Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I’m sorry we can’t be together in person, but I’m glad the organizers found a way to carry out this important conference despite the challenges COVID-19 presents.
Let me start by commending the Moldova Press Council for the important work they do to preserve the freedom of the press. As we recently saw in Moldova’s presidential election, a free press is the cornerstone of any democracy; without it, there is no way to keep governments accountable, help voters make informed decisions, or uncover the truth in a world full of disinformation.
And disinformation is omnipresent. With the Internet, it is easy to write a nonsense story, post it on social media, and generate a lot of clicks through a network of trolls. It’s intended to overwhelm the truth through sheer volume. As we say in America, it’s throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. So most of the time, the best thing to do is ignore the laughable lies that we read.
But we are in the middle of a global health pandemic. I don’t need to tell you what a crisis this is for Moldova and for the world. And unfortunately, there are malign actors out there who see this time of crisis as an opportunity to spread disinformation and sow chaos.
So what can be done? Moldova needs honest voices in the media, citizens need access to a variety of media, and we all need to learn to recognize disinformation when we see it.
That’s why, for years, the United States has supported independent media in Moldova that serves the public instead of narrow political interests, and why we’ve encouraged media literacy.
For example, USAID’s Media-M program helps local media find a path to sustainability through high-quality, diverse content and a focus on financial viability. The Public Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy supports independent media by encouraging local content, increasing production capacity, and providing training opportunities. And in a normal year, without the pandemic, we send journalists on reporting fellowships, co-ops, and other professional visits to the United States. And we have sponsored media literacy and fact-checking resources to that Moldovans can make up their own minds.
Is it working? I think it is. More and more people are turning to independent media to hear about the issues of the day and there is a growing recognition of the dangerous role that disinformation is playing in Moldova.
But there is still work to be done. And that work can’t be done by outsiders; Moldovans have to do it themselves. Without the firm commitment of Moldova’s leaders, Moldova’s media environment will not improve.
As we said when we met at our strategic dialogue with Moldovan leaders and civil society earlier this year, there are several key steps Moldova’s leaders can take – in consultation with civil society – to address this challenge.
First, there are currently no civil society representatives sitting on the Audiovisual Council, a group many independent experts believe is under political control. It is
important that civil society have a strong voice in the decision-making process. It is time for the CCA to reflect the voices of all Moldovans.
Second, Moldova needs to move forward with the switch to digital broadcasting. This will increase the space for independent voices in free over the air broadcasts.
And finally, we urge the reestablishment of legislative working groups on media. These have been valuable forums to bring together lawmakers and civil society to develop initiative to improve the media environment.
With these institutional improvements and with wider access to truly independent media, Moldovans will be better informed, better armed to recognize disinformation, and better able to hold politicians to account.
And Moldova works to further strengthen its media sector, the United States will be there to lend a hand.
Thank you for your time and best of luck.