In April last year, Moldova made international headlines when its exotically-titled “Twitter Revolution” triggered an election rerun, toppling the Communist party from power after eight long years. Reports that the popular micro-blogging site had been used to gather thousands of activists, protesting electoral injustice, were soon proved inaccurate. However it did precede a genuine revolution in more traditional media in the landlocked eastern European country.
“Twitter wasn’t really used to organise protests, but it acted as a vital source for foreign journalists to find out what was going on,” explains Mihai Moscovici, a marketing manager whose own account served as a key information conduit. “But the events brought Moldova to the front of the infosphere in Eastern Europe, and one could even say a real media revolution is happening right now.”
A liberal, pro-democracy coalition – the Alliance for European Integration – has been in government since the second ‘post-revolution’ vote. Despite an ongoing constitutional crisis over presidential elections, lifting the previous regime’s information monopoly and reviving free speech have been immediate priorities.
On a sprawling compound in suburban Chisinau, the evidence is impressive. At the headquarters of Publika TV, blue neon corridors lead to a space-age, open-plan newsroom/studio area lined with plasma screens. A young team of top journalistic talent has been assembled. The channel, funded by €4.5 million from Romanian investors, launched on April 7, 2010 – exactly one year after the chaotic political upheaval.
“This kind of project simply would not have been possible under the Communists,” says Natalia Morari, a journalist and activist who hosts Publika’s main political talk show. While living in Moscow, her investigative reports earned a place in the Kremlin’s bad books, and it was a youth organisation she founded – ThinkMoldova – whose peaceful rally sparked the unrest in 2009
“Our whole media landscape has changed dramatically,” Morari continues. “As a journalist I feel more free. From the point of view of consumers, it’s a very good thing, but there’s a risk we could repeat the situation of Russia in the 1990s – when people woke up in a country where they had lots of freedoms, and they didn’t know what to do.”
The new atmosphere of openness has caused confusion: “People are surprised to see our channel criticising the new government,” says the presenter. “They thought we would become its weapon and be good to the coalition, but it’s our job to be tough with everyone – Communists, liberals or democrats. For our media market this is something completely new.”
Other positive steps include a management overhaul of the state broadcaster, number one source of information for the general public. Internet access is spreading as broadband becomes affordable, while the IT sector is being actively developed. And another 24-hour news station, Jurnal TV, was opened shortly before Publika.
However, there is a lingering danger this could all vanish as quickly as it appeared. Early parliamentary polls will take place in November – along with a referendum on direct presidential elections – aimed at resolving the political stalemate. The ruling Alliance’s ratings are neck and neck with the Communist party. While another coalition remains the likely outcome, no one would rule out a surprise.