Thirteen years after declaring independence from the Soviet Union, Moldova is plagued by a corrupt communist government, a stagnant economy, and an ongoing civil conflict with the breakaway Trans-Dniester Region. Corruption is widespread in a society where criminal groups have fused with the government and business. Independent and opposition media struggle to survive amid a general state of lawlessness and poverty that has forced many to align themselves with political parties to survive. The government continues to use politicized agencies to control the press.
President Vladimir Voronin's communist government sparked protests in 2004 with its politically motivated management of state broadcaster Teleradio-Moldova, the country's only nationwide TV broadcaster. Under pressure from the Council of Europe, a human rights monitoring organization based in Strasbourg, France, Parliament approved a measure in 2002 to transform the state broadcaster into an autonomous public institution. However, when the law was implemented in 2004, critics say, it did not make the broadcaster more independent. CPJ sources say Teleradio-Moldova fired all its employees then turned around and rehired the old staff—minus any reporters, producers, and cameramen deemed opponents of the Voronin government.
By July 2004, about 100 media workers went on strike in the capital, Chisinau, to protest the dismissal of the Teleradio-Moldova staffers. A dozen journalists went on a hunger strike before representatives of Parliament agreed to meet with them in late September. No substantive results emerged from the discussions, and protests continued through year's end.
The government used the Broadcasting Coordinating Council—a media regulatory agency staffed by government loyalists—to shut media outlets that criticized government policies. In February, the agency suspended the broadcasting licenses of the Chisinau-based Antena C radio station and Euro TV television station for minor technical errors in their registration applications. The stations won back their licenses two months later, after some of their journalists waged a weeklong hunger strike.
Parliament's elimination of criminal penalties for defamation in April was a positive step, but government officials and businessmen continued to rely on civil defamation laws and politicized courts to impose hefty financial penalties on journalists.
In July, a Chisinau court ordered the popular opposition weekly Timpul (Time) to pay 1.35 million lei (US$110,000) in damages to car importing company Daac-Hermes—an exorbitant sum in a country where the average monthly salary totals US$115. Timpul reporter Alina Anghel had written an article alleging collusion between government officials and the importer.
A month before the trial, two assailants struck Anghel with a metal bar outside her home, leaving her with a concussion and a broken arm. Although Anghel had been threatened before and faced a defamation lawsuit, police ignored the possible connection to her work and immediately classified the case as a robbery. One suspect was later charged, but Anghel said he was not one of her attackers.
Journalists who try to investigate sensitive issues are often harassed and obstructed. Local sources say journalists are regularly denied access to public records. Reporters for opposition media are often denied accreditation to attend Parliament and even press conferences. Police ignore frequent anonymous telephone threats.
Separatist officials in the Trans-Dniester Region continued to obstruct reporting in 2004. In September, local authorities beat and arrested cameraman Dinu Mija of the Teleradio-Moldova channel Moldova One and sentenced him to 15 days in prison for allegedly entering the area illegally. Mija was trying to cover the seizure of a local railroad station in the city of Tighina (also known as Bender) by Trans-Dniestrian authorities.