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MediaRing with Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

22 July 2016
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Media Azi:

- Dear Ms. Mijatović, the berlusconization of the Moldovan mass-media which restricts the media pluralism is a phenomenon with a negative impact that was repeatedly pointed out by the media NGO-s of Moldova. To what extent is such a phenomenon present in other OSCE member-states and how do they fight against the mass-media concentration?

Dunja Mijatovic: Media concentration, an issue present in some OSCE participating states, is a structural obstacle to free and pluralistic media because it often results in the merging of political influence and commercial interests. The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has addressed this issue throughout the OSCE region, in line with the Representative’s mandate.

- Last year, the Broadcasting Coordinating Council suspended the activity of Rossia 24 TV channel on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. As we know, the OSCE does not encourage such restrictive measures. Nevertheless, how shall we protect the information space against the hatred messages? What other solutions might be more efficient in countering the Russian propaganda?

D.M.: I have been following closely the developments around the suspension of television channels in some OSCE participating States in the past two years, including in Moldova.

In general, I am against any arbitrary attempts to restrict media pluralism as the public should be provided with a variety of news and views in different languages coming from different countries. I expressed my position on this matter in a communiqué  in 2014 (http://www.osce.org/fom/116888).

While a ban on discriminatory or hatred-fuelled propaganda is a legitimate use of a country’s legal mechanisms, legislation is only part of a larger toolbox to respond to the challenges of propaganda. I described this issue in the non-paper “Propaganda and Freedom of the Media” published in 2015 (http://www.osce.org/fom/203926). This toolbox contains a number of instruments to deal with propaganda and the recommendations are available on page 60 in http://www.osce.org/fom/203926.
 
Ion Bunduchi, President of the Association of Electronic Press:

- Ms. Mijatović, you are an acknowledged professional in the field of freedom of expression in crisis periods, therefore I would like to ask you: which are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges for the mass-media in these troubled times both for the European and for the world community, in general?

D.M.: The biggest challenges for media freedom in the OSCE region, which I as the OSCE Representative am mandated to monitor, are very much linked to developments in our societies in general.
 
Recent terrorist attacks and the new lines of conflict in Europe are fundamentally altering and challenging the way we think about our basic human rights, such as freedom of expression and media freedom. Unfortunately, we seem to be seeing a shrinking place for civil society in this context; journalists and human rights defenders are increasingly subject to harassment, NGOs are being restricted in their activities, and media freedom is deteriorating. 

It is a sad fact that our very own security has become one of the greatest threats to freedom of speech. At the same time, our societies are marked by an atmosphere with increasing intolerance of dissenting opinions. Taken together, I fear that these factors have created a dangerous mixture of suppression and self-censorship in Europe and beyond.

- Under the present situation, when we face propaganda, manipulation, a hybrid warfare, etc. as a result of the use of information, speculation about the universal right to the freedom of expression, isn’t there a need for a change of paradigm in terms of freedom of expression, at the level of the OSCE, of the Council of Europe and of the EU? Please, justify your answer.

D.M.: If you look back 20 or 30 years, or even longer, we have dealt with these issues and threats to free expression and media freedom before. The circumstances and the contexts might have been different, but the fundamentals have been the same and I don’t think the current situation and the developments call for a change in paradigms with regard to freedom of the media.

- What country/countries, out of the 57 member-states of the OSCE, cause the most serious headaches for you from the perspective of the freedom of the mass-media?

D.M.: The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media does not rank or compare the state of media freedom between different states.
 
- Your beliefs in terms of freedom of the media, as it is well-known, are not shared by a part of representatives of the OSCE member-states. Please, comment on this situation...

D.M.: It is not for me to comment on assessments made by others on the media freedom situation in different countries. I make my assessments based on the mandate the participating States in the OSCE have given me as the Representative (http://www.osce.org/fom/106280), and the OSCE commitments on freedom of expression and media freedom. There will always be some that disagree but that is exactly why freedom of expression and free opinion are so important, issues can then be debated and discussed for the benefit of everyone.

- You have already been in Moldova and, I hope, you will come again. When?

D.M.: My latest visit to Moldova took place in March 2014, I indeed hope to go again.
                                                                                                  
Victor Gotișan, media researcher:

- To what extent is the mass-media security of a country like the Republic of Moldova important, particularly now, in the context of the events of Ukraine?

D.M.: If by media security you mean that journalists are free and  safe to report on any matters they chose, then of course, journalists’ safety is extremely important and one of the pillars of media freedom in any country. Journalist safety in times of conflict, open or frozen, should be of particular concern to both national governments and international organizations.

- The OSCE, and you in particular, have made a number of recommendations concerning a series of issues related to the mass-media of the Republic of Moldova (media pluralism, mass-media concentration, transparency of mass-media ownership), but many of them have not been taken into consideration by the governance. Why does it happen, in your opinion?

D.M.: I see your point here, and I would like to see a stronger political will to implement recommendation from intergovernmental organizations.

 - The regulatory institutions of the mass-media sector in the Republic of Moldova are still captive of the political factor (the Broadcasting Coordinating Council or the Board of Observers of Teleradio-Moldova). What should be undertaken to make them really free and independent? Do you have any magic recipe in this sense to disclose to us?

D.M.: The regulatory authorities should be an active player in protecting public interests, ensuring plurality of opinions and regulating the broadcasters’ activities in a fair, unbiased and transparent manner.

Strengthening their autonomy and independence is a multi-faceted task. There is no magic recipe, only internationally recognized standards and practices. While political will remains important, it also requires more transparent approaches in the selection of the members of regulatory authorities, active participation of civil society at all stages of the selection and monitoring processes, and strengthened accountability of regulators to the public.

- For a decade or more, the press in the Republic of Moldova is “partly free” (Freedom House). The governments are changing in the country, but the situation in the field of the mass-media remains “stable”. What should be done in order to make progress in this field?

D.M.: The most important steps are enabling media pluralism and media independence from the government, guaranteeing the editorial independence of public service broadcasting, ensuring that the broadcast regulator is a truly independent body, and not using criminal law, such as a law on extremism, as an instrument to impose self-censorship in the media.
 
Alina Țurcanu, editor Free Europe Radio:
 
- A number of media institutions of the Republic of Moldova are directly or indirectly controlled by politicians who dictate their editorial policy, being, as a result, used as manipulation and misinformation tools at the mercy of the political authorities. Many journalists who accept to play the games of the authorities, ignoring the ethical and professional rules, invoke the economic arguments – the labour market is limited, the need to support their families, etc. How could the journalists be protected against the attempts to transform them into screws of the machinery for political fights?

D.M.: I would point in this regard to the role of professional associations which should deem such practices unacceptable and call for public vigilance. A sound self-regulatory system of the media, needs to be an authoritative voice, accountable to the profession and the public. In addition, the voices of intergovernmental organizations such as the OSCE are important in this respect, to make sure that governments follow and uphold their commitments on free expression and free media.
 
Lilia Zaharia, special reporter of the Association for Independent Press:

- Fortunately, a large share of the audience in Moldova is gradually learning how to distinguish the manipulating information which is disseminated by the politically controlled media institutions. Nevertheless, a part of citizens are still manipulated. What are your recommendations concerning this part of the audience?

D.M.: As only an informed, media-literate population can make rational and not emotional choices, strengthening educational programmes on media literacy and Internet literacy is one of our strongest tools in limiting the effects of propaganda.
 
Angela Zaharova, Elita TV producer:

- Please, assess the actions undertaken by the Parliament of Chișinău towards the demonopolization of the mass-media market in the Republic of Moldova? What should happen for the mass-media to be financially independent and to become a successful business?
 
D.M.: Limitation of ownership concentration and disclosure of information about the owners are very important aspects of transparency. The provisions of the law should also equally apply to all current media owners.
 
Luiza Doroșenko, President of the Media Centre of Tiraspol:

- What measures has the OSCE undertaken to improve the mass-media situation in Transnistria (freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of the media). Or what does it intend to undertake to improve the situation?

D.M.: I think that is OSCE Mission to Moldova who could offer the best answer to this question, as this organization has initiated many initiatives focused on the mentioned issues, such as trainings, seminars and other programs.

Tatiana Puiu, expert in mass-media legislation:

- In your opinion, is the protection of sources sufficiently guaranteed in Moldova?

D.M.: This is a very important issue that the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media follows in all OSCE participating States. According to the information available to my Office at this point in time, we are not aware of any issues regarding protection of confidential sources in Moldova.

- What do you think about the whistleblower statute in Moldova?

 D.M.: My mandate does not cover the issue of whistle-blowers, so I cannot address this question.
 
Alina Radu, director of Ziarul de Garda newspaper:
 
- Dear Dunja, in 2011 you made a special statement on Moldova, suggesting to the Moldovan Government that the justice system cannot impose to the media to pay damages that may bring to bankruptcy of media institutions. Recently, some public officials applied requests to the judicial system, requesting tens of thousands. Could you please come back to the topic and explain to the Moldovan authorities that freedom of expression is important and that the reporters should be responsible for accuracy, but not for making wealthy some public officials?

D.M.: In general, I firmly believe that public officials need to endure a higher threshold of criticism, including by members of the media.

While accuracy is crucial for professionalism of journalists, I think that threatening media with financial costs that could lead to the outlet’s bankruptcy would likely result in self-censorship and therefore be a major blow against media freedom. Any damage awards should always be proportionate to the actual harm and the economic situation of the media organization or journalist concerned. This is  the European standard.
 
- Media concentration under political umbrellas in Moldova affects the right of citizens to have access to pluralism. How can a country overcome such a problem, when the politicians that control the main media are also controlling the State powers?

 D.M.: See answer on media concentration above.