Hard-fought elections marred by biased reporting
Civil society analysis of media coverage during Moldova's hard-fought presidential elections in late 2016 revealed a lack of objectivity in both print and online news outlets and a lack of access to information for journalists. The polls saw Igor Dodon, who openly mimics Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, defeat pro-Western candidate Maia Sandu in a second round run off. Allegedly biased reporting during the election is widely thought to have manipulated public opinion, as many claim the absence of impartial reporting made it harder for citizens to make an informed choice at the polls. A report by local civic groups the Association of Independent Press (API) and Centre for Independent Journalism (CJI) monitored print and online media coverage between mid-September and mid-November 2016. During their reporting, they found that only a handful of TV channels with national coverage organised debates involving all candidates. Ownership was aslo a decisive factor in the editorial slant of the coverage.
For example, candidate Marian Lupu (who withdrew on 26th October to endorse another candidate) dominated early coverage on the majority of TV channels controlled by one of the leaders of his Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM). Pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon, the eventual winner of the election and owner of two TV channels, was also favoured in media coverage of the election, while eventual runner up Maia Sandu was found to have been disadvantaged.
Pro-Moscow Candidate Igor Dodon Wins Moldova's Presidential Elections https://t.co/NPPmYamXA3— Natalie Duffy (@Natalie_A_Duffy) November 14, 2016
In the immediate aftermath of the first round of voting, US-based rights group Freedom House and Moldovan organisations Ziarul de Garda and Center of Investigative Journalism (CIJM) reported significant barriers to reporting on the election. The statement higlighted in particular a lack of transparency on campaign contributions and the electoral commission's failure to properly deal with reports about corruption and illegality on the part of some candidates in the election. Freedom House called on the electoral commission to improve acess to information on candidates ahead of the second round of voting.
Government data indicates that almost 500 civil society organisations are eligible to benefit from funding under the so-called '2% law' in 2017. On 2nd January, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Moldova published a list of 484 organisations which met eligibility criteria allowing them to receive funding from taxpayers. The applications of approximately 40 organisations were rejected for having failed to fulfil eligibility criteria. Between now and 25th March, Moldovan taxpayers will be able to redirect 2% of their income tax to one of the organisations included in the list of beneficiaries. As already reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, if successful, this scheme holds the potential to significantly increase the sustainability of many of Moldova's civil society organisations.
Moldova Parliament approves capital liberalization law, despite protests of the civil society https://t.co/23b3NU8lWz— Tom Reade (@tomreadeAZ) December 21, 2016
On 16th December, civil society and political party representatives joined forces to protest in front of the Parliament against a law which essentially provides an amnesty for individuals who previously hid large scale capital assets. Using the slogan "do not legalize the theft!" the flash mob urged the government to organise a real public debate before voting on this new law. The protest was joined by unsuccessful presidential candidate Maia Sandu, who said:
'We think that the theft [of] money is legalised and those who stole would not be punished. The adoption is in a hurry. The citizens are ignored. And the current government wants to govern without participatory processes.'
Under public pressure, the authorities sought help from the International Monetary Fund in order to improve the content of the law, however despite the protests the law passed its first reading in parliament on 16th December. Under the proposals, any capital declared by 15th April this year would only be subject to a 2% tax. A few days after the vote, a Romanian MEP also asked the head of the European Commission to demand answers from the Moldovan authorities as to the law's necessity.