Newspapers return to the media market. No, not to the market of the
Republic of Moldova yet. It’s happening in the US: last year, the circulation of the American newspaper, The New York Times, increased ten-fold, that of the famous newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, increased by 300%, and that of The Los Angeles Times grew by over 60%. Not only the numbers of copies grow: some newspaper editorial boards make new development plans. The Washington Post has recently announced they are hiring 60 new reporters, even though they already had several hundred reporters.
A Lesson from the American Press for Politicians from Moldova
The authorities in the Republic of Moldova, who claim to appreciate the partnership with the US and with the European states so much, are likely to have a lesson to learn. But newspapers, as well as the capabilities of independent newspapers, show a worrying situation.
If we analyze the results of the latest sociological survey on the mass media audience in the Republic of Moldova (commissioned by the Independent Journalism Center), we will discover that newspaper circulation is permanently declining. A quarter of respondents read newspapers on a weekly basis, and only about 4% read them every day.
But let us take a look through the list of newspapers which are the most popular in Moldova, both on the basis of this opinion poll and on the basis of real circulation. The newspaper with the largest circulation in this state is produced in another state: Komsomolskaya Pravda, written and published in Moscow. It would not be a serious matter of concern if its content were of good quality, such as the content of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper which publishes balanced news and a number of investigations that really change the world and that we follow, and we read it with sincere and professional interest.
Otherwise, the authorities, while declaring the struggle against propaganda and fake news, should ask themselves why the most popular newspaper in Moldova is the one produced in the Russian Federation and the one which often uses manipulative texts.
In Moldova, Half of Citizens Read Borrowed Newspapers
I personally do not advocate limiting / closing the media by governments. There is a non-invasive way: creating the conditions for developing independent press, high-quality journalism. If we look at the data from the same sociological survey, we can see that only 25 per cent of the respondents say they have subscriptions to newspapers, and over 40% say they borrow them to read. The state in which almost half of the newspaper readers borrow them causes obvious questions: 1. If people borrow newspapers, that means they want to read them, right? 2. If people borrow newspapers, does that mean they cannot purchase them? 3. If people borrow newspapers, does that mean that the circulation does not grow and the editorial boards do not develop?
If the authorities asked themselves these questions, the answers would follow together with the solutions. To all the three questions, the answer is YES: people want to read newspapers, people have low incomes, they often have to choose between a newspaper subscription and a pack of Validol, and editors who do not have any political patrons are pretty much appreciated by readers, not by subscribers – these editions can neither increase nor decrease the subscription price.
How does a newspaper editorial board without a political patron cover its expenses? In normal states, subscriptions and advertising will do. In states where citizens are poor and, as I have said above, have to choose between bread and newspapers, advertising remains the only option. However, studies demonstrate that advertising is also politically controlled, and newspapers, even the most successful ones in this country, gather just a few pages of advertising. 80% of advertising is on television, mostly on politically controlled television.
At the Top: Newspapers and Televisions from the Russian Federation
A research reveals progressive involution of the print media, which has ranked the least important among the essential sources of information, according to the source quoted, mentioning that 40% of respondents never read newspapers, and 70% of citizens are informed about the situation in the state predominantly by their relatives.
If we compare newspaper, television, and online audiences, the figures show that over 40% of respondents prefer television, and about 20% say they are informed from online editions.
Are TV stations a more qualitative source of information, due to which newspapers could be abandoned? The survey participants again place several TV channels coming from the Russian Federation at the top: PervyiKanal, RTR Moldova, etc. No European channel is found at this top, except for ProTV.
Around the World, Good Newspapers Are Growing, What about Moldova – Are There Any Solutions?
In this context, if newspapers that do not benefit from political or advertising financing, while readers are interested in them, but are poor and prefer borrowing newspapers rather than subscribing or buying them – what solutions do they have? Quite a lot.
- There is a Media Forum that discusses issues at the professional level and without political control, including those of the written press, each year drawing up an emergency set-up titled the Roadmap, yet the Government did not contribute to achieving any of the points of the last year’s roadmap.
- There are professional associations that have been pursuing the development of written press in Moldova for decades. The Association of Independent Press unites free newspapers which have expertise, experience, and openness. The authorities could have informed themselves about it if they wanted to.
- There is a single press distributor covering the entire territory of the Republic of Moldova, Posta Moldovei, which has been having a more and more discouraging dialogue with the independent press during the recent years, which demonstrates the attitude of the authorities towards newspapers.
Newspapers at Your Workplace: Cheap and Necessary
ZdG has created a website, abonare.md, where those who are eager subscribe to periodicals or send subscriptions as gifts to someone else. This mechanism works very well, and people from dozens of countries have donated subscriptions to the printed edition of ZdG in Romanian and Russian for people in Moldovan villages who do not have access to the Internet or prefer reading a printed edition. The same website also offers subscription to SP, an independent newspaper from Balti, and soon, other newspapers will join.