Survey: Moldova, the Most Vulnerable Country to Foreign Propaganda in Central and Eastern Europe

The Republic of Moldova is the most exposed and the most vulnerable country to Russian propaganda in Central and Eastern Europe, according to the results of a new international study.

The Republic of Moldova is the most exposed and the most vulnerable country to Russian propaganda in Central and Eastern Europe, according to the results of a study called ‘Resistance to Disinformation in Central and Eastern Europe’.

The research shows that most of the top televisions re-broadcast Russian programs, and a considerable part of the online media favors the Kremlin. At the same time, the authors of the study find that there are several important categories of population prone to be manipulated. They also mention that the measures taken lately by the authorities are not enough, moreover, they are likely to favor certain political groups.

The study ‘Resistance to Disinformation in Central and Eastern Europe’ analysed the extent to which the 14 monitored states are vulnerable to Russian propaganda, assessing the situation on the basis of three indicators:

  • degree of exposure of the population to misinformation and propaganda;
  • state counter-measures;
  • vulnerability to a potential digital war.

The Republic of Moldova scored lowest on the first two indicators and was only overtaken by Belarus on the third indicator, demonstrating a low level of resistance to propaganda. Belarus and Latvia belong to the same category, while Lithuania and Romania are better off from this point of view.
The study finds that in the Republic of Moldova there are three large groups that are more likely to be manipulated by the media than the rest of the population:

  • Russian ethnic minorities representing almost 20% of the population;
  • some active followers of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, canonically subordinated to the Russian Orthodox Church, who can be influenced by the church;
  • and the elderly (more than 700,000 people in total) whose level of media literacy is lower than that of the other population categories.
  • ‘These groups have limited access to alternative media to check facts and they trust media channels that can be used for manipulation’, said the authors of the study.

Researchers also refer to a number of international reports that find that the media is partially free in the Republic of Moldova. They also refer to market research studies that show that two-thirds of the top TV channels re-broadcast programs from the Russian Federation and four of the top five channels do not comply with the law on the minimum volume of 70% of programs in Romanian. At the same time, four of the most watched ten news portals promote pro-Kremlin policies.

  • ‘The Moldovan media resilience profile presents a fragmented and uneven landscape. The governing party has declared repeatedly that it prioritises the fight against propaganda but this has yet to transfer into clear policy measures’, conclude the authors of the study.

They noted that certain previous decisions, as well as the lack of political will to implement the Broadcasting Code led to a market dominated by the Russian media.
Moreover, the authors note that the created situation favors certain political stakeholders, and recent changes to fight propaganda can lead to restricted media freedom:

  • ‘The structure of media ownership suggests that this situation favours a series of political actors who allegedly control some of the most popular TV channels in the country. At the same time, the implementation of more active measures to counter foreign propaganda may give the regulators means to limit the freedom of the press’.
  • ‘The initiative to ban broadcasts from countries that have not signed the European Transfrontier Television Convention represents a ‘quick fix’ approach and will not lead to positive long-term effects. Media outlets can choose to register in signatory countries or to adapt media content with the help of national broadcasters’, believe the authors.

They recommend to authorities to amend the Law on Press to reflect the realities of the digital age and develop a system for registering news agencies and newspapers. They also also recommend to ensure that the existing rules of the Broadcasting Code are applied and that the National Security Strategy is reviewed in order to take into account the current security environment.
The media community is recommended to re-activate the Ethics Committee to analyze the results of media monitoring, and the Press Council to promote the signing of the Code of Ethics. Also, media literacy initiatives should cover ethnic minorities and the elders as communities more vulnerable to media manipulation.
The study was based on researches conducted between May 2017 and May 2018 by the Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’ and the Eurasian States in Transition research center (EAST Center) in cooperation with other research centers in Central and Eastern Europe as part of the project ‘Assessing Vulnerability and Resilience to Russian Disinformation Warfare: Practical Overview and Qualitative Evaluation of Critical Infrastructure’.

The article was republished from Media Azi, the web portal of the Independent Journalism Center (IJC) in Chisinau, Moldova, a SEENPM member organization.