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Informative Analytical and Military Broadcasts from Russia Can Return to TV Screens. Draft Amendment to the Broadcasting Code Is Approved in the Final Reading

16 December 2020
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Moldovan TV channels will be able to broadcast analytical programs from the Russian Federation in an unhindered manner and will no longer be required to broadcast at least 50% of European foreign content. The legislative authority has approved the draft law aimed at amending the Broadcasting Code of Media Services in the final reading, with a majority of votes, though some of its issues were criticized by representatives of non-governmental media organizations claiming they could affect the broadcasting sphere.

The document voted on Wednesday evening, on December 16, represents two merged drafts, one of which was prepared by the Socialist Party deputies, and another one by the Sor Party parliamentarians. The draft law was voted by the deputies from the PSRM and For Moldova Parliamentary Platform consisting of the faction of the Sor Political Party and unaffiliated deputies who had previously abandoned the Pro Moldova group. The deputies from the Action and Solidarity Party, the Dignity and Truth Platform Party, Pro Moldova, and the Democratic Party left the meeting.

Sergiu Sirbu from the Pro Moldova Parliamentary Platform initially announced during the debates on December 16 that he requested to exclude all the suggestions from the  initial draft by the PSRM, with the exception of those related to the retransmission of broadcasts from abroad. It concerns the wording of the paragraph that currently allows only broadcasting informative, informative analytical, military, and political radio and TV programs produced in the EU Member States, the US, and Canada, as well as in the states which have ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. The Russian Federation is among the countries which have signed this convention but not ratified it yet.

The Member of the Parliament stated during the plenary session that the so-called “anti-propaganda law” was “inefficient” (in spite of the fact that he was among its authors), and that “the problem was not the content of foreign informative broadcasts, but excessive propaganda not regulated from within the country.” “Unfortunately, we have to state that the law adopted in 2017 has failed. It has had no effect. The most dangerous propaganda and threat to the state’s information security, unfortunately, is the internal propaganda, fakes, and lies which proliferate from day to day, including from this room and from the tribune of the Parliament. As to retransmission, newscasts from abroad, I believe we really should not limit them,” Sirbu argued.

Subsequently, other suggestions from the draft were accepted. According to the voted document, the obligation to retransmit broadcasts purchased from abroad, from the Member States of the European Union and/or from third countries which adhered to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television in proportion of at least 50% and the obligation to reserve at least 50% of the broadcasting time of each service for European broadcasting works are supposed to be excluded, too. The suggestion according to which the Parliament, the Government, the Presidency, and other central and local authorities could be able to become beneficial owners of media service distributors also remained in force. The current legislation prohibits this issue.
“We’ve digested it. We’ve accepted it,” this is how Adrian Lebedinschi, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Media Issues and one of the authors of the draft, reacted when asked by the President of the Parliament about Sergiu Sirbu’s amendment.

The suggestion according to which journalists could be forced by the court to disclose their sources of information in cases of protection of national security and public order was excluded from the draft. In addition, the provision regarding the reduction of the obligatory quotas for broadcasting the local content by private channels and the initiative enabling public service providers to obtain profit from advertising during election campaigns were abandoned. The suggestions that remained only on paper also include placing advertisements for a fee and obtaining a license without competition for public broadcasters. Sergiu Sirbu specifies that the initiatives which were not accepted are already contained in another legislative initiative.
 
According to media researchers previously interviewed by Media Azi, the return of broadcasts from the Russian Federation generates substantial risks to information security and to the local media producing local content.
 
After the draft was voted in the first reading on December 3, Delegation of the European Union (EU) to the Republic of Moldova responded to it on its official Facebook page, stating that “any modifications related to the press should be based on extensive consultations”, and that such modifications would leave the country unprotected against disinformation and propaganda. Five years ago, while discussing the draft “anti-propaganda law”, the then OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović affirmed in connection with the initiative related to limiting the b foreign broadcasting that it was “difficult and often counterproductive to try to limit a certain type of speech by an excessively restrictive legislation.”.