“Good always overcomes evil. But sometimes good needs to be helped, so that it is not too late…”
Because the Media Forum is approaching, where the discussions will be centered around why we are standing still and where we need to go, but mainly why we can’t get there, I present a vision of the mass media situation in the Republic of Moldova in 2022.
Although there are citizens who are disappointed with the press, the majority of people and the international community expect the Republic of Moldova to implement and achieve the role and objective of the free press – to correctly inform society, educate society and help the state build and develop a democratic society based on law, inclusion, and welfare. The object of the day-to-day work of the state and the media is the citizen of the country, who is the main resource of any society.
Since 2010, major efforts have been made to improve the situation in the field of mass media, and here I refer both to the authorities and legislation, to the effort of media institutions, but also to the care and attention given by external partners to the development of this field. However, evolution is slower than we would like, for several reasons. The situation has worsened due to the Covid pandemic and has been further aggravated by the war in Ukraine, which has caused multiple crises, including the crisis in the advertising market.
So let’s take it one by one and in order of importance…
In addition to the fact that there are too many televisions in the Republic of Moldova (63 licenses), the biggest impediment to the development of the domestic audiovisual space is the rebroadcast televisions – 7 from Russia and 1 from Romania, of which those with rebroadcasts from Russia absorb over 60% of advertising budgets and invest neither in local content nor in authentic journalism. Moreover, they are used directly and indirectly by the television retransmitted from Romania (which has a much lower market share), in order to protect their interests and mode of operation, because they are in a similar situation from the point of view of the Code and other regulations.
The television with the highest share of audience and sales is RTR Moldova, followed mainly by the other televisions rebroadcasted from Russia, but fortunately sporadically and seasonally some local ones also climb to the top. The intensity of the domestic product in 2021 had decreased the audience share of televisions rebroadcasted from Russia to almost 40%. However, the war, and poverty of 2022 brought it back to the share of over 65%, leaving domestic televisions with very little income.
On November 18, 2022, the amendments to the Audiovisual Media Services Code came into force. They aim to strengthen the production of domestic content. Pressure will again be put on the Broadcasting Council to monitor and sanction. Of course, the Council must exercise its legal obligations, but the reasons for the deplorable situation in the audiovisual sector do not depend only on the Council. In fact, they are the result of the selfishness of the players in the advertising market, group financial interests, and in some cases – the bad intention of certain media outlets.
We don’t want to dwell on the aspect of disinformation, propaganda, and fake news. There is an entire book to be written about the insufficient understanding and sometimes wrong operation on this dimension, about how state institutions, but also society is often manipulated. About many, many interests, which are in addition to the purpose of strengthening society and ensuring (informational) security.
In this plausible course of efforts to develop the local audiovisual, the aspect of correct construction of the advertising market, which is the basis of the sustainability and development of media institutions, is ignored. Only a financially self-sufficient media institution can be free and independent in its editorial policy and can diversify and professionalize the domestic product. On the other hand, the state authorities have a political agenda and, as before – they react based on the one-sided narratives of those who knock on their door or have access to them, but do not have a vision of building the industry based on national interest.
Another important aspect, although many legislative efforts are being made, some television stations still remain, under political (internal and external) and oligarchic influence, others dependent on donor support and grants, and the last ones are on the verge of bankruptcy.
We believe that we’ll soon witness more bankruptcies of media institutions. It is a consequence of the functioning of the market economy, of course, but this will lead to the situation when there will no longer be free media institutions on the audiovisual market. Only the political-oligarchic ones and those supported by donors’ grants will remain.
In order not to go bankrupt and not to be totally destroyed, the audiovisual industry needs a reinvention and an approach to building the field by transforming it into a genuine industry.
It is not new, and we have been talking about it for a long time – the only solution to have an authentic domestic market is to only have domestic televisions in the advertising circuit, which execute the Media Services Code, and thus in 2-3 years we will already be able to see real televisions made in the Republic of Moldova and most importantly – the media market will be on the path of continuous development. Broadcast television must be taken off the advertising circuit and transferred to their international cable and IPTV versions – which already have 84% penetration per country, to provide access to foreign content for the minority population (Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauz, Bulgarians, etc.) from Moldova.
Only in this way can the domestic audiovisual market be supported and will be stimulated to produce the highest quality content and compete fairly for audiences. Only in this way will it no longer be in a position to compete unequally with television stations from Moscow or Bucharest. At the same time, foreigners interested in doing media business in the Republic of Moldova will have to invest in the construction of domestic television stations, invest in content, journalism, domestic productions, etc., but not just to collect most of the money from the market based on the work of the televisions they broadcast.
A small parenthesis for the authorities! Stop wasting budget money on Multiplex – it is a technologically outdated and bankrupt project that has been closed in most states. Multiplex’s contribution to the overall audience is only 6%. Stop spending tens of millions from the state budget on the maintenance of a failed invention. It is simpler and cheaper to subsidize or compensate cable and IPTV subscriptions for vulnerable citizens – to ensure their right to access information.
Online in the Republic of Moldova seems to be very abundant, but it also faces multiple problems: the crisis of people, small budgets, vulnerability to cyber attacks, limited access to new technologies, etc.
The main problem remains financial resources, but more on this subject you can find in the Money in the Media chapter.
People in the press
In the last 3, or 4 years, more and more people are talking about the fact that the quality level of the press has decreased, and there are several factors that have led to this consequence.
The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, the economic crisis, the advertising market crisis, and others have greatly reduced the financial capabilities of all newsrooms. The more professional and better-paid journalists, respectively, looked for solutions to keep their income, to be able to pay their loans, bills, etc., to ensure somewhat the same level of decent living. Many of them left for the area of communicators or external projects, others chose to go to political-oligarchic media institutions that offer salaries above the market level, and others accepted the salary reduction, but an important part left the country. Between March and September 2022, more than 200 journalists and technical staff left the profession.
Another major aspect is the fact that Moldova has not been producing journalists for several years. Out of four universities that have this field, only USM has a faculty of journalism and communication, and in the other three, there are only journalism departments. Even at USM, in recent years, out of almost 100 graduates annually, only 5 enter media professions. Moreover, the faculty forbade students to work during their studies, and it is known in the field that students started working part-time in newsrooms from the second year and were already professionals upon graduation. The curriculum of the faculty must be modernized to correspond to the realities of the market, but not be a formality for receiving the graduate diploma. The best journalism school for young people is in newsrooms, where they learn by doing.
The efforts of media NGOs in the training sector are directed towards the professionalization of journalists who are already in the profession and, in fact, could not otherwise contribute to the production of new journalists.
In 12 years of media management, I worked with more than 500 journalists, who can be found in almost all newsrooms in Chisinau and not only. Having experience as a lawyer and diplomat, I can say with certainty that journalism is a super-profession, full of passion for both news and entertainment, which opens up the whole universe if you are well-intentioned. Of course, we also have colleagues in the field who have other goals or operate with “I have a question” not for journalistic purposes. It is a profession with a great future, which must be supported and promoted. Only by raising generations of professional journalists will we be able to have quality journalism.
Money from Media
There are three sources of money in the Moldovan media market: the money that comes from commercials – advertising; political-oligarchic money financing their owned media outlets; money from grants and development projects supported by external partners.
Commercial and advertising money must be the main source of income for media institutions and must be sufficient to ensure their sustainability and independence. The year 2022 is a black year for the media market. Because of the war, the media market will loose about 40% of the expected revenue for this year. On March 1, 2022, the advertising market suddenly fell to minus 70% for several reasons, which you can find here. This shock will be felt for at least another 2-3 years until we return to the level of 2021.
The TV advertising market, although it had a forecast of over 13 million euros for 2022, will most likely close the year at a rate of 7 million, of which only about 5.5 million will reach televisions, and the rest will remain with advertising agencies. Moreover, advertising agencies are important players, who understand the market very well, but are ignored by the authorities in the consultation process. I draw attention to the fact that these 5.5 million euros mostly go to retransmission televisions, which practically do not contribute and hinder the development of the local audiovisual industry. Not to mention the fact that part of this money leaves the country, as payment for retransmission rights.
The year 2023 will be even more interesting in audiovisuals. From January 1, 2023, the Sales influence will be reconfigured Houses in the TV advertising market. The recent transfers of televisions from the
“Dodon group” to the “Shor group”, and the close relationship of the “Shor group” with the RTR group – will generate control of Sales House Nova TV (RTR group) and the new Sales House RCH Media (Shor group) on the advertising market at the level of more than 60%. This again will channel the exclusivity of budgets to broadcast TV – all concentrated in these groups. From a commercial point of view, they will be able to meet any customer audience requirement, practically on all age groups or other criteria. We have lived this story before, and we know well what effects it has. The big problem is that, even if the real market share will be over 60%, this situation can channel over 80% of the TV advertising budgets only to the televisions in these Sales Houses, and domestic televisions will again remain without advertising.
Online, the money came back faster, but anyway by the end of the year there will be losses of about 30%. In general, the online market in 2022 was supposed to rise to approximately 6.5 million euros. Even so, the main problem is that more than 80% of this money is spent by clients on Google and Facebook advertising, money that leaves the country and actually produces a hole in the state budget.
I want to urge all commercial and advertising beneficiaries to make an effort and budget a minimum of 10-15% of their advertising money for domestic platforms – this being a contribution to the development and sustainability of the mass media of the Republic of Moldova.
I also want to address a request to international projects, NGOs, and other institutions, which daily ask media institutions to support the communication of its activities and results. Monthly, more than 200 requests arrive at the mass media address. Mass media usually do not refuse, but we draw your attention to the fact that this effort means the work of journalists and other types of resources for media institutions. Please include budgets for communication, and pay for these services, because these small amounts for projects would mean salaries for journalists, which would mean the development of mass media in the Republic of Moldova.
The Donors’ input is very important, and I want to thank them for this effort. There are approximately 3 million euros per year, which are directed to about 3/5 to media NGOs and 2/5 to media institutions – based on thematic projects, usually awarded based on merit and in some cases based on friendship.
At the same time, the year 2022 radically changed the needs of the media, being put in survival situations due to the advertising crisis generated by the war. Donor support with core funding would be very valuable and appreciated, at least for a period of 9-12 months. Of course, the choice of support priorities is sovereign and belongs to the donor states, but I believe that coordination in the mass media field of the donors could give much more speed to the construction, development, and sustainability of the media industry.
The media forum and the lack of solidarity in the media
The Media Forum is the only forum that for several years brings together most of the players in the mass media field – media institutions, media NGOs, authorities, international organizations, and external partners. We thank the organizers and donors that, against many worries and impediments, they make this effort every year and provide this opportunity to discuss and voice the concerns and problems in the field. Even if there are still critics, the Media Forum is an evolving platform, which must contribute to the multilateral and complex development of the media field.
The Media Forum brings together the majority and not all because there is no solidarity in the field of media institutions. The media institutions cannot come together in a common idea because the interests are different – some do it out of passion, others to collect as much money as possible. As a result, for the past 2 years, this fight has prevented all initiatives and solutions to strengthen and build a genuine domestic media industry. On the other hand, there were moments of solidarity between journalists, when some of their colleagues were attacked… and this gives a lot of hope that the situation may change one day.
At the same time, what was never discussed at the Media Forum, never in an honest, open, and serious way, but deserves a lot of attention – the money in the media market. A different type of format may be needed – the annual media industry conference, where advertisers and big clients and everyone who makes and consumes media money also attend. In mass media, as in any field of the economy, everything starts with money and depends on the money needed for wages, development, for ensuring sustainability – which gives independence and freedom.
There is much more to say because on each dimension there are specific issues and situations, just notice that all the narratives are about stating and discussing old issues, which do not change due to various causes or unwillingness. I want to suggest to the Media Forum a discussion, from top to bottom – about what the Mass Media in the Republic of Moldova should be like in 2025. Three years is an average term in which a lot can be done for the consolidation and sustainability of the media, for the transformation of the media into an industry.