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“Europe is speaking in vain to Moldova”- interview with Stela Popa

June 2, 2009

stela1Stela Popa, former TV reporter and news anchor, the blogger of the year as well, currently part of the team of the news portal Unimedia in Chisinau, quoted as one of the youngest and most talented journalists of the Moldavian media paints an exhaustive portrait of the mass media over the Prut.

She unveils what is good and what is wrong inside the Moldavian policy and press, in a country where there is no Romanian newspaper and everything is controlled by the communist power.

Could we speak about the freedom of the press in Moldova, and if this is the case, to what extent?
Easier said than done. It became increasingly difficult in the recent years. During the last eight years, after the communist’s regime gain the power, the journalists’ hunting reached the top of pressures and threats in Chisinau. Nowadays, with its last forces, Voronin’s regime seems to completely loose the control and started a bayonet attack against the media. There are no more any basic rules of good sense or European Union regulations to be followed. The Voronian motto of the moment seems to be: “We’re breaking all of those who’re acting against us.”

The actions of the Communists during these months and the attack on the few, very few sources of democratic media in Chisinau represent a warning signal about the media situation in Moldova. We can’t talk anymore about free press over the Prut. This was proved both by the reality and the international reports. I will mention for example the last Freedom House Report. According to the document, the Republic of Moldova is classified as a country with an un-free media.

How relevant is this?
Actually it’s not so appropriate because Freedom House’s study takes into account the data until 31 of December 2008, so additionally abuses and intimidation of the press in the aftermath of April 5 elections were not counted. We could say that the 150 place in this top is even too good for us! That’s why Freedom House Report is no longer a surprise and Europe is looking at us as we can see it. Moreover, ensuring the independence of the media and the freedom of expression are mentioned among the principal measures to be done, according to the Action Plan with the EU under the European Neighborhood Policy. Nothing new at the first glance. But I think it is deeply shameful for Moldova, a country which is so close by the EU, geographically and not only, to have such a status in 2009.

stelaultimulOur little “oasis of communism”

Therefore, in Moldova, the press has known more than a backward progress …
Indeed. If in 1997, when the Moldavian press was declared as “partly free”, someone have said that in more than a decade this situation will change for the worst, probably most of us would not believe it. But as long as inside the communism everything is possible, in our little “oasis of communism”, Moldova, we cannot be surprised.

How the public gets information?
This is awful. Except a couple of opposition’s journalists there is nobody else to reasonably talk about what is happens. Moldova is a poor country not only in terms of scarcity but also metaphorically speaking. As the current regime put the fear into the bones of those who had the power to stand up on April 6-7 against the communist regime in Chisinau, I feel that there are not many people left to engage themselves in the freedom and truth’s fight, and this is exactly what the Communists want to generate: a misinformed and manipulated population. At this point it is impossible to talk about a fair, balanced and proper media in Moldova. We don’ have it. That’s all. How to inform the public? Simply do not inform it; anyway it does not have the choice. According to sociological data, only 7-8% of the Moldavian population used to get information from the printed media, radio counts for 11% of the population and the Internet for 4%, while over 70% of the population gets the info from the audiovisual media. But here is a paradox, because the Moldavian broadcasting is almost totally concentrated in the hands of the Communists. So, here’s how they’re “lighting” the population. The only television station which is not in this situation is PRO TV Chisinau, but because of the obstacles which are put to it, its impact is a minor one. How could a TV station have a major influence with only a news bulletin daily and a tiny area of broadcasting? PRO TV’s license was not extended yet and there are serious doubts it will be. There is an explanation for this. The Moldavian Coordinating Council of the Audiovisual is more a political body than a public one and used to provide TV licenses according to the political color of the owner of the station and the performances of the channel in promoting the communist speech. That’s why the access is granted only for power-affiliate’s TV stations. This is not all; the information is as well obstructed at level of whole media, we don’t speak only about TV channels. The fact that in Moldova there is no direct link between the printed media and the audiovisual media (i.e. there is no practice to continue or to resume the newspapers info by the TV channels) means a lot. For example in this way, the European message will remain isolated at the level of the opposition press. That means no more than three or four newspapers.

What about the public television? I would say this is from far the largest orgy of the faked Moldavian democracy. The so-called “public” pro communist TV station, Moldova 1 continues to shock all of us. Despite numerous warnings launched even by the international experts, Moldova1 persists in doing its communist job and deceiving the public. Let’s have a look at the protests on April 7. While the Romanian televisions wired nonstop special editions about the situation in Moldova, the “public” TV station did not say a word about the violence in the center of Chisinau. Moreover, during the tragic events in April, Moldova 1 continued to wire entertainment, cartoons and TV shows such as “Russian World”. Barely in the night it had broadcast some news calling “hooligans” the protesters in Chisinau.

No Romanian newspapers in Moldova

How things were going on during the April campaign?

The electoral campaign is a good example. According to the monitoring reports, during this period Moldova 1 offered double antenna time for the communists, comparing with the opposition parties. Thus the communist officials were quoted 814 times, while the whole opposition only 417 times and mostly in a negative manner – hence the outcome of the elections. Who has access to the information, in cities, votes the opposition and who has not, such as the rural population, limited to the public communist controlled TV station votes with the Voronin’s Party.

What is the impact of the Romania media?
The situation is awful. There are all but Romanian newspapers on the Moldavian market. There are not any subsidiaries of them and the situation of the Romanian televisions over the Prut is not better. In the aftermath of 7 April 2009 events, TVR1 was removed from the national frequency. The Romanian Society of Television (SRTV) took the dispute in front of the European Court of Human Rights. And after that the actions of sorting Romanian media have become more visible in the Republic of Moldova. We remember what had followed – expelling the Romanian journalist from Chisinau and banning the access of prominent Romanian TV channel from Moldova. Chisinau authorities want to cut on all the possible messages coming from the Romanian media, as they used to do with the Moldavian opposition media as well. So it’s hard to reach the eyes and ears of the people. Officials in Chisinau say that the Romanian TV channels received in Moldova are quite numerous. But look which are them: Etno TV, Taraf TV, Acasă, TVRM, Senso, Kiss TV, Naţional TV and Pro TV. Overall they do not influence the public opinion because most of them are niche TV, entertainment channels. And those channels that have “offended” the Voronin’ regime during the protests were permanently excluded from the market. Among them, TVR 1, Realitatea TV, Antena 3 TV. Under these circumstances, could we still speak about any change of mentality or correct information?

eu-cu-osipencoThere have been or there are still any pressures against the Moldavian media, in the aftermath of the April events?
Absolutely. The intimidations exercised by the authorities against the journalists’ freedom of expression, especially against those supporting the opposition have intensified subsequent to the April events. The Romanian journalists were expelled from the country and many “dissidents” journalists were detained by the authorities, brought in force to the Police stations and interrogated. Following the events of April 7, the voice of the protestors in Chisinau was blocked by less orthodox methods – violence, threats, fear and terror. Their wish to protest seems to be totally broken and now it’s time to put to an end the voice of the media. Metaphorically speaking, the Moldavian opposition press is passing this period by the grisly death Corridor. In this context I wonder myself: Which is the value of all the European resolutions recommending and asking the authorities in Chisinau to continue the media’s reform if they are not respected anyway? Europe is speaking in vain to Moldova. Her voice hardly reaches the ears of the Moldavian officials. I believe that in a country where journalists are intimidated, arrested, beaten and their access to information and manifestation is obstructed, in a country where almost the whole media is politically controlled and is explicitly playing the game of the power, where the employers of the law enforcement agencies used to came to the media headquarters to ask the editors in charge the IP of the visitors who comment on the sites, where the public television Moldova 1, the only one with a national coverage, is out of truth and issues only politicized messages, or where the Romanian Public Television – TVR is brutally removed out of the national cable network without any explanation, merely because it is Romanian, it must be raised very, very serious questions.

Eventually the people will rise again

And who would have to raise them?
That’s it! Who? Moldova 1 who had no basic common sense to offer even a story about the gathering of the journalist in the public market for the celebration of Press Freedom Day? Or Radio Moldova who, talking en passant about the meeting of the journalists, said they discussed about press freedom in Moldova “from the point of view of the funding of the editors” or “on behalf of the politicians”? Of course not! I even don’t want to remember about our Government. They do not understand that transparency inside of an European and democratic society comes from the press side. I presume that eventually the people will rise again and will put those questions which require having an answer.

You were just saying that people are not suitably informed…
Yes. Overall, the image of the public information is miserable but here is also a good shot- people living in the towns have started to think otherwise. We had one proof during the local elections in 2007, when Dorin Chirtoaca won the mayoralty of Chisinau. Thus, the people of the whole Republic could receive messages from those in the cities. Whatever Voronin would do to control and manipulate the media, his strategies will no longer work. I was on the countryside and talked to the people. I saw they have had enough from the deception and the censure as in the old Soviet times. They found a solution to be informed, installing parabolic antennas. “Do they believe us being so stupid? I banned Moldova 1 from my network. We no longer hold up such manipulation and brain washing “- they told me. Indeed: how somebody could handle a nation- scale deception? It’s a shame! Thus, the situation is changing slowly slowly and people have realized that the European values put forward by the Communists do not suit with the communists themselves. And it was proved once again that the Voronist regime in Chisinau hates freedom of expression and pluralism. By contrary, the lie is one that dominates. So who gets to behave with the people in a Bolshevik and Stalinist style, to put them into jail and beaten them, or threaten the journalists?

Who is not with us, is against us!

Do the Moldavian media feel all of these also in financial terms? According to some reports, most of the public fiscal resources are targeted to procommunist press.

Sure. This is a first-class strategy of the current regime in Chisinau, known by its oppressive and intimidating style. The problem of those enchained by the power in Chisinau is they are not able to get away of this type of logic: Who is not with us, is against us! In the case of the independent media that means: Who does not write for us is against us! This is the starting point of all the attacks, faked filed and intimidation of the independent journalists. By all communist’s means and techniques as tax inspections, terrorization etc., they do everything to take out from the people the few free sources of information we still have in Moldova. As a matter of fact, these are the ones who resist to the pressures of this comunisto-stalinisto-“European” oasis established here in RM. More specifically, due to the signals held by my colleagues from UNIMEDIA as to the expected failure of the agency (due to funding cuts), now Jurnalul de Chisinau (Journal of Chisinau), one of the most active and best-known opposition’s publications is in the same situation. Val Butnaru, the Director of the newspaper, issued a statement to the readers explaining the communist repression against the paper. Publication’s sponsors were simply noticed to put to an end their contracts with Jurnal de Chisinau. Thus, in addition to the fact that this part of the press is turned by all means of the procommunist channels in a sort of Cruella De vil (here referring to the movie “101 dalmaţieni”), newer (or not) the communist cuts their funding.

spWhat could Romania do more than it was already done by Bucharest administration? Do you have something specific into your mind from political or social point of view, as a Romanian TV station, the citizenship for some of the Moldavians and so on?

In my capacity as a journalist, allow me to pronounce myself only regarding journalism matters. A first step and a first test is involving Senator’s Viorel Badea proposal in front of the Romanian Parliament, asking for the urgent inclusion in the grid emission of TVR of a Moldavian dedicated topic. Although the Romanian Senator explained several times the issue in front of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Romanian Parliament (he was even called by the SRTV board to discuss it), this kind of program did not start this spring as it was talking about. And in this moment, due to the current situation in Chisinau, Senator Viorel Badea continues to insist with his proposal. It seems that someone in Bucharest fears to launch such a program. We do not know who they are and which their reasons are. But without doubt the opposition press in Chisinau, who wrote unbelievable number of items about the importance and necessity of such programs and also the ordinary people demands this. We want this yet, if we could not have a subsidiary TVR in Chisinau. The students in Chisinau have even started a petition in the favor of this request. As far as I know, there are more then two thousand signatures on that document that was already sent to the Romanian President Traian Băsescu. In the current context, I wonder if there is any place of fear or indifference to this topic. It is, after all, the right of access to correct information of the Romanians on both sides of the Prut, right? How do you explain that on TVR 2 program at 5 am there is a place for relaying news from communist TV station Moldova 1 and no place for such an issue? I understand and welcome the opening of the Romanian public television on the left side of the Prut, but it looks like things should be done in a different way. The retransmission of Moldova 1 news seems to be a strategic error, a wrong promotion even if involuntary, of the communist ideas from Chisinau. I believe it is a pity that hundreds of thousands of Romanian get to watch this and make their opinion about Bassarabians erroneous. Let’s start smooth from these initiatives and later on maybe we will be able to do more.

Moldova against Moldavians’ will

What is your personal political forecast on the upcoming events in Chisinau – early election, the establishment of new political alliances? Something that leaders in Chisinau will never recognize but we all know it is that they have put the Republic of Moldova faraway from its path towards the European integration. Thus, if during the recent years, according to Public Opinion Barometer, 20% of the respondents believed that Moldova will integrate in the European Union in 20-25 years and 30% other endeavor that this happens sooner – maybe in ten years time, I am afraid that this deadline was now postponed sine die. All the signals that Chisinau sent volens nolens these months to Bruxelles jointly with the violent actions of the government, have done nothing else than showing the true face of the Red Power – excessively polished by local pro communist media. Amid his own frustrations from the whole 8 years of the so-called “European communism” (among them, the transnistrian file failure and the failure of the Action Plan between EU and RM), president Voronin has acted in a pure Militia style, specific to the state which became Moldova against Moldavians’ will. And so we’ve got to be the last country in Europe. But the fact that Voronin is allowed to stay in isolation at the EU borders, that does not means the people want the same thing. Therefore, my fear is that eventually, this will break again in one way or another. Hoping that all this discontent of the population will be peaceful expressed through the more likely chance the opposition will offer us – early elections.

Would you like to work as a journalist into another country? In Romania for example?
Yes, I would like to be a journalist anywhere else inside the Romanian space.

I intentionally left in the end my question about yourself, your job as a journalist. You have an impressive career and you have worked in Chisinau in tough circumstances. How did you get here, and what future plans do you have? Thanks for your appreciation, but my career is just at the beginning.

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