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Public Discussion: Anti-propaganda law: necessity, advantages and risks
on the organization of the debate “Anti-propaganda law: necessity, advantages and risks”. Developing Political Culture through Public Debates”. Public debates series held by the news agency IPN in its conference room with the support of the German Foundation “Hanns Seidel”
Held on 23 January 2018, Debate 86 brought together MP Mihaela Spãtaru, European People’s Group; Veronica Cojocaru, member f the Broadcasting Coordination Council; MP Corneliu Mihalache, Democratic Party; Ion Ceban, secretary to President; expert Ion Bunduchi, executive director of the Electronic Press Association APEL; and Igor Boțan, executive director of ADEPT, as the Project’s standing expert;
Why this subject and this selection of participants?
Adopted in December 2017 and disputatiously signed into law on 12 January 2018, the so-called Anti-propaganda act targets mainly Russian newscasts and analytical broadcasts. As television is an important part of Moldovans’ lifestyles in general, the law is expected to affect the actions, habits, budgets and possibly even the mentality of Moldovan society as a whole. This is why the general public should know as much as possible about this sensitive piece of legislation, its goals and expected results, as well as its risks and threats, and this debate aimed to contribute to exactly this purpose.
The selection of speakers represents quite well the stakeholders involved in developing and promoting as well as criticizing the new legal requirements. A professional discussion between the representatives of these actors could give more insights into the situation.
As usual, the debate began with introductory remarks about the basic notions and definitions, some of which are novel for the Moldovan legal system, such as information security, protection of information space, propaganda, disinformation, manipulative information etc.
The standing expert of IPN’s project Igor Botan, executive director of the Association for Participatory Democracy “ADEPT”, said the name “anti-propaganda law” is a popular one, related to the context of the situation in the region, but the informative note to the bill does not explain what this situation is determined by. “We can guess that this is related to a regional conflict and in such a situation this thing should be mentioned. The situation in the region has a special connotation after the Constitutional Court on May 2 last year passed a judgment concerning the occupation of the territory on the left side of the Nistru by the Russian Federation. This is the context to which the authors of the informative note and of the draft law refer to,” stated the expert. He noted that it wasn’t actually necessary to amend the Broadcasting Code as the regulatory body of the state should only have fulfilled its duties and shouldn’t have allowed foreign propaganda to cause havoc on Moldova’s territory.
Democratic MP Corneliu Mihalache said the changes made to the Broadcasting Code were necessary to show political will in this regard and that the approaches to the Moldovan information landscape should be modified. There should be no discussions on the amendments made to the Broadcasting Code, as regards the retransmitted foreign programs, because clear actions were needed on this segment given that the situation concerning retransmissions in Moldova since the 1990s until now has worsened and the national broadcasters became hostage of retransmissions. Such a situation exists in no other CIS member state and the national media landscape was parasitized by Russian TV channels.
“The people made money on retransmissions and this turned from an economic issue into a political one that influences the reality in the Republic of Moldova. The advantage of the amendments to the Code are related to the fact that Moldova said possibly for the first time “stop” and didn’t think where the gas comes from and that we should be strategic partners. For the first time Moldova dared to show that it has a position, interests and view that were different from those of the “brothers from the East”, and that the policy is highly superior to the media facts and consequences,” stated Corneliu Mihalache.
In the same context, the Democratic MP underlined that the information security is more important than the economic one because information is a weapon used more harshly and more aggressively.
For her part, Mihaela Spataru, of the European People’s Party Group, said information security is the most important aspect of this law. When they speak about the protection of the constitutional values, it is important to understand the subtle border between the freedom of expression and ensuring of security. “We must also protect other values, such as the rule of law. We must say that there is a risk of the decisions of politicians and of the voting people being influenced by particular massages. These are things that should be taken into account. The amendments to the law are just one instrument and we will not solve all the problems in the information area. That’s why we drafted a new concept of the national security strategy so as to see the state of affairs on all the segments,” stated the MP.
Ion Ceban, secretary of the President of the Republic of Moldova, said the blame for the serious situation in which Moldova’s economy and population is should be shifted not onto the Russian Federation and its President Vladimir Putin, but onto the current government. “Russia is Moldova’s strategic partner and the blame for the fact that we are poor and hundreds of Moldovans leave the country is not borne by the Russian propaganda, but by those who govern the country inappropriately. Don’t look for enemies in Moscow, Surgut or Vladivostok. Reforms should be done at home and we should not look for enemies outside or the people will flee the country and we will continue to debate sterile themes,” noted Ion Ceban. He also said that the people’s vote is rather influenced by the package of rice received from the national politicians and the 200 lei than the foreign propaganda and the move by the political class, which wanted to please the foreign partners, will have the boomerang effect.
Veronica Cojocaru, a member of the Broadcasting Coordination Council, said the Council will monitor the implementation of the law in accordance with its duties and adopted a decision by which all the broadcasters were informed about the changes made to the Broadcasting Code. These were requested to notify the Council of their offers of program services in accordance with the provisions that take effect on February 12 this year.
Expert Ion Bunduchi, executive director of the Electronic Press Association APEL, said the contemporary national press says it is independent, but more than half of it disseminates propaganda. “If “those who wish our country good” want propagandistic messages to reach the country, they will find the possibility of doing this by different programs, including culinary ones. The radio listeners and TV views in Moldova do not have another recipe than becoming critical and not believing everything it is said and questioning what they hear and see. We should all be responsible for the way in which we inform ourselves,” he stated. He added that in the fight against propaganda there is no unique experience and no one can recommend Moldova how to fight this phenomenon. Each country is trying to secure is information space as they consider right at that moment, while identical broadcasting legislation in two countries cannot exist. No one probably expected the propaganda to have such an impact.
The Agency published 7 news stories on the debate (see the English version of www.ipn.md): on 23.01.18, „Anti-propaganda law: necessity, advantages and risks, IPN debate” - http://ipn.md/en/special/88975; „Public should think critically in context of “anti-propaganda” law” - http://ipn.md/en/special/88977; „Igor Botan: State institutions should not allow foreign propaganda to cause havoc in Moldova” - http://ipn.md/en/special/88976; „Veronica Cojocaru: Changes made to legislation refer not to retransmitted TV channels, but to programs” - http://ipn.md/en/special/88978; „ Corneliu Mihalache: Russia is in an information war with everyone and Moldova should not be part of this war” - http://ipn.md/en/politica/88979; on 24.01.18: „ Ion Ceban: Constitution was violated by changes made to Broadcasting Code” - http://ipn.md/en/politica/88982; „ Mihaela Spataru: “Anti-propaganda” law is designed to ensure information security of the state” - http://ipn.md/en/politica/88983.
IPN promoted the debate before and after the event, in particular the ensuing news stories, using all the available channels, including social networks. Confirmatory materials of deliverables, as well as a media coverage dossier are attached.
Valeriu Vasilica, director of IPN
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