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How did journalists get prepared for the Elections of 20 October

Useful Advice and Good Practices at the Weekend Training: Media & Elections

General Local Elections and new Parliamentary Elections in four uninominal constituencies will happen in the Republic of Moldova on 20 October 2019. The civil society has its eyes on the Central Electoral Commission and on the candidates standing for elections. The voters read or watch news, interviews and reports about the running of elections and the electoral competition on a daily basis. Journalists get the key role in this process, and namely, the one of informing the public correctly. Therefore, they have accepted the invitation of the Central Electoral Commission and of the United Nations Development Programme in Moldova and signed up for the Weekend Training: Media & Elections, to be fully prepared to reflect the upcoming elections of this autumn.

Participants of the Weekend Training: Media & Elections

What does Weekend Training: Media & Elections mean?

A three-day journey into the process of conducting elections from the beginning to the end, with details and explanations, questions and answers, popular and less popular topics, including the hidden context of elections. This is what the teams of the Central Electoral Commission and Centre for Continuous Electoral Training intended to provide to the journalists-participants in the training.

Weekend Training: Media & Elections was organized during 23–25 August being attended by journalists from over 20 national media outlets. Journalists came from Cahul, Balti, Ialoveni, Comrat, Basarabeasca and Chisinau, representing print and online media as well as radio and television.

Why was the Weekend Training: Media & Elections organized?

The organizers aimed at familiarizing the participants with the activity of the Central Electoral Commission on preparing and conducting fair elections. Since new members of the CEC have been recently appointed, the journalists had the opportunity to get to know them and ask questions about the electoral process. The media representatives also had a chance to establish a network and strengthen the relations with the CEC team. And, most importantly, to debate the hottest topics on the press agenda: funding of political parties and electoral campaigns, preparation of voter lists, and the good operation of the State Automated Information System “Elections”.

During the three days, the CEC management as well as the CEC members attended the training sessions. The CEC Chairperson Dorin Cimil said: “The election period is busy and difficult for the entire society, including for the Central Electoral Commission. There is a lot of information to be processed, reviewed, and conveyed to the public. This is one of the reasons why this training was organized, but also because we wanted to get to know personally the representatives of the fourth power in the state. We would like the entire society to be correctly informed about the elections.”

Andrea Cuzyova, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP Moldova said, “The journalists are the link between the public institutions and the society. The quality of information people receive helps them play an active role in the society’s life and in country’s development. The political process must be inclusive and participatory, this being one of the key principles of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

The participants and the CEC and CICDE teams also exchanged opinions and organized a questions & answers session during an offline in the first evening of the training.

What issues interested the journalists?

The journalists debated issues related to the preparation of voter lists, the possibility or, better said, the impossibility to fraud elections as well as funding of political parties and candidates, and verification of financial reports. Although, rather skeptical at the beginning of the explanations made by the CEC team, along the way, they managed to get behind the scenes of the elections organization process, to understand the legal provisions and CEC’s duties as well as to show interest for the multiple details of the election process.

Patricia Podoleanu, PRO TV Chisinau reporter and anchor, said: “I clarified some legal issues that were simply unclear to me. We also succeeded in establishing some contacts with the CEC team and members. After we have met them in a different setting, later, when we get in touch with them, it will be easier for us to ask questions or approach them.”

Even experienced journalists managed to learn new information at the training. For instance, Tatiana Bunduchi, Head of the Programs Service at Radio Moldova Youth, said: “The training exceeded my expectations. I got to the essence of the operation of the entire election organization system, including of the State Automated Information System “Elections.” I understood how election fraud is prevented and how voter lists are developed. It is mandatory for all journalists who report on elections to document themselves and get down to the details of things, so that the information they convey is full and fair. This training came to make our journalist life easier because, in three days, we found out things that would have taken us much longer had we documented ourselves on our own.”

The Diez.md team had two journalists present at the training, Ștefan Grigorita and Constantin Topala, who said that most of the news items and journalistic materials on elections are written in the election period, and diez.md must report in a language that is accessible to their target audience: the youth. “I knew very little about electoral processes because I only started writing news in this area during the February Parliamentary Elections. Hence, the experience I acquired in the training will be useful to me for the next elections, as I feel much more informed now. I learnt the steps to take on the elections day as well as thereafter,” said Constantin Topala, Diez.md reporter.

Useful advice and good practices from the special guests at the Weekend Training: Media & Elections

The journalists were interested in attending the training also because they could share experiences with other journalists and media and elections experts there. The ethics of communication for journalists during the elections was a topic discussed with the participants by the Radio Free Europe journalist Valentina Ursu.

The Journalist’s Bible is the Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Secondly, I recommend them to leave out own preferences. There is no left-wing politician I like and right-wing politician I do not like. Journalists should be as brave as possible, should not be inhibited or get blocked when the politician who should answer their questions stands before them. They should be well informed, know well the politician’s biography, and ask them convenient and inconvenient questions. They must be honest, not cross over the red lines, do their job with dignity, and then they will be respected by those at the top and those at the bottom of the heap,” said Valentina Ursu in a video message to the journalists.

The journalists found out how fake news affect the electoral process from Petru Macovei, the Executive Director of the Association of Independent Press. They reviewed the most popular fakes both in the national and in the international media, and discussed about the impact of fake news on the election campaign.

Carmen Mușat, expert in political communication from Romania spoke about media manipulation tactics and techniques, used by politicians in election campaigns.

“Dear colleagues, be smart! Do not let them buy and manipulate you. Check each piece of information from three sources; show them you are the power and that you are the ones to call things by their names. For the rest, I wish you strength at work and, watch out, everyone will tell you that you are the best and the smartest, so that you write what is best about everyone. Write only what you feel and believe is the best,” says Carmen Mușat’s message.

The ex-Chairperson of the Latvian Central Election Commission Arnis Cimdars spoke to the participants about the experience of the institution he used to lead in communicating with the media and recounted about the electoral processes in his country.

“The information about the elections must be published beyond a journalist’s daily practice. If usually the most important thing is to edit and publish the information as soon as possible, in case of elections, one must first get convinced that the information is truthful and correct, even if this takes more time. Because if a media outlet does check the information but another one does not, the voter gets two different news items and, as a result, the one who wanted to denigrate the ballot wins. It is very important for the perfect elections to be the priority not only of the Central Election Commission, of the police, of the state, or even of the journalists but for this to become the personal concern of each of us, the voters,” believes Arnis Cimdars.

What is next?

On the last day of the Weekend Training: Media and Elections, the teams of CEC and CICDE and the journalists reached the understanding that in the last month of the electoral period i.e. in full election campaign, press clubs and free discussions with the journalists would be weekly organized at CEC’s premises, so that journalists ask all the questions arisen along the way and receive direct answers from those responsible for the organization of the elections.

“Weekend Training: Media & Elections” was organized by the Central Electoral Commission and the Centre for Continuous Electoral Training under the project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections,” implemented by UNDP Moldova and funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the British Embassy in Chisinau through the Good Governance Fund, and the Dutch Embassy through the Matra Program.

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