Moldovan Media under PAS’s Control

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Anton Shvec
To serve their own interests, authorities destroy freedom of speech under the guise of fighting propaganda and recommendations from international partners. The government uses the carrot-and-stick method of influencing the media by funding loyal newsmakers and censoring undesirable media resources
PAS attacks on the media under the guise of struggling propaganda are enviably frequent and have already been discussed several times on our agency. Besides the closure of six “pro-Russian” TV channels and the filtering of news, there is blocking of political and even entertainment content of the opposition Internet resources somehow connected to Russia (Sputnik), the Socialist party and personally to former president Igor Dodon. Even independent projects come under pressure from the information and security service. For instance, they restricted the hosting of the RTA website and illegally initiated criminal cases against the editorial staff. The government, influenced by modern Western trends, has quickly assimilated a ‘culture of cancellation’ and gladly appeals to it whenever authorities fail to cope with their responsibilities. Eventually, it is much easier to blame it on the opposition’s frauds and Russia’s hybrid warfare. Repeating anti-democratic practices from the “captured state” era becomes a real problem when you have independent media and free public debate. After all, it is no longer possible to simply ban undesirable parties, stigmatize “good” politicians and play the staff turmoil with the appointment of dubious people close to the government to profitable positions. People from the PAS party has not learned how to respond substantially to the topical issues of state governance - curtsies to the West and complains about the Kremlin are no more convincing. Moreover, belated reforms, the dire situation with economy and agriculture, corruption and seizure of power still thrives. Meanwhile Moldova is rapidly approaching another electoral events - local elections will be held this autumn and the presidential elections next year. With the huge political capital that the West has invested in the promotion of Maia Sandu, making her a symbol of the “democratic transition” and the European choice of the Moldovan people, the ruling party cannot lose these elections under any circumstances. The electoral issue also becomes quite urgent because of the forthcoming race for the position of the capital’s mayor. No doubts that the country’s leaders want to get rid of Ion Ceban, who in his constant struggle with the government has acquired good contacts in the USA, Romania and other “partners”. Precisely for this reason the official candidate of the PAS party, Lilian Carp, declared his intention to touch upon geopolitical issues in the election campaign. Obviously, the authorities intend to make maximum use of the so-called ‘forth estate’ resource for self-propaganda. The government, the parliament and the president prepare the right ground for it. Previously, all media agencies funded from Russia or connected with opposition parties were abolished. At the same time, websites, publications, TV channels and NGOs funded by Western countries and supporting the current government never have any problems. We can observe only minor disputes between officials and separate NGOs, and only over selfish interests of gaining access to finances, funds and authorities. As far as issues of principle are concerned, there is complete harmony and uniformity. Moreover, political talk show hosts are often even more committed to Western democratic values and cooperation with NATO than their government guests. On 29 May, Maia Sandu announced plans to create a national center for combating propaganda, PATRIOT. The new institution, which de facto represents the president’s personal media associates, will have to fight the influence of propaganda (of course, from the Kremlin) to protect the country’s free, democratic and prosperous future. However, behind the rousing rhetoric of critical thinking, resistance to disinformation and protection of citizens from manipulation is just another attempt to restrict freedom of speech, criticism of the authorities and the activities of independent media. The head of state announced two functions of the PATRIOT Center: dissemination of reliable information with the “support” of state institutions and countering disinformation and hybrid threats. In fact, the center will become a kind of aggregating press service to inform about government activities that will have powers to block undesirable media and individual public figures. The fact that this media guard will comply personally with the president, who appoints the head of the PATRIOT Center, and will receive funds from budget and donations from the West clearly demonstrates the focus of its future activity. In the coming days, parliament will begin to consider a bill on setting up this center and will register it under accelerated procedure. The opinion of the opposition socialists, communists, and even criticism of pro-Western NGOs will be ignored. On the other hand, the authorities have not forgotten about the “carrot”. Parliament has recently registered a draft law to set up a media subsidy fund. The money for this will come from the state budget as well as in the form of donations from sponsors in Moldova and foreign countries. In other words, if information is properly presented and authorities are praised after the parliamentary majority passes the law, generous rewards will follow. Taxpayers will pay from their pockets for the glorification of the current authorities – an absolutely applied and shameless logic. The Foundation’s expert council will decide which media recourses are worthy of funding and which should be blocked with help of the PATRIOT Center or the SIS. Basically, it is about cleansing the media field and seizing the “fourth estate” to prepare for the forthcoming elections. For corporate political purposes, MPs and officials ruin freedom of speech, thought and debate under the guise of fighting propaganda and recommendations from international partners. Sensing precarious position, political elites are ready to violate democratic principles. Nobody knows how society will react to these innovations in the context of the constant decline in the quality of life, the crisis of ideas and the deplorable state of the economy.