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Access to Information//Over 20 Journalists List Institutions Most Closed for the Press

17 May 2021
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Over the previous year, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection (MHLSP) was the institution which most reluctantly provided information to media requests, as many journalists mention in a questionnaire on the Media Azi portal. It should be mentioned that personal data and the COVID-19 pandemic were the most frequent reasons the authorities referred to when refusing to reply to newsrooms.
 
According to the journalists’ answers, since 2020, the Presidency, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) have been the institutions most receptive to requests for information. The Presidency is mentioned seven times; three journalists claim they mean the period starting from December 2020. Other mentioned authorities open to the press include the National Anticorruption Center, the Central Electoral Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, the National Penitentiary Administration, and the National Bureau of Statistics
 
 

 
TOP LIST OF INSTITUTIONS NON-TRANSPARENT FOR THE PRESS
 
As to the authorities refusing to respond to requests, provided incomplete answers, or significantly delayed providing answers, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Social Protection, the Information and Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Government are mentioned most frequently. Thus, in the year when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the MHLSP was mentioned 12 times as the authority most reluctantly providing information to journalists. On the other hand, the MIA is also listed in the top of receptive institutions.
 
Answering the same question, some journalists also mention the Presidency (stating that it is since 2020), the National Public Health Agency, and the Center for Centralized Public Procurement in Healthcare. The answers also mention the authorities from the left bank of the Dniester.

 

 
Besides, the journalists also list the topics most difficult to get answers to. Healthcare ranks first, in particular, topics related to COVID-19; they are followed by the data on public procurement. Topics of economics, taxation, and trade rank third. Questions regarding the country’s security, criminal cases, and issues in related to justice also cause difficulties or are left unanswered by the state authorities.
 
 
REASONS FOR REFUSAL: PERSONAL DATA, COVID-19, AND TRADE SECRET
 
The newsrooms have been asked about the reasons commonly cited by officials when they refuse to provide the information requested. Personal data protection ranks first. The authorities also refuse to provide the information requested due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Ministry of Health cited such a reason as ‘We have more important issues to consider than your request – for example, the COVID-19 pandemic’,” one of the journalists replies. Trade secrets have also often been invoked as a reason for refusing to provide requested data.
 
The journalists insist that the authorities often simply ignore their requests: “I received no response at all.” Other reasons invoked by the state representatives were: “We do not think it is necessary,” “We have no such data,” "We do not hold this information,” “We do not have enough time for this. We have lots of requests.”


 
NO APPEALS AGAINST REFUSALS TO PROVIDE INFORMATION
 
However, none of the journalists taking part in the survey has contested refusals to provide information in court or addressed the police to bring those in charge of providing the requested data to justice.
 
Cristina Durnea, the lawyer at the Independent Journalism Center, affirms that beneficiaries of legal advice services provided by the IJC are often faced with the cases when public authorities unjustifiably refuse to provide information or leave requests unanswered.
 
She emphasizes that, in case of breaching the right of access to information, a journalist or a media institution can file a complaint with the police for breaching the provisions of the Contravention Code or take legal action: these are “some of the most efficient means of coping with the situation and have a reparative (restoring the person’s rights) and a preventive purpose (disciplinary in particular, pecuniary sanctions against suppliers).” “Although there are sufficient mechanisms to sanction persons for such breaches at the moment, unfortunately, information providers’ vicious administrative practices are still applied. The reason for this ‘stability’ is ignoring the right of access to information which is determined not only by applicants’ inactivity and reluctance to restore justice, but also by faulty administrative practices used by suppliers,” Cristina Durnea explains.

According to her, journalists’ reluctance to protect their rights is explained by insufficient time and financial resources, as well as by the fact that, for a person who does not have sufficient legal knowledge, the entire procedure could be complicated. “The current realities reveal the lack of media institutions’ financial sustainability and, implicitly, their inability to provide a permanent legal assistance service. Therefore, journalists are in the situation which consumes their time and exhausts their modest resources in order to obtain some information that (probably) may not be of any use to them,” Cristina Durnea concludes.

 
For intentionally breaching legal provisions on access to information, a person in charge of solving the applicant’s request risks being fined for an amount of 450 lei to 750 lei, whereas the fines for persons holding major posts vary from 900 to 1500 lei. In addition, in case of providing an answer containing obviously erroneous data, a person in charge shall pay a fine from 1350 to 1650 lei.
 
The questionnaire was answered by 22 journalists from such newsrooms as Cu Sens, Agora, the Independent Press Association, Elita TV, Nordnews.md, Radio Europa Liberă, Cotidianul TV, the Center for Journalistic Investigations of Moldova, Newsmaker.md, Ziarul de Gardă, Zona de Securitate, E-sanatate.md platform, Rise Moldova, TVR Moldova, Pro TV Chișinău, Mold-street.com, Moldova.org.
 

Sursa foto: magellan.pro