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Does the Law on Freedom of Expression Favor the Manipulation of Public Opinion?

21 September 2016
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Olivia Pirtac, lawyer
The Law on freedom of expression ( adopted in 2010 is a local know-how that included into the national legislation rules on freedom of expression that comply with the European standards, but also specific provisions, some of them being almost revolutionary.
The law aims to guarantee the exercise of freedom of expression right and the balance between ensuring the right to freedom of expression and the right to protection of honor, dignity, professional reputation and the right to private and family life of persons. This law tries to define the limits of these competitive rights, specifying the needed aspects required by the European Court of Human Rights in Article 10 (freedom of expression).

Certainly, the law is influenced by the context where the press freedom suffered and tries to recover existing issued, providing to media freedom an important status.

After the Law on freedom of expression entered into force, the good faith press of Moldova, if it did not get rid of trials, then it does no longer lose them.

However, there is something to mention: even the investigations, lawyers rarely bothered to dispute and argue the content they preferred to win choosing a simpler way – to accuse the applicant for non-observance of the procedure. Other applicants saw that they have to pay a proper fee to get compensated for moral damages and retreated uninterested or requested the symbolic 1 MDL.

The fact is that in good faith media had a significant win by this law, it won freedom.

By coincidence or not, but the adoption of this law was followed by the”gold” period of the press in Moldova. For a while, according to some – longer, to others – shorter, the press surprised by development of content and technology, pluralism, diversity etc.
At a given time, a difficult to fix in time, smooth, but doubtless process of press ”degradation” started, in particular of actors that pleasantly surprised before. 
We know that we are highly manipulated. Do we have a freedom of manipulating? Did the Law on freedom of expression boost it somehow?

We must admit that the Law on freedom of expression did not only help the best ones, the investigative journalists, the good faith ones and defended them against the danger to lose trials, but also helped those in bad faith. Concerning the latest, the injured parties that failed to observe the procedure, and who did not react fast enough with a prior request and, subsequently, with an action before the court, were losing the limitation period. And those who could not pay a material amount, they could not require a material compensation for moral damage.

And I refer to unusual case, without denying that some lawyers will be enough skilful and will find more solutions to defend the client interest.
So is with the right to opinion: it is equally guaranteed, whether their opinions are precious or worthless. The only important element of a legal point of view is the acts to be exposed in a correct, accurate and undistorted manner. And then, based on some exact facts, you can indefinitely insist on apocalyptic critics, scenario, visions and even a challenge and exaggerated language, though it is guaranteed by the European Court of Human Rights in Article 10 (freedom of expression).

The value judgments in printed and on-line press the limits are only dictated by the professional ethics, the hope that under a social and professional pressure, the journalists will no longer allow themselves to denigrate unjustified and interested, to manipulate.

But in the audiovisual press exists legal restrictions: thus, Article 7 of the Audiovisual Code – The political and social balance and pluralism, contains a range of provisions aiming at ensuring the social and political balance, fairness and objectivity, do not allow the reality to be distorted by montage tricks, formulation methods or headlines, to ensure the observance of the information principle from many sources. The most important difference towards the online and printed press is that these provisions are consolidated by possibilities of sanctioning provided by the Audiovisual Code.

We can conclude that the Law on freedom of expression is not a tool that could be used against manipulation and propaganda, except the cases of individual trials, when the injured parties invoke false facts and opinions without providing enough evidence or the violation of the private life. Some procedural provisions of this law are equally in the interest of both the good and bad faith press. But are we prepared to return to the older procedural situation and see how the good press is intimidated with trials? We chose the weakest evil in general, are not we?

The article was published within the Advocacy Campaigns Aimed at Improving Transparency of Media Ownership, Access to Information and promotion of EU values  and integration project, implemented by the IJC, which is, in its turn, part of the Moldova Partnerships for Sustainable Civil Society project, implemented by FHI 360.

This article is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The content are the responsibility of author and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.