At the beginning of the year, the authorities were very touchy about national identity and censored allusions to Romania and the Romanian language. The reformed communist president, Vladimir Voronin, trying to move away from the Romanian sphere of influence and more towards Russia, pushed russification of the state media.
The anti-Romanian policy was shown by the suspension, from August and November, of relaying TV programmes of the Romanian station TVR1. In the spring, thousands of people demonstrated in the streets against the new policy and in favour of more democracy. The state-owned TeleRadio Moldova censored reports of the protests and its journalists launched a broad strike calling for democracy at the station.
During the summer, a new law to ensure political diversity in public TV coverage was implemented, as required by the Council of Europe. In fact, the law simply confirmed the communist domination of all state institutions.
A new criminal code was to come into effect on 1 January 2003, providing for up to five years imprisonment for defamation, to the dismay of the Council of Europe, which was calling for decriminalisation of the offence before May 2003, when the Moldovan presidency of the Council’s committee of ministers starts.
Pressure and obstruction
Hundreds of employees of the state-owned TeleRadio Moldova began a strike on 27 February calling for abolition of political censorship and for more democracy at the station. They also wanted an end to russification of the state media, to bans on the terms "Romanian", "Romanian language" and "totalitarian regime" and to government control of the station. On 30 March, the station falsely announced on the eve of a major anti-government demonstration that it had been cancelled because of expected bad weather. The weather turned out fine and the station did not report on the demonstration.
The station’s management banned the broadcast on 20 March of a report about a meeting of demonstrators and civil society representatives after the mysterious disappearance that month of opposition leader Vlad Cubreacov. On 29 and 30 March, journalists from the station’s evening news programme "Messenger" screened on a wall in the street an alternative version of the programme composed entirely of film censored by the management.
A bomb exploded on 12 April outside the offices in Chisinau of the Communist Party daily paper Kommunist, causing some damage but no injuries.
Relaying of TV programmes of the Romanian station TVR1 were suspended on 10 August on the pretext that the station owed money to Moldova and that the contract between the two countries, due to end two days later, had not been renewed in time. The Moldovan authorities said the programmes would not resume until a new agreement was signed.
However, an agreement had been signed on 24 July, under which TVR1’s payment due would be deducted from Moldova’s general debt to Romania. But parliament did not approve the agreement until 8 November. Throughout November, journalists demonstrated for the resumption of the programmes and sent a petition to parliament on 22 November. The transaction was made on 26 November and the programmes started up again in early December.
A law concerning TeleRadio Moldova came into force on 15 August, setting up a 15-person board of governors with the president, the government and parliament each naming five members. The reform, drafted with the help of the Council of Europe, was meant to ensure maximum political diversity in coverage, but since all state institutions were dominated by communists, it simply confirmed their control. The switch from state to public control of broadcasting was also to involve setting up a watchdog body representing all political parties and influential NGOs.
Security forces searched the offices on the weekly Accente in Chisinau on 9 October and seized photographic and computer equipment, preventing appearance of the next day’s issue. The same day, editor Sergiu Afanasiu was arrested for allegedly taking a bribe for not printing compromising material about a businessman. The search and the arrest were only legalised a ay later. The law says only a court can prevent a publication from appearing. President Voronin proposed a law on 15 November allowing the authorities to define as "extremist" any speech or radical action by the opposition or by minorities, thereby markedly reducing the chances for the media to cover sensitive subjects.
Journalists at the Tiraspol newspaper Glas Naroda (in the autonomous republic of Transdnistria) announced on 22 November that state and privately-owned printing plants had been ordered by local authorities not to print the paper. In October 2001, the justice minister has advised all printing firms to refuse to deal with the paper since its publisher was a candidate in the presidential election against incumbent Igor Smirnov.