If in the 90’s the issue of media ownership concentration was a theoretical topic in Moldova and we were interested in this concept only through the experience of the western countries, it was not long until this phenomenon became a reality in Moldova, as well as in the neighboring countries. It is not a secret that Vlad Plahotniuc, the oligarch, owns an impressive number of TV, radio outlets and other means of mass information. This situation was made possible by the legal framework, specifically by the amendments to the Article 66 of the Broadcasting Code. In its initial version, the paragraph 3 of this Article states the following: “A natural or legal person can own at most 2 (two) broadcasting licenses in the same administrative unit or area with no exclusive rights [to broadcasting]”. Somewhere in between October 2010 and May 2016, the article was amended and ““two” was changed with “five””. At the beginning of this year the article stated “A natural or legal person can own at most 2 (two) broadcasting licenses in the same administrative unit or area with no exclusive rights [to broadcasting] and be a shareholder with a majority stake at most within two broadcasting[media]”, and is close to the initial version of the article. However, the Amendment Law expressly stated, “the broadcasting licenses issued before the coming into force of the present law remain valid until the expiry of their validity.”
Between 2010 and 2016, the Moldovan oligarchs were at large building their media empire. All this time, the information about the ownership of these media outlets was unofficially known. Only by 2015, the civil society efforts in promoting transparency in media came to fruition, by the passing of the Law no. 28 of 05.03.2015, which set a number of limitations on the declaring of the ownership composition.
Under this Law, Broadcasting Coordinating Council (BCC) decided the form and the submission rules of the Declarations, which can be found on the BCC web page.
The legislation improved, formally, there is greater transparency, but in reality, the concentration once produced will stay the same for a long time or until the expiry of the broadcasting licenses seven years on.
Through legislative measures the ownership concentration can be avoided or, at least, more difficult to achieve. In Moldova, the law was amended extremely easy, which is an alarming signal and a concern for worry for the future.
Practically, the effects of ownership concentration must be judged through the lenses of the products of the media outlets. Now, we are in the post-election period, in which various broadcasting outlets participated in political partisanship, providing support to various political parties instead being an instrument of information.
BCC, on November 11, 2016, during a public hearing, determined that: „The following TV stations „Prime”, „Canal 3”, „Canal 2”, „Publika TV”, „Accent TV”, „NTV Moldova”, „Jurnal TV”, „TV7” and „Ren Moldova”, in the reference period, were involved in political partisanship in favor of some of the candidates participating in the elections, thus, defying the democratic spirit and infringing on the Election Law, on the rules of deontological and journalistic conduct.
Due to the infringement of the articles of the Broadcasting Code and of the Regulation on electoral coverage of presidential election from October 30, 2016 in Moldovan mass media, BCC enforced a maximum penalty (5400 MDL) on the TV stations „Prime”, „Canal 2”, „Canal 3”, „Publika TV”, „Jurnal TV”, „Accent TV” şi „NTV Moldova”, and „TV7” şi „Ren Moldova” were publicly warned. We can see that four of the sanctioned TV stations belong to the media group, which is in the ownership of Vlad Plahotniuc.
How dangerous is the media ownership concentration?
The main danger that the media ownership concentration brings resides in the fact that one opinion could be presented to the public from multiple or all the broadcasting media. Thus, the civil society could be easily manipulated and left with no alternative source of information in order to form an objective/informed opinion on many issues and events. Usually, the public is misinformed only on issues of interest for the oligarch. Apart from them, reliable information could be presented to the public.
Depending on the local conditions, the ownership concentration harms the freedom of information in 5 ways: 1) by putting the media empire in the government service; 2) by replacing of news making with entertainment; 3) by using the media against opponents; 4) by the censorship of everything that is not in favor of oligarch’s own interests; 5) by the acquisition of means of mass media in order to corrupt the elected public officials.
The article was published within the Advocacy Campaigns Aimed at Improving Transparency of Media Ownership, Access to Information and promotion of EU values and integration project, implemented by the IJC, which is, in its turn, part of the Moldova Partnerships for Sustainable Civil Society project, implemented by FHI 360.
This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content are the responsibility of author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.