Parliament amended the law in November 2003 to turn the state-run TeleRadio Moldova into a public service, but this did not guarantee broadcasting would be independent of the ruling Communist Party. TeleRadio Moldova’s new pro-communist head, Artur Efremov, elected by the station’s monitoring council in July, censored a live discussion he said violated the station’s rules about not giving an unchallenged platform to the opposition. Dozens of journalists staged protests in the capital, Chisinau, against the lack of press freedom.
The state-run media openly campaigned for the Communist Party and fiercely attacked opposition candidates during the 25 May local election campaign The central elections board and the broadcasting coordination council did nothing to stop these electoral law violations.
A new criminal code, providing up to five years imprisonment for defamation, came into effect on 12 June. A law punishing incitement to vaguely-defined "extremist" activities and strict new rules about handling environmental news pushed journalists further towards self-censorship.
In the self-styled republic of Transnistria, founded in 1990 after fighting when the Soviet Union broke up, the authoritarian President Igor Smirnov controlled most of the written and broadcast media and all printing facilities, but the opening in 2003 of an independent radio station, 107.7 FM, broke the monopoly of the state-run Radio Pridnestrovie. The official press mainly printed pro-government material and all media were forced to censor themselves. Despite a 2001 agreement between Moldova and Transnistria, Moldovan newspapers were still not allowed in 2003 into Transnistria, whose government banned "anti-Transnistrian" articles and closed one of the few opposition papers, Glas Naroda.
A journalist physically attacked
Nicolae Roibu, of the opposition weekly Timpul, was attacked near his home on 1 November 2003 by strangers, who stole his dictaphone and tape-recordings. He said the attack was connected with his work, especially an interview he did with businessman and lawyer Nicolae Andronic which appeared in the paper on 24 October and quoted him as criticising President Vladimir Voronin. The journalist received phone threats after it was published. Andronic was himself physically attacked on 3 November and Roibu said he thought this was also because of the article. But police claimed the incidents were not related to it.
A journalist threatened
Ivan Topal, editor of the independent Russian and Gagauz-language fortnightly Acik Gyoz, published in Comrat (capital of the Gagauzia autonomous region near the Ukrainian border), said on 6 June 2003 he had been visited by a man who verbally threatened him about an investigation he was doing of corruption involving a local official of the state gas company. The man denied threatening him and police did not give the journalist any protection.
Harassment and obstruction
President Vladimir Voronin banned journalists from a meeting on 24 January 2003 of the council of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Economic Crimes which heard a report of activities in 2002. The law says public information can only be kept from journalists if it involves state or military secrets.
The authorities halted transmission of the TV station Pervyi Kanal v Moldove on 6 February, officially because it was in debt but in fact because it had broadcast criticism of the regime. It returned to the air two days later.
In March, parliament began amending the statutes of the state broadcasting corporation, TeleRadio Moldova, to make it into a public body, by setting up a 15-member monitoring council not controlled by the ruling Communist Party. However, the make-up of the council ensured its continued dominance. This was confirmed on 14 July when the council elected pro-communist Artur Efremov as the station’s new chief. Parliament gave a first reading on 17 October to further amendments - to dissolve the corporation, cancel its debts and create a new public broadcasting service with the workforce cut by a third. An "anti-censorship" committee set up in May by the station’s journalists to resist management pressure (a strike committee had already been set up in 2002) expressed concern that the amendments were passed without any public discussion or opinion from the Council of Europe. Opposition MPs who voted against feared the changes would be used to weed out journalists the authorities did not like. The Council of Europe said on 24 October the government had not gone far enough in turning the station into a genuine public service, but the amendments were definitively adopted on 13 November without significant change.
Parliament amended the law on access to public data on 7 March, barring the media from obtaining environmental information if publishing it would harm the environment (for example, revealing the whereabouts of protected species and thus attracting poachers) or if it could be misinterpreted and create public panic that would hamper environmental protection measures. The media said the amendment was to prepare the way for movement of radioactive waste shipments across Moldova without protests from ecologists and the media.
Local transmission of the Romanian TV station TVR1, suspended by the authorities on 10 August 2002, was allowed to resume on 21 March, two days before a demonstration organised by the weekly Jurnal de Chisinau against the authorities’ indecision about whether to allow the station to operate in Moldova. It had been shut down on the excuse that it owed the government money and that its broadcasting contract (between Romania and Moldova) had not been renewed in time.
A law, passed on 21 February and punishing very vaguely-defined "extremist activities," went into effect on 28 March, limiting media coverage. It applied to planning the overthrow of the government, incitement to racial, social and religious hatred, insulting national dignity, incitement to public disorder, or complicity in all these offences. Its article 7 said a media outlet accused of such crimes could be banned or suspended a year after being given a formal warning.
Ion Gonta, head of TeleRadio Moldova and presenter of the TV programme "Argument," broadcast on 10 May footage taken with a hidden camera of Ileana Rusu and Aliona Avram, two journalists with the weekly Accente, showing them naked in a sauna. Gonta suggested the paper had links with Chisinau mayor Serafim Urecheanu, vice-president of the opposition Moldova Noastra (Our Moldavia) alliance, who was then campaigning for election. He threatened to show other compromising film of opposition journalists. Gonta was expelled from the national journalists’ union on 19 May.
The offices of Flux Publications were searched on 13 May as part of a libel action filed on 24 April by Lebanese businessman Mahmud Hamud, a former Lebanese honorary consul in Chisinau. The investigators, with a warrant from the Chisinau prosecutor, seized computers, e-mail and documents relating to a 20 March article carried by the firm’s news agency and its weekly and daily papers linking Hamud with Hezbollah extremists. The article also reported justice minister Ion Morei’s threats to Flux journalists and a discussion between him and President Voronin about how to shut down the press group because of its criticism of the authorities. The weekly paper’s editor, Igor Burciu, said the investigators refused to allow journalists to contact their lawyer during the search. The next day, state security agents questioned journalists at the offices about the article and its author, who had used the pseudonym Ion Manole. Burciu and his deputy, Vitalie Calugareanu, were summoned and questioned almost daily by the prosecutor’s office about their sources and the real name of the author, but were not charged with any offence.
Cornelia Cozonac, news editor of the state-run news agency Moldpress, was sacked on 6 June after accusing the presidential press office on 21 May of putting pressure on the agency. She lodged a formal complaint against Moldpress after her dismissal.
A new criminal code, approved in 2002, came into effect on 12 June and, in defiance of Council of Europe requests, provided for up to five years imprisonment for defamation (article 170) and said journalists and management were to be held personally responsible for publication of defamatory material. It also abolished the limit on damages awards.
On 19 June, Radio station Antena C dropped its programme "Hyde Park," in which listeners could phone in and talk about social problems, after the broadcasting coordination council threatened to cancel the station’s operating licence because some listeners had allegedly called for the violent overthrow of the government.
The management of TeleRadio Moldova banned the live broadcast on 28 November of the programme "Buna Seara" without telling its presenter, Mircea Surdu. Ten minutes after the start of a discussion between two opposition members and Claus Neukirch, of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), about a Russian proposal to solve the problem of the self-styled republic de Transnistria, the participants realised they were not getting any questions from viewers and that the programme was not going out live.
TeleRadio Moldova boss Artur Efremov said he had banned it to maintain the public station’s duty to be impartial by not giving an unchallenged platform to the opposition, since communist Victor Stepaniuc had refused to take part in the discussion. The station’s anti-censorship committee said the next day that such interference in editorial policy proved censorship was alive and well in the public media.
Efremov banned Radio Moldova’s news editor Valentina Ursu from presenting the live programme "Unda Diminetii" on 1 December, saying she was a bad journalist because she played politics on the air. Earlier that day, she had interviewed the Romanian ambassador on his country’s national day and played a pro-Romanian song.
Seven journalists were questioned by police at their offices or homes between 5 and 9 December about their participation in an anti-censorship demonstration of about 50 people outside TeleRadio Moldova’s offices on 4 December. They were Gheorghe Budeanu (assistant editor of the weekly Timpul), Vasile Nastase (editor of the weekly Glasul Natiunii), Corina Fusu, Dinu Rusu and Angela Arama (all of TeleRadio Moldova), Valentina Ursu (news editor of Radio Moldova) and Angela Sirbu (head of the Independent Journalism Center).
The media was harassed and obstructed in the self-styled republic of Transnistria in 2003:
The state printing firm Poligrafist threatened on 28 January to cancel its contract with the local Russian-language weekly Novaya Gazeta, which is very critical of the government, if it did not change its format, colour, size and some of its content.
The country’s supreme defence soviet said on 27 February that the ministries of internal security and of information and telecommunications would no longer allow publication or reprinting of "anti-Transnistrian" material.
A new press law came into effect on 11 April, requiring newspapers to state the number of copies and pages printed when applying for official registration or face being closed down.
Novaya Gazeta was fined 4,000 euros by a court in Benderi on 23 May for libelling Vadim Barabin, an ex-member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Edinstvo (Unity) party, in an article on 31 May 2001 mentioning his expulsion from the party for immoral conduct. In late June, the supreme court upheld the paper’s appeal against the fine.
The opposition weekly Glas Naroda, organ of the "Power to the People! For Social Equality!" party, closed down in July. The Transnistrian supreme court banned the party on 12 June saying it was engaged in anti-state activity. The post office had refused to handle the paper after 1 June, saying its distribution contract should have been renewed after 20 February, when a new official started work at the post office. The paper had published in Moldavia for two years because of harassment by the Transnistrian authorities.