“Patriotic Censorship” for Moldova

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Semen ALBU
Under cover and with the direct assistance of Western partners, the authorities are putting the finishing touches on establishing total censorship in the country. Given that the TV market has already been purged, the main effort seems to be directed towards control over the online area, including social networks and instant messengers.
There is trouble brewing When Maia Sandu’s personal briefing is announced. Such actions mean no silver lining for Moldova, as we already know very well. Either our “leader” will report about an imaginary attempt at a coup d'état, or about an ostentatious meeting on the square with the forced collection of state employees. This time, Sandu again did not “fail” and actually announced the introduction of censorship in the country in her address to the nation. “Russia cannot attack our country by military means, but it constantly attacks informationally, through lies, propaganda, disinformation. Day after day, the Kremlin and criminal gangs carry out hybrid attacks using propaganda weapons to sow hatred in the Republic of Moldova, weaken our trust in each other and in our state… money that is trying to hinder us on the path of our national development,” Madame President said pathetically, justifying a new act of trampling on democracy in the republic. So, according to Sandu, Russian fakes on television and on the Internet have become “the most dangerous weapon” to “attack Moldova”, and therefore a special institution shall be aimed at combating propaganda. It will “transmit truthful information to the general public and ensure ongoing dialogue with citizens”, as well as working with all government departments to increase “public resilience in the face of disinformation” and “eliminate the risks associated with hybrid threats”. It is very ironic that the new center was named “Patriot”, and Maia Sandu voiced it, under whose reign the Moldovan language officially died and who speaks with great regret about the low support of Unirea among the population. Although, maybe it is named after the famous American air defense system? It would be more logical in the light of all the circumstances, and such a subtle hint to the partners, because “patriots” are never too much, if you know what I mean. Yesterday, well-known opposition figures, based on this briefing, exercised their wits to their heart’s content, and the most quoted person was Igor Dodon, who drew an obvious analogy with the cult novel “1984” and accused Maia Sandu of creating the Ministry of Truth. We must say that this analogy is as obvious as justified. Indeed, today the authorities are putting the finishing touches on establishing total control over the national information space. They went to this literally from the very beginning of the reign, and the conflict in Ukraine allowed acting with complete impunity, without fear of restraining shouts from Brussels. Indeed, the EU tightens information. So, what can be required from Moldova, a country that is very conditionally democratic, and even under PAS it is completely of authoritarian and totalitarian nature (what more, decide for yourself). Over the past two years, I have repeatedly paid attention to the systematic capture of the domestic media. Let us remember the main milestones. Autumn of 2021. It is still relatively far from the beginning of the military crisis, PAS is just getting used to the status of a mono-majority party. But authoritarian habits could already have been observed, and the route laid was quite clear. And now, thanks to a package of legislative amendments, Teleradio-Moldova public television and radio company is transferred to the jurisdiction of the Parliament. Then the deputies got the opportunity not only to approve, but also to dismiss at any time its CEO. Is it any wonder that since then the channel’s information policy has been distinguished by absolute loyalty? The same amendments were used to bring under official control the Council of Television and Radio, which sets the rules of the game in the media space. Five of its seven members were appointed at the suggestion of Parliament, the President and the Government, which automatically gave the PAS a critical edge. By the way, public activists nominated more representatives there than the authorities before. Even the pro-government media (not to mention the opposition, NGOs and the Council of Television and Radio) timidly criticized these amendments, which, of course, did not prevent their implementation. Already in December, the council was reconvened, and Liliana Vitu, a government nominee, Iurie Leanca’s former public relations adviser during his premiership, became its chair. What happened next, you know. The Council has become an obedient punitive tool, constantly fining and imposing sanctions on opposition media. Its odious apotheosis was lifting licenses of six popular channels under the pretext that they propagated the war through silence (!). In response to the calls of indignant viewers, as Vitu later admitted, she and her colleagues boorishly recommended “reading books”. It is worth recalling that after the start of the conflict in Ukraine, the “yellows” opened the hunting season for information resources on the network under the pretext of “inciting military sentiments”, by imposing a ban on the Sputnik Moldova and Gagauznews portals, and subsequently on several other sites, including RTA. The blocking went hand in hand with the criminal cases filed by the prosecutor’s office and the SIS. On March 2, the rebroadcasting of Russian TV channels and programs was interrupted by decision of the Emergency Response Board. A few months later, this decision was already formalized by law (by the way, on the initiative of Liliana Vitu). In fact, almost no free and independent journalism left in the country. Any criticism of the government is suppressed, since there is a universal accusation, i.e. “working for the Kremlin”. All that remains is the widespread praise of the current regime, which “has achieved so much on the path of European integration and is leading us to Europe at an accelerated pace”. All opinions and assessments that do not fit into this ideological template are ruthlessly blacked out. As we can see, the PAS has already brought TV to knees. But this is not enough. The authorities perfectly see the trend – people in search of truthful information are moving away from watching propaganda TV channels on the Internet: anonymous Telegram channels, Viber publics, groups on social networks, etc. All of them have not yet been censored and, in fact, are not controlled by officials in any way, which, it seems, looks like a blatant state of affairs in the eyes of the ruling party. Therefore, I think, “Patriot” in the first place will be engaged in restoring order in this particular segment. They will deanonymize the owners of popular publics and groups, buy them out or “stall them”, crush them with criminal cases. Apparently, Western partners will provide direct assistance. As we remember, the EU civilian mission has recently started working with us, having a goal to combat hybrid threats, including disinformation. So we can expect a close coupling of this mission with the new center, in order, among other things, to arrange information and psychological operations, to make up propaganda manuals for its network of media and Internet resources. And to “shape” own information space for their goals in such a simple way: preservation and strengthening of the regime, the popularization of the ideological foundations of its foreign and domestic policy.