While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, authorities did not always respect this right. A Freedom House report on freedom of media released during the year placed the county in the “partially free” category.
Pressure on independent media continued during the year, and a number of investigative journalists reported being intimidated and harassed after publishing investigative articles on political figures.
Freedom House scored media freedom in the Transnistrian region as “not free.”
Freedom of Expression: According to the 2016 Freedom House Nations in Transit report, strident politicization and “oligarchization” of the media remained key problems for the country. Political interests in parliament dictated the appointments of members of the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (ACC).
In its report on freedom of expression in the Transnistrian region in 2016, Promo-Lex asserted that the right to free expression remained one of the rights most frequently violated in the region. A 2016 decree on fighting terrorism restricted freedom of expression in Transnistria, allowing the Transnistrian “KGB,” “prosecutors,” and the region’s “office for telecommunications” to shut down websites found to be suspicious, i.e., they promoted a number of “forbidden topics,” such as extremism or terrorism, or issued calls to overthrow the government. Local authorities restricted online forums without explanation. The Transnistrian leader referred to them as “anonymous dump sites” and insisted that all social media networks register as mass media institutions to allow for monitoring and restrictions if they became too critical of the government.
Press and Media Freedom: The law prohibits editing and publishing of literature that contains “denial and defamation of the state and the people; calls for war or aggression; appeals to ethnic, racial, or religious hatred; [or] incites discrimination, territorial separatism, or public violence.”
While the print media expressed diverse political views and commentary, oligarch-controlled business groups that distorted information for their benefit controlled most of the country’s media, albeit with some notable exceptions. Information about the owners of private broadcasters, made public in 2015, confirmed the high concentration of media ownership. The government, political parties, and political figures also owned or subsidized a number of newspapers that expressed clearly defined political views. The government owned the Moldpress News Agency, and local and city governments subsidized approximately 23 newspapers and generally influenced their reporting. Large media outlets associated with leaders of political factions or oligarchs exerted pressure on smaller outlets, which brought several to the brink of closing and prompted prominent journalists to leave key outlets acquired by oligarchs. These oligarchs closely supervised content and maintained editorial control over reporting from the outlets they owned.
Amendments to the audiovisual code in 2016 limit to two the number of media outlets that one person may own. The amendments do not take effect, however, until existing licenses expire, thereby limiting the law’s effectiveness in addressing the problem of media monopolies. Following the adoption of the amendments, media experts stated that the essential problem had not been resolved because media owners who had more than two outlets reregistered them under the names of individuals close to them.
On March 30, parliament approved amendments to the audiovisual code to promote local content during prime time hours, requiring each television channel to produce eight hours of local programming daily, of which six must be aired in prime time. Some broadcasters and media experts voiced concerns that the amendments could increase the concentration of the media market and eliminate smaller channels that cannot afford to produce local content. Local media also faced the obstacle of unfair competition in advertising markets, which limited their access to advertising revenue.
In May a monitoring report presented by the Independent Press Association showed that Russian channels rebroadcast in the country disseminated propaganda and presented distorted information about regional and international events.
In December parliament passed amendments to the audiovisual code only allowing the re-broadcast of news and programs with political, analytical, and military content originating from the United States, Canada, EU members, and states that have ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television.
Two organizations controlled the Transnistrian mass media market: The “Public Agency for Telecommunication,” which controlled official news information agencies, newspapers, and one of the two most popular television channels, and Sheriff Holding, a business conglomerate with considerable influence in the Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet.” The Transnistrian “Supreme Soviet” passed a law restricting access of journalists to the institution’s plenary sessions.
Violence and Harassment: During the year civil society and media advocates raised concerns over intimidation and harassment of prominent investigative journalists.
In early January, journalist Mariana Rata was subjected to a preliminary legal investigation after she published an article about a former police commissioner in December 2016. The former official claimed that the journalist had violated his privacy rights by publishing personal data. Rata was summoned to the Prosecutor General’s Office and interrogated. Civil society representatives contended that the investigation constituted an abuse of the law and was a clear case of retaliation intended to deter other journalists from high-profile investigations. The Prosecutor General’s Office later suspended the investigation.
Censorship or Content Restriction: In many cases, journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflicts with the sponsors or owners of their media outlets. In Transnistria, journalists avoided criticizing separatist officials’ goal of independence or their “foreign policy” to avoid official reprisals.
Journalists voiced concern that a personal data protection law restricted journalists’ access to information.
Media NGOs criticized access restrictions that prevented them from fully covering public events. In July media NGOs complained photojournalist Constantin Grigorita was not allowed to attend a press conference by President Igor Dodon, although the journalist met all the accreditation requirements of the presidential administration and registered in advance for the event. On November 13, a court ruled that the president’s office must provide official justification of its actions. On December 13, Freedom House criticized the Presidential Office’s for preventing Gigorita from attending a series of public events despite court rulings affirming the right to access to public information.
In 2015 the ACC prohibited the retransmission of Russian channel Rossiya 24 on the country’s territory after its monitoring report concluded that Rossiya 24 violated the law by misinforming and manipulating public opinion about events in Ukraine. Authorities punished several other channels--Prime, Television 7, RTR Moldova, and Ren TV Moldova--for rebroadcasting news and analytical programs from Russia that were described as manipulative and propagandistic. The ban of Rossiya 24 came after a six-month suspension of the channel in 2014 for the same reason.
Media NGOs and the ACC alleged that many major television channels showed strong bias in favor of certain candidates during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The ACC sanctioned several television channels that it charged violated audiovisual legislation and ethical norms during the campaign. Four channels--Publika TV, Focus TV, NTV Moldova, and Jurnal TV--were deprived of the right to broadcast advertising for 72 hours. Two additional channels--Prime TV and Ren TV Moldova--were fined the maximum level of 5,400 lei ($270).
Libel/Slander Laws: Some newspapers practiced self-censorship and avoided controversial issues due to concerns that government officials and other public figures could use defamation laws to retaliate against critical news reports.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
According to statistics published by the Moldovan Agency for Regulation in Electronic Communication and Information Technology, the number of mobile internet user accounts reached 4.43 million. The number of active internet users was 1.7 million.
In 2015 Transnistrian “president” Shevchuk issued a decree on combating extremism that empowered the Transnistrian “KGB” to request the “prosecutor’s office” to block internet content. Authorities would make such a determination following a review by a panel appointed by the “KGB.”
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.