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Moldova24 August 2007

Press freedom at half-mast on Independence Day

As Moldova prepares to celebrate its Independence Day on 27 August, Reporters Without Borders points out that this year has been marked by many violations of journalists’ rights and a parliamentary resolution on press freedom proposed by the opposition last month was unfortunately rejected.

“We condemn the Moldovan ruling party’s recent rejection of the possibility of making concrete improvements to the press freedom situation in the country and we remind the authorities that they must respect the undertakings they have given the European Union in this area,” the organisation said.

In the proposed resolution on press freedom presented by 15 opposition legislators in July, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev was urged to ensure implementation of the access to information law (adopted in 2000) and respect for the undertakings on press freedom included in the European Union - Moldova Action Plan. Interior minister Gheorghe Papuc was also urged to take the necessary measures to solve a series of physical attacks on journalists and prevent their continuation. The resolution was rejected on 6 July.

One of the resolution’s authors, Oleg Serebrian, said during the debates that press freedom had been obstructed by harassment, threats and attacks on journalists ever since the Communist Party was returned to power in 2001.

Serebrian said prosecutions against news media critical of the government posed the biggest threat to free expression in Moldova. He also accused the authorities of failing to respect the laws governing media activity, often using financial mechanisms to harass news media. The tariffs applied by the postal system to the distribution newspapers increase subscription charges and penalise the development of privately-owned press. At the same time, the government provides financial subsidies to newspapers that support its policies.

Opposing the resolution, Communist Party legislator Victor Stepianuc, the head of the parliamentary commission for mass media, said it did not reflect the press freedom situation in Moldova. He added that some privately-owned media were biased and that they therefore did not deserve to have access to parliamentary sessions or to the government.

Nonetheless, the work of the Council for the Coordination of Broadcasting (CCA), a regulatory body, was obstructed during last June’s local elections when four of its members were detained and two of them were taken into custody and prosecuted. They said their arrest was probably prompted by the CCA’s warnings about biased election coverage in certain media. A television station, Euro TV-Chisinau, meanwhile received a warning from the police for referring to cases of electoral fraud.

Independent Press Association president Petru Macovei reported that no fewer that 26 publications broke the law by continuing to cover the local election campaign during the week of 4-11 June.

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