cover the whole territory of the country (until the 2004 autumn it has been covering the capital Chisinau). Because it used to have quite small audience figures even in Chisinau, TV station started an intense promotion campaign, supported by last minute movies.

...At the beginning of the electoral campaign for Parliamentary elections, the President Vladimir Voronin called the administration of the Public Broadcasting Service (Teleradio Moldova) to abstain from covering the authorities’ activity. In his message, the President directly stated that he doesn’t want the ruling party to be accused of influencing the editorial activity of the PBS and of using it in the electoral campaign.

At a first glance it is a noble, but dangerous (from the power’s positions) act. Teleradio Moldova has been, since the beginning of times, the tribune of the ruling party, whichever it was, and no rational politician would give it up. It is an angle of view.

You get another one if you link the President’s call with the broadcasting license for the small TV station described above. Analysts considered that the ruling party changed its loudspeaker, investing in the small TV station and leaving PBS for public.

Monitoring

At the beginning of the electoral campaign, more than 200 non-governmental organizations created the Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Coalition 2005). Financed by US and British Embassy in Chisinau, and by several international institutions, Coalition stated that it will monitor the electoral process and the way mass media (including PBS) covers elections.

A report by Coalition 2005 shows that all TV stations which cover the whole territory of Moldova are biased and broadcast news that favors the ruling party. On the first place is the TV station described above, with more than 100 news stories favoring the power during a month, while on the second ... is the PBS. According to Coalition 2005, Moldova 1 TV station has broadcast 68 news pieces favoring authorities, along with 20 news stories in favor of two opposition parties. PBS administration disputed the monitoring report.

Yet, other organizations such as Association of Electronic Press, and European Union and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, expressed their concern regarding the access of electoral competitors to national and public media.

There also was a TV station – municipal public broadcasting service Euro TV Chisinau - which placed negative materials about the ruling party. It was, however, to a certain extent, balanced in favoring electoral competitors. Euro TV Chisinau covers 40 percent of the territory of the country.

The general conclusion of the report by Coalition 2005, which monitored 24 Radio and TV stations, is that the majority of the broadcast media favored the ruling party.

Scandals

The electoral campaign was marked by several media scandals. Moldovan broadcasting authority warned the Russian Public Broadcaster ORT (which covers Moldova) for showing in its news bulletin a competitor in Moldovan elections, although Moldovan law forbids this. In a letter addressing ORT administration, Broadcasting Coordinating Council demanded the TV station to quit, until the end of electoral campaign, broadcasting materials which might be interpreted as promotion of one or another candidate. “An alternative to this solution would be the interdiction for ORT to broadcast in Moldova, decision that would meet neither public interest, nor countries’ relationship”, the BCC letter reads.

Another scandal implicated the Ministry of Justice. One of Moldovan political parties – Social Democrats – complained that the authority refused to register its newspaper. According to the party, it solicited registration long enough before electoral campaign, but the Ministry of Justice did not answer. It didn’t comment the SDP allegation either.

New media

New media were launched. A radio network, a TV production station and a web site started their activity in the middle of the electoral campaign. “Euronova Media” group stated that it is independent and will not favor any electoral competitor. The network includes TV Euronova studio, “Vocea Basarabiei” radio station and “Basarabia on-line” portal. At its turn, Euronova includes TV 26 channel in Chisinau, Albasat TV in Nisporeni County (Center), Megan TV in Glodeni County (North) and Euronova TV in Ungheni County (North-West).

Radio and TV stations were to broadcast 10 hours a day, covering about 55% of the territory of Moldova. 60% of TV stations airtime is filled with local programs, while 40% - with Romanian “Antena 1” TV programs. Radio network broadcast 80% of local programs and 20% with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and BBC programs. Basarabia on-line Internet portal works as a news-agency.

Basa Press news agency which is the oldest non-governmental agency that used to be one of the most famous and trustful Moldovan agencies, has its place in “NEW MEDIA”. Just before the electoral campaign the agency changed its shareholders. The transaction wasn’t public, but there are rumors that one of the Basa Press founders left the institution, selling his shares to another one. The last is the former President’s spokesperson, and, nowadays, the director of the governmental news agency Moldpres.

What the public noticed is that Basa Press and Moldpres, which used to compete just several weeks ago, now publish at the same time the same news stories, written in the same way. One of the clients of both news agencies even asked himself “Why should I pay two subscriptions?” Yet, Basa Press Economic & Business news department, at least apparently, maintained its editorial line, and seems to be as independent as it was before.

Written press

In electoral campaign even newspapers that proclaimed themselves independent support at least one political party. According to Pro Demo organization (www.prodemo.md), most of the newspapers favored opposition in electoral campaign.

Pro Demo, which doesn’t publish any details about its activity and donors, omits however the fact there is only one ruling party and 4 opposition parties (out of 14) supported by newspapers.

Thus, the ruling party was favored by its party publication, bilingual (Romanian and Russian) Comunist, as well as Delovaia gazeta (Russian), Kishinevskie novosti (Russian), Vechernii Kishinev (Russian), Moldova suveranã (Romanian) and Nezavisimaia Moldova (Russian). The last two are governmental newspapers, therefore financed from public money.

Four opposition parties (Christian Democrat Peoples Party, Electoral Block “Moldova Democrata”, Social Democrat Party and Social Political Movement “Ravnopravie”) were favored, according to Pro Demo by 23 publications, including their own newspapers and two financed from municipal public budget.

The conclusion of Coalition 2005 experts is that public newspapers ignored opposition, favoring the governing party, while private publications preferred other competitors than the Communists or tried to be balanced. Coalition 2005 has monitored 10 national newspapers.

Results

In March 6 parliamentary elections, the Communists Party (ruling) obtained 46% of the votes, Electoral Block “Moldova Democrata” – 28% and Christian Democrat Peoples Party – almost 10%. Other parties (12) and independent candidates (8) did not meet the minimum level to pass in the Parliament (6% for parties and 4% for independents).

International and national monitoring missions (representing Parliamentary Assembly of OSCE, PA of the Council of Europe) stated that, in general, elections met international standards, but authorities did not respect several key commitments. The most important of them, underlined by all monitoring missions, and, afterwards by US State Department, envisages the access of electoral competitors to mass media.

The two opposition parties which got in the Parliament did not agree with the observers’ statement that elections were, in general, fair. Christian Democrat Peoples Party and Electoral Block “Moldova Democrata” disputed the results. However, they will neither go to Court, nor organize street protest. As the Communists don’t have enough mandates to elect the President, opposition is determined to provoke anticipated Parliamentary elections, by blocking the election procedure.

If opposition doesn’t change mind, anticipated elections would take place in June. And there would be another transformation period for mass media, with new loudspeakers for different parties, new press, and new shareholders for news agencies.


Artur Corghencea, M.A. in Journalism and Communication, is a reporter of Pro TV Chisinau. © Media Online 2005. All rights reserved.