The tale of newspapers Moldova Suverana (MS - Sovereign Moldova) and Nezavisimaya Moldova (NM - Independent Moldova) has been making headlines recently. The facts of the case are these:
- Up until a few years ago MS and NM were government-owned newspapers.
- During the 1990s they had operated a reasonably independent editorial policy
- Under the communists they increasingly came under the control of the ruling party
- One of the conditions of PPCD support for Voronin's election as president in 2005 was that the two papers be privatised
- The papers were privatised, but using a highly peculiar mechanism. The existing state companies were placed into liquidation. Their assets (which were the property of the Moldovan people) were passed (free of charge) into the control of new companies owned by private interests associated with the communist party
- The new private companies took over the publication of the papers and pursued an even more pro-communist editorial line than they did as part of the state sector.
There were predictable howls of outrage from the left wing and the pro-communist press. Omega, shocked as usual, announced that Filat was closing down the opposition press and shutting up inconvenient voices. Even Marian Lupu joined in with a little tweet to the effect that "The process of nationalisation of MS and NM contravenes the democratic principle of freedom of expression".
As usual, the Moldovan left is using a half truth to confuse and idiotise its electorate. The principle at stake here is not "freedom of the media", although it may appear that way to an untrained eye. The real principle being fought over is actually the rule of law. The assets of MS and NM were stolen from the Moldovan people by the Communist Party and then used to misinform voters. The decision taken yesterday by the Filat government merely restores these assets to their rightful owner.
Having said that, a democratic government has no business owning media assets. The 'fourth estate' must be independent if it is to perform its proper democratic function. Accordingly, over the next few months, the government should sell the two newspapers in a transparent and fair auction process which seeks to maximise the financial benefit to the taxpayer.
If by the end of summer the two newspapers are still in government hands, then Omega and Lupu will have every right to complain about limits on press freedom. The shots they have fired today, however, are cheap, unfounded and populist.