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Reactions after a Police Officer Suggests to the Court to Suspend Jurnal TV Activity for a Year in an Administrative Case for Slander

13 January 2022
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Jurnal TV has announced that an employee of the Buiucani Sector Police Inspectorate initiated an administrative lawsuit for defamation against the TV channel after a journalistic investigation had been broadcast, and recommended to the court suspending the channel’s activity for a year. The TV channel representatives described the case as an attack, while the media NGOs characterized the law enforcement officers’ actions as abusive.
 
According to the administrative case protocol, Alexandru Spoialo, Head of the Public Security Department of the Buiucani Inspectorate, states that Reforma Art, the company which holds the broadcasting license for Jurnal TV, slandered a person in a TV broadcast. “On 24.07.2021 and 28.07.2021, citizen Butnaru Valentin [owner of the TV channel – editor’s note], acting as administrator of ICS Reforma Art SRL, admitted broadcasting false information in a newscast on the Jurnal TV channel, which resulted in defamation and accusing citizen Grabovschi Vitalie of having committed an offense, therefore, causing a damage to his honor, personal dignity, and professional reputation,” Spoialo specifies in the protocol. According to Jurnal TV, Spoialo sent the case to Chisinau Court, Ciocana District Department, along with the recommendation to deprive the channel of the right to practice its activity for a year.

At the same time, the lawyers specializing in the media sphere specify that an administrative procedure was initiated regarding the administrator of the legal entity which acts as the founder of Jurnal TV channel, and it does not refer to the media institution itself.

According to the legislation, slander accompanied by an accusation of having committed a crime is sanctioned with a fine ranging from 3.000 lei to 4.500 lei for individuals or with 40 to 60 hours of unpaid work for the benefit of the community. Legal entities are fined 4.500 – 9.000 lei applied to the person in charge, with deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or the right to practice certain activities for a term from 6 months to one year.

“Grabovschi is the ex-head of Dubasari Police Inspectorate mentioned in Jurnal TV investigation in July 2021, along with two other police officers, Ion Tarna and Alexei Vizdan, who were allegedly involved in cigarette smuggling. Invoking the breach of Art. 70 of the Contravention Code, the police officer recommended to the court to deprive our TV channel of the right to practice its activity for a year,” Jurnal TV writes.

Media Azi has not managed to obtain a reaction from Buiucani Police Inspectorate representatives. According to Jurnal TV, Alexandru Spoialo is on vacation. “It results from the documentation on the case that there was evidence, and a protocol was issued,” Oleg Birliba, the head of the inspectorate, said.

Jurnal TV administration classifies the incident as an attack. “This particular case is both ridiculous and absurd. All we have to do is regret it. What we regret is not this case, but our society’s slowness on the path towards progress,” Val Butnaru, the owner of Reforma Art company, declared.

MIA: “FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IS FUNDAMENTAL FOR US”

Iurie Podarilov, Head of the General Police Inspectorate (GPI), commented on the Jurnal TV case during the briefing on January 13. “Freedom of the press is fundamental for us. Compliance with legal provisions in all the actions of the police staff is one of the priorities of the GPI management. I will never admit any sort of abuse, and any breach of the legal framework will be sanctioned accordingly,” he declared.

The head of the GPI adds that, depending on the results of the examination of the case in court, “if any deviations or other breaches of the provisions which resulted in such infringements by a stating agent are detected, an internal investigation will be initiated, and appropriate sanctions will be applied if necessary.” “It is important for us to prevent such situations in the future. The law is the law for everyone, and we will insist on preventing abusive actions of the police and observance of the legal provisions by all the members of the society,” Iurie Podarilov, Head of the GPI, concluded.

Viorel Cernauteanu, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, specifies that the police are obliged to act immediately upon any notification from the citizens. “It is not the police who decide; it is the police who state any breaches. (...) Hence, any stating agent, such as a police officer in this case, has to act immediately, upon any notification from a citizen, be it a misdemeanor or a criminal offense. If a stating agent fails to take any specific actions when notified by a citizen, regardless of the category that citizen belongs to, it would be presumed that the stating agent either fails to fulfill their functional obligations or neglects his work. We cannot classify these actions as legal or illegal at first glance. It is the court that assesses and determines whether someone is guilty of a certain action. The police officer did not apply any sanction,” Cernauteanu specifies.
 
THE BC’S AND MEDIA NGOS’ OPINION

In their public statement, the non-governmental media organizations have criticized “the abusive actions of Buiucani Police Inspectorate manifested by initiating an administrative lawsuit against Jurnal TV, and demand from the authority to refrain from applying defective and erroneous legal classification practices to the actions of journalists stipulated by the Contravention Code (slander) in the future.” “We would like to remind Buiucani Police Inspectorate employees that, according to the provisions of the Law on Freedom of Expression, the state guarantees freedom of expression of the media, and no one can prohibit or prevent the media from spreading information of public interest except otherwise stipulated by the legislation,”  the NGO mention in their statement.

The BC also expresses its concern about the actions of Buiucani Police Inspectorate employee which, according to the Council, “breach the freedom of expression.” “We would like to mention that, according to Art. 10 para. (3) of the Code of Audiovisual Media Services (CAMS), coercing or exerting pressure by threatening or intimidating journalists shall entail administrative and, as the case may be, criminal liability,” the BC communiqué states.

The Broadcasting Council has announced that it notified itself of this case on its own initiative and will consider it at the next public hearing. “The Broadcasting Council emphasizes that it is the only authority entitled to order suspension or revocation of a broadcasting license of a broadcasting media service provider,” the BC writes.

In late August, the Broadcasting Council sanctioned Jurnal TV channel with a public warning for not offering the right to reply to a former and a current police officers from Dubasari Police Inspectorate in a report where they were mentioned. In the material, the journalists reported that Alexei Vizdan and Ion Tarna had forcibly entered the Jurnal TV premises after they had been mentioned in several materials broadcast by the channel. They addressed the BC filing four complaints against Jurnal TV.