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Draft Law with New Competences for the BC: TV Channels Could Be Temporarily Deprived of Their Licenses for “Privileged Attitudes” during the Electoral Campaigns

26 June 2020
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TV channels could be temporarily left without the broadcasting license for repeatedly favoring certain competitors during electoral campaigns and covering campaigns without having this right. This initiative belongs to the Socialist MPs and has been recently registered by the Parliament. Besides, the draft law includes provisions prohibiting channels founded by non-governmental organizations from reflecting the electoral campaign. Some media managers fear that the Broadcasting Council could use the provisions to find fault with unwanted TV channels.

The authors of the draft law are the MPs Vasile Bolea, Alla Dolinta, Petru Burduja, and Corneliu Furculita from the PSRM; the latter is the owner of two TV channels - NTV Moldova and TNT Exclusiv TV.

The parliamentarians suggest that media service providers/distributors be deprived of the right to spread and publish information on elections and referendums for seven days if they demonstrate “privileged attitudes” towards politicians, parties, and competitors “by means of the social status and/or functions held by their candidates”. The same sanction will be applied if media service providers and distributors breach the obligation of “fairness, responsibility, balance, and impartiality during the electoral campaign, or until the end of the electoral campaign in case of repeated breach of those provisions”.

The second amendment contains much more drastic suggestions regarding suspension of the broadcasting license or authorization for retransmission of the media service provider/distributor for reflecting the electoral campaign without having this right or breaching the provisions described above. The suspension of the license takes place after applying the repeated sanction and withdrawing the right to spread information about the campaign.

Another suggestion of the deputies refers to modifying the provisions of the Electoral Code which refer to appeals. Whereas currently, the appeals regarding printed media are examined by court, the draft law suggests that, at the initial stage, they could be examined by the Central Electoral Commission. A problem for media institutions founded by NGOs would also consist in suggested sanctions for “involvement in any type of non-profit, trade union, and charitable organizations in the electoral campaign”.

GOOD OR BAD? MOTIVATIONS AND PERCENTAGES

The Socialists’ draft was debated during the meeting held on June 24 by the Legal Commission and obtained a positive opinion to be discussed by the Legislature in the first reading. Vasile Bolea, chairman of the commission and one of the authors of the document, states that the amendments result from the need to adjust the Electoral Code to the new requirements of the Administrative Code and in the context of some Constitutional Court Addresses regarding the electoral sphere (click here for details). He mentioned that the document also included suggestions from the Central Electoral Commission and civil society.

“Suspension of the license [by the BC, editor’s note] is an unfavorable measure and should be much more rigid and applied exclusively via judicial control”, MP Sergiu Sirbu (Pro-Moldova) objects, among others. Although “the project is good” in proportion of 90%, 10% are “shifty’, he also specified and abstained from voting.

MP Sergiu Litvinenco (PAS) mentions that the draft contains 95% of issues that “cannot be unsupported” and 5% of the amendments are “debatable”. He voted on the draft as a concept during the first reading.

“GETTING EVEN WITH UNDESIRABLE CHANNELS”

Adrian Buraga, Jurnal TV General Director, claims that the provisions would have been relevant if a few conditions had been met: “First of all, it requires a free, independent, professional, and equidistant audiovisual council, which we do not have today. Second, clarity of the introduced standard, given that the suggested phrases can be interpreted in many ways, which, given the current AC, would mean getting even with undesirable channels, such as Jurnal TV”.
 

“Under the conditions described, the suggestions made have a direct purpose of limiting freedom of expression for some TV channels, as well as sanctioning these channels for eventual criticism of an electoral contestant fully supported by the regulatory authority”, he also specifies for Media Azi.
The representative of the TV8 channel, Mariana Rata, also claims that, at first sight, the amendments meant to stop promotion of certain electoral candidates by the politically engaged press seem to be welcome. “Given that the amendment is suggested by the Socialist deputy Corneliu Furculita, the owner of two TV channels which obviously favored the PSRM during the latest electoral campaigns, the author’s good intention is doubtful”, she said.

The journalist believes that the regulatory authority could bring discipline to the sphere in question in the current conditions if it intended to do so. “When the BC members are appointed on the basis of political criteria, the institution is politicized, and you never know how the legal standard will be interpreted. My opinion is that the current legal framework provides enough levers to prevent the press from demonstrating any political sympathies during the electoral campaign. It should only be applied correctly and honestly”, Rata comments.

The journalist also draws attention to the amendment regarding NGOs.
 

“It is dangerous for TV8 and other media institutions registered as NGOs. If the amendment is not amended or excluded, all media institutions that are NGOs are at a risk of being not allowed to cover the election campaign”, TV8 news director mentions.
“STANDARDS, INCLUDING EVEN THOSE WRITTEN WITH GOOD INTENTION, CAN CAUSE ABUSE”

Ion Bunduchi, Electronic Press Association (APEL) Executive Director, considers that the amendments and sanctions are necessary, but provided that the new rules are accurate and clear. Some aspects, in his opinion, cause questions. He is concerned about the phrase on privileged attitudes towards some electoral contestants, which would reduce the responsibility of media service providers to only two categories of contestants, i.e. those with a certain social status and certain functions. “If an electoral contestant is invited to a cooking show, will it be appreciated as a privileged attitude? It all depends on who is judging the case, while the standard must be predictable. The principle of non-discrimination and equal treatment should be applied to everyone equally”, Bunduchi explains.

Besides, according to him, the breach of the obligation of equity and balance during the electoral period will not be able to be demonstrated by the BC or by the court, because the functioning of a standard has to be measurable, according to an exact definition, otherwise it can generate abuse. “The phrase ‘until the end of the electoral period’ would probably somehow solve the dilemma, if it also referred to serious breaches, not just repeated ones”, Ion Bunduchi adds.

He recalls that the civil society’s suggestions include the one aimed at classifying electoral audiovisual programs into four categories, “and only within its framework, any type of electoral information could be spread, including debates and publicity”. “To conclude, the law must stipulate sanctions, but only if the breach for which the sanction occurs is clear, understandable, and measurable. Otherwise, standards, including even those written with good intentions, can generate abuse”, the media expert concludes.