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Moldova29 May 2008

Concern about government harassment of independent news media

Reporters Without Borders is worried about repeated harassment of journalists and news media in the past two months by the Moldovan authorities. The biweekly Moldavskie Vedomosti is threatened with closure by an investigation into alleged corruption while the body that allocates broadcast frequencies has been accused of favouring pro-government radio and TV stations.

“With just one year to go to parliamentary elections, it is vital that Moldova’s journalists should have a better environment in which to work,” the press freedom organisation said.

The Moldovan public prosecutor’s office last month opened an investigation into allegations that Moldavskie Vedomosti overcharged a company called Soroca Stone Quarry for advertising. The newspaper has been accused of “misappropriating the property of others in very large amounts.” Anti-corruption investigators have carried out several inspections of the newspaper’s financial records at its headquarters.

Moldavskie Vedomosti editor Dmitri Ciubasenco said he was convinced that “the public prosecutor’s investigation is political” and that it was designed to put pressure on the newspaper and lead to its bankruptcy. He insisted that the contracts he signed were legal and that the payments that were made respected the contracts.

Several Moldovan NGOs said the case was suspicious because Ciubasenco was not notified that criminal proceedings had been opened and was not asked to make a statement at the public prosecutor’s office. In their view, the investigation is just one more stage in a government strategy to reduce the opposition media to silence ahead of next year’s elections.

A number of NGOs and news media issued a joint statement criticising the way the Broadcasting Coordinating Council allocated radio and TV frequencies during a two-day session on 7 and 8 May. “The decisions of Moldova’s Broadcasting Coordinating Council are favouring media concentration by assigning frequencies above all to pro-government radio and TV stations,” the statement said.

Vocea Basarabiei, a radio station that has been trying with little success for years to obtain new frequencies in order to expand its coverage, said the Broadcasting Coordinating Council was “distributing frequencies according to political criteria.” The station has obtained only eight of the 120 frequencies it has requested in the past eight years.

An independent station affiliated to Radio Free Europe, the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Romania Actualitati, Vocea Basarabiei broadcasts news programmes covering regional, national and international developments as well as entertainment, current affairs and discussion programmes.

A member of the Moldovan parliament, Anatol Taranu said at a news conference: “During its public sessions, the members of the Broadcasting Coordinating Council vote on decisions that have been decided in advance. It is clear that there is constant political interference.”

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