Media Azi: Ms Cepoi, how do you find Moldova after a relatively long absence, when you ran Internews projects in Kyrgyzstan?
Corina Cepoi: Yes, four years is a significant period. You try to read about everything that’s going on at home, be up to date, but you still miss some things, because behind a news story there may be some off the record information, details you may not catch from afar, from a distance. I found the actual situation much more complicated, including in the media, more nuanced. I was talking to my fellow journalists that when Communists were in power, the picture was clear, they consistently promoted a certain line, and at least you knew what to expect from them. Today things are confusing, we are moving from one extreme to another, and the worrying thing I find is that we have people who pretend they are something else they are in reality. They are a sort of political chameleons, very dangerous. These realities, unfortunately, negatively affect the media.
M.A.: You went to Kyrgyzstan to implement a project to reform public television. How did the reforms go there?
C.C.: It is not easy to reform public broadcasting, not only in Kyrgyzstan, but in other countries as well. We focused mostly on management practices, on human resources, and less on editorial policy. I started with reforming the public television, as project director, but then I advanced to become country director, having six projects with diverse funding, European and American. A success of Internews was the mediation of a post-conflict situation in southern Kyrgyzstan through media initiatives. There, because of interethnic conflicts, many media outlets had no content in the Uzbek language, despite large numbers of Uzbeks living in the area. In 2011, we opened a TV and radio station that broadcasts in Kyrgyz, Uzbek, and Russian languages. Thus, through media programs, we have managed to bring the two main ethnicities closer together.
M.A.: In Moldova we also are dealing with lack of solidarity, and even barricades between journalists speaking Russian and those speaking Romanian. How can we overcome such situations?
C.C.: There are problems here, too, but the overall situation is different. Both sides are making efforts to come closer. For example, Newsmaker, a Russian-language media outlet, is interested in creation of content in Romanian, while Ziarul de Garda newspaper publishes a Russian version. Also, there are rather open outlets in the Gagauz autonomy and even in Tiraspol, with which the Independent Journalism Center has been collaborating for years. RISE.md has joint projects in Tiraspol, doing journalistic investigations. There are some organizations that want to collaborate and actually do it, there are others you can try to work with and convince them in time. Sure, there are also some we will never be able to convince. Other situations in Moldova seem to be more serious: for example, when some Romanian-speaking journalists, who used to be on nationalistic barricades, are now making Russian propaganda at Sputnik.md.
M.A.: How do you explain such sudden switches from one editorial policy to another, totally opposite?
C.C.: By financial and convenience reasons. To do quality journalism, one needs to have character and personality. If you don’t have them, you accept compensation from the one who offers it and don’t ask questions about ethics. That’s it; some choose the most convenient path. I’m sure that if anything changes in the meantime, they will be reading something else from the prompter.
M.A.: For several months, you have been heading the Internews representative office in Moldova. As we know, this organization has or had projects in over one hundred countries of the world, usually in the places where media don’t have the status of free press. What projects will you conduct here?
C.C.: It will be a five-year long project, “Media Enabling Democracy, Inclusion and Accountability in Moldova” (Media-M), which focuses on uncovered niches. We have three objectives. One is to provide long-term support to media outlets, in order to ensure their viability. We will choose six or more media outlets as partners of assistance, which we will help to develop. Due to the fact that Internews is a global network, we have the possibility to get in touch with experts from any country and provide funding for sustainable inputs, capable to prove that media outlets can have their own profit and a quality product as a result of our support. There is much to learn, because it is about convergence, another aspect that we will bring to these organizations. We’ll make sure they expand their coverage, have a larger audience, are on multiple platforms and monetize their content.
M.A.: What criteria will you use to select the six partner media outlets?
C.C.: They will have to file a set of documents showing the direction they want to follow in the next five years and their development strategies. We will invest in those who have a vision for the future, seeing what plans they have for growth and development. We will also take into account the quality of the journalistic product they offer on the media market and the management component. Monitoring reports produced by media NGOs and the OSCE will serve as another criteria to choose the ones with a balanced editorial policy. We want to reach out to the Russian-speaking public, to offer them quality information, too.
Let’s see what applications we get. For now, I have been amazed that not all of media platforms have development strategies or business plans, although it seems natural to have an idea of where you are going, what you want to do, where you want to get. I believe that when you don’t have a vision of what you are doing, the best thing you can do is close the newspaper or TV station you are running and do something else. It’s simply not worth investing, consuming your life with this, if you do something you don’t believe in.
M.A. As far as we know, you will be implementing activities under the second objective together with the Independent Journalism Center. Internews will support some of the media education activities the IJC has been conducting for a few years. What will this support be about?
C.C.: We will focus on developing a curriculum for high schools, as we want to contribute to the media education of so-called young adults, because those students are the ones who will vote soon and for that they need to make informed choices. As far as I know, teachers have been delighted by the media literacy activities organized by the IJC. We should use this openness on their part and go ahead. Here, we will also work with the librarians trained under the Novateca program, coordinated by IREX, which we collaborate with. We expect a significant impact from this, too.
Our third goal is to improve media legislation and self-regulation. Our main partner in this is Freedom House, an international organization that is well known in Moldova. We have known for a while the representative of this organization, the lawyer Tatiana Puiu. In September, we will have an event with the participation of experts and officials from the Baltic States (we are now finalizing the agenda) – we want to see how they work on improving their information security legislation.
M.A.: Speaking of legislation, you represent Internews in the working group organized by the Parliament to improve the media legislation. Some wonder whether the organization of this group is not just an appearance of the Parliament’s good intentions. How do things look from inside?
C.C.: We had only several meetings, from which I felt great openness and serious work on examining the existing draft laws. But the questions of skeptics are somewhat natural, because so far the situation was reversed, and then suddenly we got a total openness. Eight draft laws or other legislative acts are at work simultaneously, and each has a deadline – some in November, others in February. We don’t know what these laws will look like when they get into the Parliament, but so far the documents we are working on are good. In addition, international organizations are also part of the group, the Council of Europe is the group coordinator, and representatives of embassies come to these meetings. The last meeting of the subgroup that discussed the new draft Broadcasting Code was attended by the entire composition of the BCC [Broadcasting Coordinating Council] and by media managers. It was a heated and open discussion, on each paragraph in part.
In fact, we need to collaborate in such groups, to promote our ideas. The easiest thing to do is to get your luggage and leave. Frankly speaking, I was in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, where you can’t freely speak, and it is hard to work. And when I come here and hear words like “We got a rope around our necks,” I can’t agree. Yes, sometimes it is quite difficult, but it doesn’t mean we getting an autocracy. If you went to Uzbekistan to see how people are even afraid of their shadow, or to Belarus or Turkey, where journalists are simply imprisoned… Amnesty International has recently organized a workshop in Turkey and everyone got into prison, even the manager of the hotel where they rented the conference room. And it all happens at a close distance to Moldova…
M.A.: Recently, certain initiatives on limiting funding from the West for NGOs, for example, have been launched in our country, too… How serious are these threats?
C.C.: We should be alert, of course; we should make common cause in the face of such dangers. But I also believe that such threats will not be allowed to materialize.
M.A.: In another line of thought, what shall we do with the threat that comes from inside, with false news?
C.C.: We need to check the information. It is a global phenomenon. Just imagine how many information fakes have been released in connection with vaccines! In the USA, in a show on this topic, in just 15 minutes the author crushed all such fakes. He did it with humor and managed to reach the public – the show gathered millions of views! (At the time of this interview it had nearly 7 million views.) We, too, should learn how to reach the public and explain to people how to distinguish false and fair news.
This is precisely the purpose of media literacy projects. If we continue developing the critical thinking of young people, we will all win. The next generation will no longer have blind faith in what they see on TV or read on the Internet, in newspapers; they will check everything they see and hear, knowing which media outlets are trustworthy and which are not, and will have other digital safety skills.
M.A.: What does Moldovan journalism lack? Imagination, knowledge, out-of-the-box approaches, anything else?
C.C.: It lacks a lot. First of all training, which we should continue at all stages of life and experience. Just recently, the IJC has had a training event with journalists, where an expert from Romania shared some online tools, for example, on how to make money online, how to reach the public so they want to buy your product, or how to approach a company so it offers advertising to you. Then, Moldovan journalism lacks technical skills.
The Chisinau School of Advanced Journalism is trying to cover these gaps. We created it after studying the experience of top universities, such as those from Cardiff, Missouri (where I studied for a few years), Lille, Sarajevo, Moscow, Ukraine, and Georgia. CSAJ prepares universal journalists, because it is the best solution on a market as small as ours.
M.A.: How can we pass the threshold from partly free press to free press? Is this transition in a near future predictable?
C.C.: The score is awarded for several components: very good laws, a free advertising market, diversity instead of concentration in the media ownership. I don’t think it is too hard to achieve these goals if the intentions to reform are sincere.
The "Media Enabling Democracy, Inclusion and Accountability in Moldova" (Media-M) project is funded by USAID and implemented by Internews.