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Media Policy Forum. Trends in Moldovan, Georgian and Armenian Media During Election and Post-election Periods

16 May 2019
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Within the second edition of the Media Policy Forum, experts from the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia discussed the behaviour of media in their countries in election campaigns and the need to provide citizens with accurate and complete information about election candidates. At the same time, experts have found that misinformation, hate speech and the invasion of fake news in the media are common phenomena in the three countries, which gain momentum during the election campaigns.

Moldova: The broadcasting is dominated by the politically affiliated media and the information doesn’t reach the voters easily
Viorica Zaharia, the Chairperson of the Press Council of the Republic of Moldova, talked about the parliamentary elections that took place in our country in February and said that the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) should be concerned about creating conditions to inform the citizens, and that the Broadcasting Council should react promptly to broadcasters’ violations. ‘I would like to see that the state authority – the electoral authority – really cares about how the voters will be informed in the next elections. The decisions and constituencies should be made, or other things related to the elections should be planned with the main thing in mind: that the information should reach the voters easily, without obstacles’. According to the expert, the election results depend on the degree of information of the citizens, hence the civil society’s concern about this issue. Thus, during the electoral campaign under the new mixed system it was found that about one third of the constituencies lacked independent media outlets that could have reflected alternative points of view. Zaharia added that people had access to television, which is most popular among the population, but ‘is dominated by politically affiliated media’.
Another aspect to which the CEC should draw attention in the future is that in some districts some villages ‘deliberately or not’ turned out under neighboring constituencies, where TV channels broadcast information about electoral candidates other than those they were to choose in their constituencies. ‘A journalistic experiment has shown that the voters were confused, when reporters showed them photos of candidates in a certain constituency and very few people recognized them’, Viorica Zaharia reminded.

The Chairperson of the Press Council also reported that the law of the Republic of Moldova does not forbid the media to conduct electioneering.
The BC member Olga Gututui referred to this legislative aspect as well. In her opinion, the broadcasting law should be amended, as it does not allow BC to react quickly to broadcasters’ violations. Legislation should provide for the monitoring procedure for up to seven days and not ten, as it is now. She also advocated setting a minimum and maximum price for election advertising, highlighting that the international practice should be studied in this respect. ‘Some television channels have very high prices. I will give an example: EUR 4,000 per minute’, Gututui said. The BC member specified that the BC would be able to submit proposals to amend the law after half a year the new Audiovisual Media Services Code comes into force (that is on 1 January 2019).

Georgia: Voters must know the financial sources the media outlets work from
Zurab Khrikadze, the member of Central Electoral Commission from Georgia, said that in his country most TV channels belong to political powers and a solution would be the transparent financing of media outlets – citizens will know the financial sources the media outlets exist from and, respectively, will be able to draw conclusions about their credibility. ‘I'm not for restricting financial flows, because the more you restrict them, the more dirty money you have. I think we need to have more electoral education and more laws on financial transparency. At least, during the electoral year or three, four, five months before the start of the election campaign, all media outlets, especially those having the fame of ‘troll factories’, must be obliged to make their sources of income and financing public. After that it will be up to me as a citizen to trust a TV or radio channel funded by the Soros Foundation or by the Russkii Mir Foundation, or not’, Zurab Khrikadze highlighted.

Armenia: We fight against misinformation of the former governors
According to the member of the Armenian Parliament Aruseak Julhakyan, new people of democratic orientation came to the power in Armenia after the parliamentary elections of December 2018. However, the new power faced a huge wave of media disinformation by the former governing regime, which currently holds the majority of the influential media and wants to return to power through media, Aruseak Julhakyan said. ‘That is why we are facing a lot of disinformation, fake news, and have a hard time solving these problems. Since our government is massively represented by civil society and the journalistic environment, and our Prime Minister is a former journalist, we have constantly fought for freedom of expression. It is important for us to keep these democratic values further. We have fought for them. At the same time, the enormous amount of hate speech that appears in the Armenian media seems to be in need of regulation. We are in a dilemma, because the line between the regulation of the media, the regulation of the hate speech and the freedom of expression is very thin. We have to find a balance between fighting against disinformation and protecting the freedom of speech’, Aruseak Julhakyan said. Armenian MP has expressed the hope that the Government, the Parliament, civil society and the media will contribute to solving this problem, because ‘democracy must be participatory (...) and everyone should play his or her own role in this process’, Aruseak Julhakyan mentioned.

‘Media Policy Forum 2019’ is in its second edition. This year the forum was entitled: ‘Media, Elections and Participatory Democracy: How Free?’ Civil society and media representatives from several countries came together in Chisinau to discuss media trends in the region during the election period, as well as to identify certain solutions in this respect.