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MediaRing with Pirkka Tapiola, EU Ambassador in the Republic of Moldova

23 June 2016
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Media Azi:

- Excellency, Finland, your home country, has ranked first in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index, compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders. Moldova, for several years now, appears resigned to the idea of having a partially free press status and occupying increasingly lower position within the international rankings. What, in your opinion, prevents the media from Moldova from becoming a fully free one, as the Finnish press is?  

P.T.: Representing the whole of EU, I usually avoid discussing the country I know best. However, Freedom of press is certainly one of the achievements of which Finns may be truly proud. As far as the Republic of Moldova is concerned, World Press Freedom Index actually provides a useful insight into the issues that should be addressed, in order to improve the situation. These are mainly the influence of political and business interests on the editorial lines, media ownership transparency and the independence of the broadcasting regulatory authority. 
 
- The Moldova - European Union Association Agreement provides for cooperation in the media field as well. How do you see this cooperation in the next 2-3 years?
 
P.T.: The European Union is interested in strengthening media freedom, plurality and independence, as well as quality of public broadcasters in the Republic of Moldova. We intend to cooperate with the Republic of Moldova along these lines, inter alia by providing technical assistance to the legislative process, increasing institutional capacity of the regulatory body (the Audio Visual Coordination Council), as well as supporting the two public broadcasters and the independent media outlets.  The EU also intends to further support investigative journalism. Last but not least, we would like to cooperate with the Republic of Moldova on de-monopolization of advertising market.
 
- Responding to propaganda with anti-propaganda means violating the spirit of democracy. But what measures, in your opinions, should be taken in order to protect the citizens against the informational intoxication within the war propaganda context?
 
P.T.: We naturally understand the negative effects that disinformation can have. In my opinion, the best and only way to protect ourselves from disinformation is to respond with information: accurate, objective and clearly presented. The EU understands this need very well – the best example of our activity in this regard is creation of the East StratCom Team, which works on actively communicating our policy and values.
 
Viorica Zaharia, media expert, content manager MediaForum.md:
 
- You have been in Moldova for some years now. Could you please appreciate the way the quality of information provided by local media institutions has changed? What do you think is the most serious problem of the press in Moldova?

P.T.: Definitely, I noticed that many Moldovan media outlets became more mature, the information published is usually based on solid grounds. Despite the shrinking market for the independent media, I still see a large degree of media plurality in the Republic of Moldova.

The most serious problems that the Moldovan press faces are concentration of media outlets and monopolization of advertising market, which force independent media to struggle for survival in rather harsh conditions. In fact it appears that running a media outlet in the Republic of Moldova is in many cases not a business, but a political project, which also leads to over-politicisation of media content and lack of objectivity. Another serious issue is lack of competition among cable TV providers, especially in rural areas.

However, despite various problems, I noticed one positive tendency: Moldovan media is no longer so strongly divided along geopolitical lines.
 
- A month ago, when I was during a live broadcast on Radio Moldova and talking about quality journalism, an indignant listener has called in mentioning the large volume of information from some TV stations which have a manipulating nature. He asked if the European Union and Moldova's external partners could not allocate funds for the creation of independent media institutions and journalists to boost integrity that remains in Moldovan media? What would be your answer?

P.T.: Indeed, the technicalities and programming cycles of EU assistance follow certain procedures and rules that at the moment do not allow for a lot of flexibility for offering direct grants to media institutions. In general, short-term financing offers also only a short term solution, which means that the media institutions are left without sustainable resources once the financing is finalised. This concern was also voiced by your colleagues in some of the discussions on this issue.

There is an increasing need to focus on the business development aspect of media institutions. This aspect will be further discussed; meanwhile, there are several other sources of funding for media institutions – like the European Endowment for Democracy for example. I have also mentioned while answering another question several other available assistance tools, as well as on-going and previously implemented EU assistance projects in this sector.
 
Sorina Stefarta, director of the School of Advanced Journalism:
 
- In Moldova, several TV stations, including with national coverage, are owned by some politicians who are not only financing them, but also controlling their content. What EU levers could be applied towards these politicians so as to reduce the media concentration phenomenon?
 
P.T.: In a dialogue we can only encourage the Republic of Moldova towards reforms, and try to convince its politicians, that the changes are in everyone's benefit.
 
- In 2011, for example, the European Union and the Council of Europe have financially supported the drafting of the new Broadcasting Code. Unfortunately, that project has not been examined so far by the MPs in first reading. I gave just one example... How effectively, in your opinion, is the financial support provided by the EU to the media field being used?
 
P.T.: Generally speaking, all EU assistance is programmed with the aim of reaching the best possible outcomes and tangible results for the beneficiaries and the citizens. At the same time, this support is subject to various external factors, which may influence the achievement rates for assistance tools. In the case of the project on the Broadcasting Code, funded by the EU and Council of Europe, indeed, the new proposed legislation has not been worked on yet – and we would like to encourage a positive development in this aspect in the near future.

Nonetheless, we have also success stories we could mention, varying from small scale assistance projects to regional horizontal ones. In this regard, a very good example is the OPEN project, namely the Media Hub component, which focuses on providing trainings to journalists on various practical issues. The EU Delegation has also organised recently training for the mass-media representatives on how to better communicate about EU assistance. We are also currently funding an investigative journalism project with RISE Moldova.

From previous projects, I could also mention some good examples of efficient assistance provided by the EU. One can name number of projects: Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in the Republic of Moldova Media - a System Based Approach, Return to Democracy!, Strengthening Journalism Capacities, Improving Governmental Cooperation and Advocating Free Media in the Republic of Moldova, Strengthening the Moldovan Media Capacity to Cover Issues of Public Interest.

As for all other EU assistance, it is intended to provide the tools necessary to make qualitative changes and implement reforms, but the EU cannot make those changes or those reforms for the institutions or the citizens.
 
Ion Bunduchi, media expert, executive director APEL:
 
- Excellency, how many media sources do you have to see (read, listen and watch) in order to realize what is actually happening in Moldova?
 
P.T.: I consume enormous amount of information every day, from all kinds of media, from the TV stations to social media channels. Obviously, I need to consult as many sources as possible to obtain possibly the most objective and accurate understanding of the situation in the country I am working and living in.
 
- The case when a terrestrial frequency, which constitutes a national heritage, is being used by a broadcaster in the favour of one single political party, could be equated with a corruption act?
 
P.T.: We are actively following the various developments in the field of the mass-media sector in the Republic of Moldova, especially the ones related to any aspects which might hinder the activity of free and independent media. We stated our strong positions on similar issues – for example, when in April 2015 a draft law on the modification of the Audiovisual Code, which concerned issues related to the re-transmission of TV-shows from certain countries, was urgently registered for discussions in Parliament, we worked to encourage all actors involved to treat these proposal with utmost care, so as to provide more time for the analysis.

Any aspects regarding the activity of free and independent media in the country should be closely monitored by the relevant authorities and placed high on the agenda of necessary reforms.
 
- “The strongest weapon against propaganda is the solid media literacy.” How can you comment on this statement?
 
P.T.: I can only fully and unequivocally agree. We, as TV viewers, press readers, and in general, as members of a society, should do our best to educate ourselves about how media works, and indeed – how it should work. Knowledge of the rules of professional journalism, as well as ability to compare information and comments provided from different sources, is definitely the best tool to protect ourselves from manipulation.
 
- What role do you assign to the media space in ensuring the national security of any state?
 
P.T.: Needless to say, free and independent media is indispensable for a free society to exist and survive. In this sense, media space is indeed crucial for preserving the security of any country. At the same time, I would warn against "securitisation" of the media and of public discourse surrounding the media. We do not necessarily need to fight in the "information war" – we just need to ensure everyone has equal access to impartial and independent media sources.
 
- Europe appears to have been taken by surprise by the massive Russian propaganda. Why?
 
P.T.: Indeed, already in March 2015, EU Heads of States and Government agreed in the Council Conclusions that Russia is waging disinformation campaigns in Europe, which need to be challenged. The first step in achieving that, as mentioned before, was creating the East StratCom Team, tasked with communicating actively our policy and values. I would not say we have been taken by surprise – although indeed, in the EU we have gotten used to thinking about media in a less confrontational matters. To us, it is about access to objective information and ability for the society to make their independent judgements – and not about geopolitical competition or even the conflict.
 
Hence perhaps the perception, that "our propaganda" is not as strong and effective – indeed, we do not want to get into propaganda business in the first place.
 
Natalia Morari, TV producer, TV7 channel

- The media experts are noting, for a long time, the monopolization of the advertising market and the existence of an unfair competition on the media market. How do you see, in such circumstances, the developments on the Moldovan media market?
 
P.T.: Advertising market, obviously, is an important part of media market as such. Taking that into consideration, it is necessary that all the market players are treated equally and have the same access to financing. As the EU, we are in general strongly against monopolisation, in any sector.
 
- How can the media trying to maintain itself as a business survive?
 
P.T.: Naturally, I cannot provide you with a detailed business plan at the moment – after all, I am a diplomat, and not a media market analyst or a financial manager. That being said, there is a number of alternative business models in the media market, and a number of ways media can use to fund their activities, ranging from advertisement-based models, to paid subscriptions, crowd-funding and others. Many different examples to follow are available in the different European countries – of course, I appreciate that Moldovan market is quite difficult indeed. But actually, most of the media markets, even European ones, currently are.
 
- What tools, in the context of an excessive politicization of the state institutions, apart from the Competition Council and the BCC, can be used to bring the media market to some normal economy conditions?
 
P.T.: Media outlets are not exactly the same as any other, "normal" business project – however, there should have an opportunity to be run as such, according to the fair market rules. For this purpose it is important to have an adequate legislative framework, such as the new Audio Visual Code, as well as de-monopolization of advertising market. In addition, I also see the need to explore different possibilities of support to the independent media outlets in their business development phase.
 
Aneta Grosu, Editor-in-chief of “Ziarul de Garda” Newspaper:
 
- The opinion leaders drew attention to the fact that Moldova is the only one from the EU Eastern Partnership where the EU representative was attacked through some media institutions and power representatives. What effect these attacks had on your business? What were your reactions and replicas to these?
 
P.T.: It is natural in my line of work as a diplomat to be subjected to the increased attention from media. It is something that we have to live with and just make the best out of it.  Of course, not all the media coverage is friendly or positive. We just try to do our job the best we can, every day, in line with EU values and interests.
 
- The stolen billion has become an unprecedented “symbol” of the Moldovan corruption. According to some sources, the robberies have never ceased. Do you have some information about the continuing embezzlement in the banking system?
 
P.T.: I do not have access to any secret sources of information, I am afraid. We are monitoring very closely all the publicly available reports on this situation.
 
Veaceslav Perunov, director of SP Newspaper, Balti:

- What is known about the income poverty faced by the independent media institutions from Moldova in the European Union?

P.T.: We appreciate the difficult situation of the independent media outlets in the Republic of Moldova and we assist in any way we can in their development. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, our EU support rules in general do not allow for a lot of flexibility in offering direct grants to media institutions. We might be able to find some other financing sources in the future.

- To what extent the independent media institutions from Moldova could benefit from the European Union support via some grant programs?

P.T.: All the support and assistance provided by the European Union in this sector is based on specific and rather technical programming cycles, which comply with EU financial procedures and regulations. Call for proposals, grants and other financing opportunities available for mass-media institutions are made public via the relevant communication channels (website of EuropeAid and EU Delegation to the Republic of Moldova).

At the same time, mass-media institutions could apply to various other initiatives and programmes, which imply a media component in their call for proposals, as for example Creative Europe or other call for proposals from DG EAC.

To reply directly to your question, all mass-media institutions could benefit to the full extent possible from EU assistance in the sector, provided that such assistance is available through call for proposals, grants and other financing tools and that they comply with the requirements set out in the assistance tools.

- What do you think about the “Politica” show presented by the journalist Natalia Morari on TV7 being closed?
 
P.T.: I very much enjoyed the show and I appreciate Natalia as a great journalist. I hear she has some new project in the pipeline.
 
Victor Gotisan, media researcher

- One of the biggest problems faced by the Moldovan media is the media concentration, or the so-called “berlusconisation”. Republic of Moldova has solved this problem (with the entry into force on November 1, 2015 of the legal provisions regarding the publication of information related to the owners of the media institutions), but only partially. How important, in your opinion, is for the media consumer to know who is really behind the newspapers, television stations, radio channels, or the online news portals?
 
P.T.: It is absolutely a fundamental issue. We are glad that the issue of media concentration was addressed by recent legislation, although we are aware, that due to continuation of already existing licences, the situation in the market will not change quickly. More rapid movement would have been desirable. In this context, it is only the more important to have full transparency regarding the ownership. To put it simply, people have a right to know who is paying salary of a journalist from whom they are getting their information.
 
- Currently, the Republic of Moldova has no particular laws, legal rules or strategies regulating the informational and media space protection. How dangerous is/may be the media propaganda for a state like Moldova and which are the means to fight this phenomenon?
 
P.T.: As already mentioned, free media are crucial for the sustainable existence of the free society, and thus the independent media space is very much connected to the security of the country. But as usually, the best way to protect yourselves is to strictly follow our rules and principles: maintain freedom and independence of the media sector, and ensure that people are having access to the impartial and objective information. The only answer to disinformation is more of the truthful information.
 
- In the fall of 2015 (October 27 to 28), the First Media Forum from Moldova was organized. At the end of that event, a roadmap with recommendations and solutions was approved. It seems that all these have remained only on paper: the draft of the new Audiovisual Code is still gathering dust on the shelves of the Parliament; the unfair competition on the advertising market remains the same; the media propaganda, both foreign and domestic, seems to be ignored by all and everybody. So, what measures should the media institutions and the media organizations take in order to persuade the decision makers from Moldova (official state institutions) to ensure favourable conditions for the development of a fair, transparent and democratic media sector?
 
P.T.: As any media in any country, Moldovan media has an important role to play in the reform process. It is not without reason, that media is called "4th power" – in fact, your ability to shape public opinion and exercise influence on the decision-makers is enormous. You should definitely use it for the better cause – not only because fair and transparent media sector would benefit yourselves, but also because it is indispensable for democratic society. In doing so, you should definitely start from what is your most important job: informing society, as objectively as possible, about the issues. This way, people can make informed choices and push politicians for the much needed reforms – in every sector.