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THE "NINE LIVES" OF TV CHANNELS OF SHOR AND PSRM PARTIES

Colaj CIJM
Author: Vadim Cheptanaru
02/03/2023 22716

Three of the six TV channels whose licenses were suspended by the Commission for Emergency Situations (CSE) for airing incorrect information about national events and the war in Ukraine, migrated to other TV channels, along with their teams and editorial policy for which they were charged. Patrons generously opened their accounts and heavily funded the promotion of the new locations and identities, advertising was published even on bills. Thus, NTV Moldova moved to EXCLUSIV TV, RTR Moldova – to Cinema 1, and TV6 – to ORIZONT TV. Also, sputnik.md portal, closed by the Intelligence and Security Service (SIS), was "rechristened" md.sputniknews.com and keeps its sphere of influence. The authorities call this "reinvention" a subterfuge and acknowledge that there is a risk that Russian propaganda and the interests of criminal politicians found other platforms, but they say that they do not have much sanctioning leverage for now other than careful monitoring of content. Anticoruptie.md has previously uncovered who is behind some media institutions, where the money comes from and how politicians affiliated and devoted to Moscow order the editorial policy.

"Rental" of TV frequencies

Not two days after the CSE decision of December 16, 2022 on suspending the broadcasting of the TV channels "Primul în Moldova", "RTR Moldova", "Accent TV", "NTV Moldova", "TV6" and "Orhei TV", on a social network, RTR Moldova, a kind of franchise of the propaganda station from Moscow, "Россия 1" makes the "big announcement", in Russian: "All RTR shows and serials you can watch  now on CINEMA1 TV channel". Without prior information, the TV logo was changed by another TV channel, affiliated to the Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova, from "NTV MOLDOVA" to "EXCLUSIV TV". The third migrant-channel, TV6, which is affiliated to the leader of the Şor Party, Ilan Şor, who is hiding from Moldovan justice in Israel, announced not the transition to ORIZONT TV, but the provision of services: "In the context of development tasks, the need to preserve jobs, at the initiative of the staff, Media-Resurse SRL has partially reprofiled its activity and provides production services, offers equipment for rent and other types of services. One of the first customers was Orizont TV, where in the near future you will find a lot of interesting content". De facto, starting this February, TV 6 cosmetically adapted its traditional content and placed it on ORIZONT TV.

According to a report presented by the Audiovisual Council, on February 10, 2023, the "CINEMA 1" TV channel, where "RTR MOLDOVA" shows appear, belongs to "S.R.L. A.VIDEO-CONTENT, owned by Irina Stețco.

ORIZONT TV, the host of TV 6 station, subject to sanctions, is owned by "S.R.L. ARCHIDOC GROUP", founded by Irina Gușan and is managed by Roman Gușan. The company is based in Zagarancea village, Ungheni district. The TV station received its broadcast license in December 2018, and the firm was registered two weeks before approval. All CA members voted for the favorable decision. At that time, the representatives of the station declared that they would produce cultural shows for children as well. The representative of the station at the license approval meeting, Diana-Josu Braniște, who also presented the general concept of the TV channel, mentioned that Orizont TV aims to promote national values and cultural events. She assured that the television will be apolitical.

The situation of "NTV MOLDOVA", which migrated to "EXCLUSIV TV", is the clearest. Both stations are owned by "PUBLICATIA PERIODICĂ EXCLUSIV MEDIA S.R.L." and director and beneficiary is Ludmila Furculita, the wife of the PSRM deputy, Corneliu Furculita. Since the broadcast license was temporarily suspended, the managers decided to transfer the content of the troubled television, NTV MOLDOVA" to the frequencies of its "sister", "EXCLUSIV TV".

The holder of the broadcast license of RTR MOLDOVA is the company "TV-Comunicatii Grup" SRL." The company is 50% owned by a NGO in Russia, "Российское общество по организация и управлению проектами в области страдный массовый информация и массовых коммуникаций" ("Rosmediacom"). 25% each belong to Valentina Stețco and Sb Grup Media S.R.L. and the director of RTR Moldova is Evghenii Sergheev.

The television affiliated to the "Sor" Party - TV6 belongs to the company "Media Resource" SRL, managed and 100% owned by Dumitru Chitoroagă. He also owns the "ORHEI TV".

Promotion on a large scale

Having found a "new home", the TV channels began a massive campaign to promote their new identities to keep their audience. On social networks, the leader in paid advertising is TV 6, which sponsors every entertainment, talk show and news program. Moreover, Chisinau became the main advertising platform for them. Though there is a Regulation on street advertising from 2021, it seems that troubled TV channels have the green light and violated it. Although both Albișoara Str. and A. Mateevici Str. are part of the Limited Advertising Zone Belt, included in Article 21.2 of the Regulation, huge stands present to pedestrians, information about the new "locations" of the TV channels which were withdrawn license. On Albișoara Str, a sign that almost completely covers a building announces that television is temporarily online.

In January and February 2023, the residents of Chisinau, clients of the Municipal Enterprise INFOCOM, which deals with issuing bills, received special bills. On the back of the bills, consumers could see advertisements for two TV channels with a suspended license. TV6 and NTV Moldova urge people to watch their shows, though they are no longer in the grid of TV operators.

Advertising reached, in each of these two months, 326,209 consumers, the number of clients served by the INFOCOM enterprise. Contacted by Anticorupție.md, lawyer Viorel Şaban apologizes and says that an advertising broadcast contract for TV6 and NTV was signed on November 17, before the Commission for Emergency Situations suspended the licenses of the two TV channels. He does not mind this advertising, since "the broadcasts are not of  political or disinforming".

SIS bans sputnik.md, long live md.sputniknews.com!

On February 26, 2022, two days after the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the Intelligence and Security Service bans the sputnik.md website on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, because it "promotes information that incites hatred and war amid the state of emergency". The relevant authorities blocked the site immediately under the SIS decision. It's just that the Kremlin's propaganda website was reborn overnight. After a short while, md.sputnik.news.com appears, same site, same content, different link.

A year after the original version of the website was blocked, the current sputnik operates freely, promoting the same pro-Kremlin messages. In an interview for Anticorupție.md, IT expert Radu Plugaru says that the authorities have limited powers to block all dangerous websites for the security of the information space of the Republic of Moldova.

"A site has several identifying 'characteristics', including: domain name (the name of the site, which is unique in the world) and IP address of the server (but be careful, the same server can host any number of websites/domains unaffiliated). Our government only has jurisdiction over all .md sites, which means that if violations are found, it could only ban .md domains. Also, through ISPs, they might block web traffic to/from some IP addresses. There are only these 2 tools that can be used to block a site - closing a .md domain and blocking some IP addresses. A website is nothing more than a "folder" on a computer connected to the Internet. To avoid a penalty, it is enough to change the name of the site and/or the IP address of the server. It's like renaming a folder and moving it to a computer in an office next door. In practical terms, moving from a .md domain name to a .com one - is a measure that ensures the definitive exit from the jurisdiction of the Republic of Moldova, which leaves the government with only one mechanism to block a site. But even switching to another IP is trivial, so, de facto, a site that wants to activate - can quite easily bypass any sanctions imposed by the government", explains Plugaru.

For his part, the head of the Legal Department of the Center for Investigative Journalism Sergiu Bozianu, says that a solution for cleaning the informational space of sites with misinforming content or subversive messages, with propagandistic content, would be the repetitive application of the restrictive measure. However, the lawyer admits that the Internet has its own rules, and state authorities have too few levers to intervene.

It seems that the suspension of the activity of the sputnik.md website was the only measure taken by the authorities of the Republic of Moldova, otherwise the activity of the propaganda journalists, sponsored by the Russian Federation, continues. Moreover, the portal did not give up the luxurious headquarters in the Kentford office building, in the Buiucani sector of Chisinau, which means that the financial flow has not been stopped. Though it is a media institution, access to the premises is strictly prohibited. The guard confirmed that sputnik had not changed its address, but warned us that "you cannot enter sputnik so simply ".

Moreover, sources within the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova told us that the journalist access credentials to the Parliament Building are still valid, they were not cancelled, with the closure of sputnik.md on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, and sputnik employees from our country can enter unhindered, as media representatives. I requested a reaction from the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, but, for now, I did not get a reply. In the opinion of lawyer Sergiu Bozianu, with the banning of a media entity, access credentials to the Parliament Building must also be automatically cancelled.

Meanwhile, the employees of the Russian Sputnik agency in the Republic of Moldova participate, as journalists, in all events which they consider part of their editorial policy, such as the anti-government protest of the Şor Party on February 19.

"Sick" of propaganda, but with increasing ratings

A recent study by the WatchDog Moldova community confirms the pro-Russian and anti-Western propaganda of two TV stations in the Republic of Moldova, mentioned in the investigation, among the eight monitored. After analyzing the news programs from November 2022, experts find that they constantly presented manipulation information, clearly promoting the Kremlin's agenda. Russia and Vladimir Putin were mentioned in a positive context on Primul in Moldova and RTR Moldova in 20% of cases and on NTV Moldova in 5% of cases. According to the authors of the study, these TV stations followed a deliberate editorial policy.

The most negative news about the West (USA, EU, NATO) and Ukraine was generated by RTR Moldova, Primul in Moldova and NTV Moldova TV channels. These were the only TV channels that placed the European Union and Ursula von der Leyen in a negative context. There were more negative mentions about Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelensky in the news of these TV stations compared to the positive ones.

The intention of the authorities to protect the national media space from the propaganda of the Russian Federation, by suspending the licenses of these TV channels, apparently did not give the desired result. Two TV stations, "rented" by two TV stations from the list of CSE sanctions, continue to enjoy popularity. At least this is revealed by  the data of the international research network "The Nielsen Company" in the Republic of Moldova, specialized in measuring TV  ratings. In November 2022, the last full month of RTR Moldova broadcasting, the rating of the news program "VESTI MOLDOVA" in  Chisinau municipality, according to agb.md, was 7.81%, the audience leader in Chisinau.

After switching to the frequencies of another TV station, the audience of "RTR Moldova" (alias "CINEMA 1") decreased by 1.63 percentage points in less than a month. According to the same source, after conducting rating measurements in January for "CINEMA 1" TV, an audience of 6.18 was found in Chisinau.

The new TV host for NTV MOLDOVA also managed, in a short period of time, to collect a large part of its previous views. For November, 2022, the agb.md platform found audiences of 4.72% of the original TV station. In January, 2023, TNT EXCLUSIV TV, the frequency where it "refugeed" from the decision of the CSE NTV Moldova had an audience of 2.36, or exactly half of the NTV audience until the sanction.

Authorities: "We will correct the loopholes in the legislation"

 The "mass migration" of the banned stations was also noticed by the Broadcasting Council. The authority ordered the monitoring of the station "Cinema 1", to see if the concept of the program service is respected. It was happening, in the context in which the thematic profile of the television, of exclusive broadcasting of films, was changed, without the Council being notified beforehand, which is a serious deviation. Cinema 1 was fined 14 thousand lei. Nevertheless, RTR Moldova continues to broadcast on CINEMA 1. Liliana Vițu, the president of the Audiovisual Council (CA), said that the stations' maneuvers raise big questions, and CINEMA 1 will be carefully monitored in the future.

Probably, the other televisions - host of TV 6 and NTV will face the same situation. The CA ordered a control to be carried out in respect of compliance with the general concept of programs, provided for in the content of the broadcast licenses of the ORIZONT TV and EXCLUSIV TV stations. Deputy Liliana Nicolăescu - Onofrei, the president of the Parliamentary Commission for Culture, Education, Research, Youth, Sports and Media, says that these moves are the result of loopholes in the legislation, and the lawyers of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova are already working to remove them.

We remind you that, after the decision to suspend the licenses, the representatives of TV6, Orhei TV and Primul in Moldova, affiliated to the fugitive politician Ilan Șor, criticized the decision and accused the authorities of an "unprecedented attack on freedom of expression". A similar reaction came from RTR Moldova. In this context, they appealed to the international community to give a fair assessment to the decision of the CSE, in accordance with the standards applied at the international level. The employees of these TV channels, as well as opposition MPs, protested in front of the Parliament Building, in Bucharest and in the European Union.

 

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The investigation was carried out as part of the "Investigative journalists against propaganda and disinformation" project carried out by the Center for Investigative Journalism with the support of International Media Support from Denmark.

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