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The State and the media, a new attempt to reset the situation. We do real reforms or continue to mime?!

03 Iulie 2019, 11:11 // Opinii si editoriale
// Autor:  
Dumitru Țîra

On June 18, 2019, Prime minister Maia Sandu discussed at the Government with media representatives with regard to the solutions for ensuring the functioning of a free and independent media (Video). There was a long discussion (over 90 minutes) until the audience exhausted their most important subjects, in their vision. The Prime minister promised an action plan within a week, asking for the input from the audience.

In a week later, the Parliament Commission responsible for the Media, headed by Adrian Lebedinschi, held an approximately similar meeting, but the participants were more diversified (Video). There also has been enough time to discuss the needs, worries and concerns, some participants even managed to argue, while Mr. Lebedinschi promised openness, transparency and will on behalf of the Commission to the requests and projects submitted from the media.

Both discussions focused on multiple aspects, needs and problems: the deficient functioning of the laws in the field, the need to further adjust the regulatory framework in the field, the drafting of the media development strategy, access to the information, informational security, advertising, unfair competition, excessive media costs in Government-run buildings, deficiencies in the distribution of newspapers by the Poşta Moldovei, increase in the price of newsprint, the Audiovisual Council's activity, dominance in audience and advertising of the TV channels in retransmissions from the Russian Federation, journalists security, necessary reforms in Moldova 1 channel, the regulation on the use of drones, the fiscal facilities for the media, need for establishing a media subsidization mechanism, etc.

Broadly speaking, media issues are much older and more profound, and must be tackled at macro level, if the media itself, society, and especially the politicians would agree to undertake a reform which would be real, fair and with impact on the field, in the spirit of good international and modern practices, abstaining from their own or group interests.

There are a few directions that need to be approached and resumed in a more courageous and categorical manner, because many of the actions undertaken in the last 15-20 years have been made by half-decisions or represented the consequences of unfortunate circumstances and/or group interests.

The state has never had a clear, determined vision and a role to play in policymaking. On the one hand, the state relied on the financial support of development partners, which over time often determined their priorities based on subjective perceptions or private discussions, reaching over USD 3 million a year in the mass media sector, and here I will not open the brackets on efficiency and sustainability ... Secondly, the state has consistently called for civil society involvement for anything, even if the expertise of the two "most important" media NGOs is not universal and the experience practice is almost null. Never before the priorities of mass media reform and development have brought together all the involved actors: the state, the media institutions (TV, online and print), the advertising agencies, the civil society, the donors, to discuss systemic approaches and issues that are really important for the real changes in the industry. They all "guard carefully the skeletons in the closets" and are afraid to assume their decisions, to recognize own mistakes or insufficient efforts, to take honest conversations, to argue, to get upset with each other, but ultimately to do all together the real reforms.

The majority of actions, being interdependent, should be addressed simultaneously, in parallel, so that the media sector becomes a sustainable industry able to generate sufficient resources for its development, content, people, money, education production, and impact of democratization in society.

Absolutely all aspects of the media field are priority, because the situation in general is so critical and tedious that few connoisseurs and professionals almost no longer believe that it is possible for the media industry to be transformed and reconstructed in a fair and true manner, with impact, effects and results.

However, I will touch on some immediate aspects and needs.

1. Adjusting the legal framework in the media field.

Returning to the draft laws drafted within the  Working group on the improvement of the media legislation . These are the draft laws amending the Law on Access to Information, Law on Freedom of Expression, Law on Personal Data Protection, the legal changes for fiscal and procedural facilities for the media, Law on Advertising, where a lot of efforts has been made, but I strongly believe that it should be also consulted with the advertising agencies. There would also be a list of other laws requiring changes.

At the same time, an effort is needed to complete the processes in order to ensure the proper implementation of the laws developed within the Working Group, that have already been adopted. The Audiovisual Media Services Code of the Republic of Moldova must be fully implemented by elaborating and approving all the regulations that come out of it. After the adoption of the National Concept on Media Development in the Republic of Moldova, the Media Development Strategy and the Implementation Action Plan must be elaborated. The Law on attracting foreign investment in film production and other audiovisual works should be put into practice by the Government's approval of the Regulation on the Establishment of an Investment Scheme for Film Production and Other Audiovisual Works. As far as the Information Security Concept is concerned, the Strategy and the Action Plan have already been adopted, but implementation actions need to be launched as no action is known on the implementation of these documents.

2. The advertising market

With all bad emotions and the multitude of the unknown, this direction has to be approached with great care, correctness and application of international practices. It would be very welcome to have state consultations involving advertising agencies, online, print and audiovisual media institutions, the state as the regulator and the determining factor in policies in the field, on big clients, and on audience agencies. Serious and open discussions at a professional level are necessary, even if there will be big quarrels and frustrations, because the field is full of frustration, envy, hatred, unfair competition, lack of knowledge, all of which determine the underdevelopment of the market and of the industry in general.

The advertising market approach must be complex because it is directly dependent on the content market, the quality of domestic media, and the professionalism of the players in the field. Regrettably, we still have television stations that sell per minute and not per GRP, stations not able to produce quality entertainment shows and programs, Moldova has no domestic TV series, we have almost nothing of what would mean domestic audiovisual. The biggest mistake is made by the media, by not consulting advertising agencies that would suggest what and how to produce content to sell better, to get easier to the consumer and many other aspects.

Audiovisual is the locomotive in the media. TV channels generate audiences, money, impact and influence. Today, 59 television channels operate in Moldova, of which 15-17 are most important, all located in Chisinau. The others are regional or local TVs, which, regrettably, are actually more creative studios, but not authentic television stations. Half of these retransmit CIS TV MIR, with local program insertions and local news. Television is an institution with multiple attributes. You cannot make a television with 5 employees or even with 15. At the same time, the experience of the last 9 years, in which these regional broadcasters benefited from over USD 7 million assistance from external donors, shows that this model is not sustainable, and the lack of special managerial training, lack of local resources, too rapid modernization of the field, clearly concludes that they need to be reformed.

Returning to television channels in Chisinau, 10 out of 17 are based on retransmission, 8 of them originating in the Russian Federation, all of them accumulating about 65-70% of audience and money from the market. This is one of the main obstacles for the development of the national audiovisual in all respects. This is the main reason why we do not have development money, why local TV content is of poor quality, why we have too few professionals in the field, why there are no independent production agencies to produce for television, why there is no competition and many other things. This model has historically been established in Moldova since the early 90's, when it was simple to retransmit, produce 2 news bulletins and a weekly talk show, and you became a quasi-national television station. Besides, some almost maintain that pattern even now. Later on, there appeared interests in money, influence and impact, motivations from which Moldova lives with a simulated industry and is unable to produce authentic and quality content, and the national stars are talk show presenters exploiting the political circus as a material, which sells best according to audiences ever since Moldova's independence.

3. Switching from retransmissions based on local licenses to retransmissions in the original.

According to international practice, all retransmissions should be distributed in the original without access to the advertising market, as is the case in all countries wishing to develop the national media industry. Even Kazakhstan and Belarus have done so, and Moldova because of the interests of a small group cannot break from the club of Central Asian countries, which still have the same system. This transition would ensure the rapid (2-4 year) development of national audiovisual and, at the same time, ensure the right of consumers to have access to original content including from the Russian Federation for those who want it.

The paradox is that if the owners of rebroadcasting television stations would assess the benefits of such a change in the market, they would see that they are the most resource-savvy for such a step and would have greater benefits in the medium and long term. At the same time, we could shortly say that the Republic of Moldova has an autochthonous audiovisual production, which produces, develops and has prospects.

This rather radical change seems beneficial to the entire media domain. In a very short term, it would boost the revaluation of journalists and creative and technical staff, stimulate wage and investment growth, develop the field through direct investment in domestic production, develop audiovisual content production houses, increase the value of advertising and creative effort, increasing the advertising market by compressing audiences, diversifying advertising tools, eliminating unfair competition, diminishing the influence of foreign propaganda content, and about educating issues I am no longer commenting, etc. etc. ...

Of course, renouncing retransmissions based on the domestic license is categorical and requires a transition period (1 to 2 years), effort on the part of those who manage television today, training for all audiovisual professions, production infrastructure and much more, but solutions to all these issues exist. Important is the willpower. Moreover, last year, there have been numerous domestic production support projects from development partners sources, which also make an effort to build a multimedia and film production hub. It is impossible to reconstruct the foundations of the media industry overnight, but the Republic of Moldova does not even move in this direction.

4. Informational security

It is a very vulnerable subject, which all go through geopolitical positioning or party objectives, but which really counts on us - the citizens of our country, with our national values.

Mass media is a business of social importance, where media institutions must assume the responsibility of correct information, civic and patriotic education, the promotion of national values, and many others that are extremely important for the formation of Moldova progressive and modern society.

As a result of all interests, actions and inactions, 292 TV channels are distributed in the Republic of Moldova through cable and IP TV networks, of which 201 are in the Russian language and 104 are originating from the Russian Federation. At the same time, out of 1,148 newspapers and magazines distributed and sold in our country, 936 are in the Russian language. In the online world, nobody has had the courage to count, but there is also a bad situation. Social media somewhat balanced Facebook with Ok.ru and VK being equal in number of subscribers, but the impact and influence of distributed content should be an area of interest to state institutions, including special services. Even up to 50% of broadcast audiovisual advertising is also in Russian.

There is much to talk and discuss about the anti-propaganda paradigm, because combating propaganda must be based on a very broad and complex approach, including laws, and education, and systematic monitoring, and actions, and institutions involved , international collaborations, and more ... It's no joke, because 95% of citizens have TV at home, 99% are watching TV daily because it's the cheapest form of entertainment, and 76% prefer movies dubbed in Russian language.  Media consumption takes a lot of habit, but it works like a supermarket. If we gradually change the quality and origin of the content, people will like to consume more quality and more natural products from our region.

At the same time, it is important to understand that Informational Security is not about being against Russia or other countries. It is about how we protect our state, the Republic of Moldova, and our citizens who form a multiethnic society from the influences of bad voters, about how we oppose those who want the Republic of Moldova not to develop democratically, who want people to be less educated in order to be able to easily manipulate them with misinformation and false news.

A single section dealing with the Audiovisual Media Services Code is not sufficient. The print and online media must be part of this, too, within the limits in the spirit of the freedom and fairness of good international practices. The processes of implementation of the Informational Security Concept and Strategy should be started. We have to start working in this direction.

5. Professionalization of the media

Here is so much to talk about, thus the simplest conclusion is – we delete everything and start over... So I am just going to limit myself to a few aspects of what to do:

Educational programs should be adjusted in schools and other institutions, based on the most advanced theoretical and practical developments in the media field, able to respond, including, to the challenges and risks generated by the evolution of information technologies.

Policies should be developed, adopted and implemented in order to eliminate the current dissonance between teachers' competences and media challenges; to upgrade the educational infrastructure in line with the new educational objectives; increase the impact of training on media development; to optimize the ratio between educated persons - employed staff.

Periodically update the Nomenclature of Vocational Training Fields and Specializations in Higher Education.

To have a compulsory course of instruction in pre-university and university institutions in the field of media education.

Ensure ongoing multi-faceted monitoring of media activities and carry out a comprehensive annual assessment of media status.

There are at least another 15 actions needed to bring professionalization back in the direction that would generate change within two years.

Also important is the creation and functioning of a media ombudsmen. Very important is the creation of a responsible entity for coordination and implementation of the state media policies, being a consultative group, a new state institution or a Prime minister councilor. Somebody needs to assume responsibility for this.

I will stop here. Thank you for your patience in reading these thought. I promise to come back on other occasions, because there is a long list of aspects that need to be addressed, discussed and solved to turn the Moldovan media into a genuine, sustainable and independent industry, so that no one can attempt to usurp its dignity and freedom, and the interests of small groups do not prevail over the national interest.

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