The Censorship Dilemma: A Necessary Evil?

On December 16, the ex-Soviet state Republic of Moldova, led by the first female president Maia Sandu, decided to temporarily ban 6 television channels for airing “incorrect information” about Moldova and the Russian war against Ukraine. The ban took effect on December 19th and is to last for the duration of the state of emergency. The Commission for Exceptional Situations, founded after Russia’s invasion, suspended the broadcast licenses stating Moldova’s political polarization due to ties to Moscow as a major problem. The decision has drawn mixed reactions from media watchdogs, experts, and activists who say these measures are like censorship. Others call it a justified action against Russian propaganda.

Following pro-European Maia Sandu’s 2020 presidential election, the pro-Kremlin narratives have increased and become even stronger after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, says Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Delivering a speech at the general debates of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 21st, Sandu addressed propaganda and disinformation as challenges to the neutrality and security of the country. She called the suspensions “an important step to prevent attempts to destabilize” Moldova.

The suspension targeted Primul, R.T.R. Moldova, Accent T.V., N.T.V. Moldova, T.V.6, and Orhei T.V. “for disseminating incorrect information when covering events in Moldova and the war in Ukraine,” a special committee overseeing the state of emergency said in a statement. As the T.V. stations were spreading misinformation and attempting to manipulate public opinion, “Moldova must be protected from propaganda and lies,” Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu wrote on his Telegram channel.

In response to Moldova banning the channels, both Moldovan T.V. channels and Russia denounced the decision calling it an “unprecedented attack on freedom of expression, editorial freedom, (and) freedom of journalists” and “political censorship.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the ban “an unprecedented act of political censorship, as an abuse of the principle of media pluralism, and a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of access to information, to which the political leadership of the Republic regularly declares its adherence.” Additionally, Dumitru Chitoroaga, the administrator of T.V. 6 channel, told B.I.R.N. that the law was unnecessary and mainly aimed at impressing the West. “I do not see why such a law is needed. It’s probably a move of the current government to show how pro-Western they are […] from now on, Moldovan citizens will no longer only partially follow Russian posts but will follow the Russian channels entirely on the internet,” he said.

Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, an information battle has erupted online. From manipulated photos, false statements, and nationalistic propaganda, Russian media remains influential in the Moldovan media landscape. In the three decades since Moldova gained its independence, the country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine has seen an increase in pro-Russian groups demanding the removal of Maia Sandu. For that reason, such enforcement to crack down on propaganda may alleviate the country’s deepening polarization and strengthen its independent press that continues to expose the opulence and schemes of Moldova’s hidden shadow figures.