STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Moldova defended revoking the broadcast license of a TV station critical of the government in a hearing before the European Court of Human Rights.
In an entirely virtual hearing Wednesday, the videos of which were not available until Thursday, the Moldovan government claimed the station Noile idei televizate SRL was spreading fake news when it broadcast programs critical of the government. The station argued the license revocation violated its freedom of expression.
“The measure [was] addressing a pressing social need because of the abusive speech during the news bulletins,” Oleg Rotari, a government agent for Moldova, told the 17-judge-panel via video link.
Founded in 1997, Noile idei televizate SRL was granted a license to broadcast nationally in 2004. Between 2009 and 2011, it was cited multiple times for a lack of pluralism, publishing politically biased news bulletins, favoring the opposition political party and spreading fake news before being shut down entirely in 2012.
“The attitude towards our channel is not the same as it was to other channels,” lawyer Alexandra Nica said on behalf of the TV station, arguing it was clear the station was being targeted for publishing programs critical of the government.
The station appealed the government’s decision to revoke its license but ultimately lost at the Moldovan Court of Appeal. It then brought a complaint to the Strasbourg-based Court of Human Rights.
“Revocation of the license of transmission of any TV broadcaster raises lots of questions,” Nica said.
She was critical during her presentation of the Moldovan government’s relationship with the media, which is often hamstrung by the state. There has also been an uptick in attacks on journalists in recent years.
In 1997, Moldova ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, which created the court. The convention, which entered into force in 1953, protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. It is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint.
“The applicant had to predict the occurrence of this measure,” Rotari said, arguing that Noile idei televizate SRL had been warned and fined repeatedly for breaking the law. He also emphasized that the punishments the broadcaster had faced had been repeatedly upheld by Moldovan courts.
Following a question from one of the judges, Nica claimed that the TV station was given very little time to prepare for the hearing it was given to contest the revocation of its broadcast license.
“It was very quick. There were only several days and it was not possible to present an accurate position,” she said.
The landlocked Republic of Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1988, along with a number of other Soviet Republics. The country held democratic elections in 1990 but the country has never been completely stable.
The country faced a constitutional crisis last year as multiple people claimed the positions of prime minister and speaker of parliament. Ultimately, the pro-Russia politician Igor Dodon and his Socialist Party took power.
A ruling on the licensing case is expected next year.