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Igor Dodon and His Call to Politicians to Take Press to Court: A “Subtle Threat” to Journalists

15 May 2020
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Igor Dodon encouraged politicians “who see the media spreading fake news to go to court”. Media experts believe that the call made during the May 15 edition of his Facebook live event Președintele răspunde (The President Answers) can be taken as an attempt to intimidate journalists and contradicts the principle of freedom of expression.

The chief of state made this statement while answering the Ziarul de Gardă’s question concerning the lawsuit filed by Igor Dodon against the media institution after it published its investigation material entitled “President’s Luxury Vacations”.

“I encourage all politicians who see the media spreading fake news to go to court. How else can we achieve order? If you don’t react and don’t take it to court that means you admit it. Other than that, I am open to the media, whatever questions you may have”, the President said.

“I particularly respect all journalists, but when they promote falsehoods, including about my family life, I will obviously do my best to have them punished under the law. One of these days I’ll check and then I’ll tell you, in the following editions, about all the lawsuits – not only against you, but against everyone who has produced fake news. There have been dozens of them only in the last 18 months”, Dodon added in his reply to Ziarul de Gardă.

“Hostile speech against the media”

Nadine Gogu, Independent Journalism Center CEO, called the President’s answer “pitiful” because the chief of state should show openness to media and answer all the questions that concern him.

“Dozens [of lawsuits] only in the last 18 months” on behalf of the chief of state speak for themselves: instead of looking for ways to facilitate access to information he has chosen to litigate. Too bad the President spends more time on suing journalists than on ensuring access to information of public interest. And “encouraging” politicians to go to court to “make order” sounds like a subtle threat against journalists”, Gogu said.
She pointed out that journalists had the right to publish any kind of information of public interest concerning civil servants and officials, including about their private life, should such information raise questions as to their integrity. “And once they aspire to and reach public positions, they should know that they will constantly be within the sight of the media whose role is to supervise the chosen representatives’ integrity”, IJC Director added.

Olga Manole from Promo-Lex, member of the Press Council, called the president’s speech “hostile towards the media”.

“Anyone, not only politicians, can and should go to court or the Press Council if they believe a media institution or a journalist have violated their rights. Meanwhile, the President’s message can be taken as an attempt to intimidate the media: it contradicts the principles of freedom of media and freedom of expression which the President, as guarantor of the Constitution, should protect”, Olga Manole considers.
In March 2020, Igor Dodon filed a statement of claim against ZdG. The head of state had deemed certain information given in the “President’s Luxury Vacations” fake and defamatory” – it was the information about the exotic destinations visited by the politician and his family while he was in Parliament. Dodon claimed violation of the right to privacy, asking that the newsmaker be made to refute certain statements in the report and apologize publicly.

The Independent Journalism Center is providing legal assistance on the case. The first court session is to take place on May 19. Veronica Mihailov, the lawyer representing the media institution in the case, considers the President’s claim of “the so-called defamation” unjustified: “Ziarul de Gardă had used all professional diligence and ethics in carrying out this journalistic investigation. At the same time, it had fully ensured Dodon’s right to reply, repeatedly asking him for his opinion on the matter and publishing it in an honest manner”.