Top Six Strange Cases Encountered While Requesting Information from State Institutions
Lately, more and more state institutions are reluctant to provide public information directly, asking for written requests. This limits access to information of public interest. In the last month, more and more institutions are asking us to file an official written request for the answers on simple questions.
We made a top of the last requests we received the information too late, incomplete, or not at all on topics of public interest.
- The State Guard and Protection Service is one of the most closed and reluctant institutions to the press in Moldova. To every question coming from Ziarul de Gardă, the press service of the institution asks us for an official request. For example, ZdG asked about the alleged escort offered to the Socialist Party deputy, Ștefan Gațcan, but we have not received an answer yet. While writing about Gațcan’s stay in Iași, the spokesperson of the Iași Police Inspectorate asked us for a written request. After a few hours, we received the answer to our question by e-mail.
- Moldova’s Government has an active and open press service. Usually, the press service answers questions operatively, but recently a different case has occurred. When we requested a reaction to former Prime Minister, Maia Sandu’s announcement that she sued Prime Minister Ion Chicu, the representative of the press service asked us for a written request. The next day, however, the government press service offered us a reaction without the need for a written request.
- During the pandemic, the Ministry of Health was issuing a lot of press releases. Many times, the institution asked for a written request when the ZdG reporter asked questions related to some topics, for example, information about the number of doctors who resigned during the pandemic, or the number of medical workers who received a salary increase. We had to wait over two weeks for relatively simple information. Subsequently, the prepared material had to be delivered with a rather long delay.
- The Border Police has a simple answer to every question regarding a politician or high-ranked official who leave Moldova. The Border Police asks for a written request to which it always gives the same answer that it can not provide us the information because of the protection of personal data law. In the last month, ZdG reporters asked the Border Police if it’s true that the deputy Ștefan Gațcan left Moldova and if the information that the politician Renato Usatîi went to Romania after Russia announced him in an international search. However, we received an identical answer.
- The National Agency for Public Health (ANSP), like the Ministry of Health, is one of the institutions that are at the center of the information flow related to COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, the institution was very open to offering information, including its director, Nicolae Furtună. In recent weeks, the institution asks for a request for information on any subject, and the director told us that he is not an employee of the newspaper and can provide answers only through the press service.
- The Presidency of Moldova is very open in providing information about President Igor Dodon. Communiqués are issued daily, accompanied by pictures and videos from the meetings or visits that Dodon has. In general, the presidency does not comment on the statements of political actors. When asked about the expenses of the press conference organized by Dodon at the presidential residence in Condrița, Chișinău, the Presidency asks for a written request for the information. Meanwhile, Dodon stated during the press conference that on July 27, the head of the press service of the Presidency will make this information public. On July 27, the ZdG reporter asked for the information, but we were asked to request in writing what we need, and the answer has not yet come.
According to a recent study by Freedom House, national and international media organizations find limited access to information in Moldova to be one of the most significant problems faced by reporters and the media.
For the past 20 years, organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders have identified that reporters and media in Moldova face several challenges in their work such as: limiting access to information, intimidation, and attacks on reporters, internal misinformation, and external propaganda, political and oligarchic control of media regulators.
According to the law, the public official is obliged to provide the information requested by the reporter within no more than 15 working days from the receipt of the request. It is allowed to extend the deadline by five days when the answer is complex and the 15 days are not enough. In this case, the applicant must be informed of the extension of the deadline. However, over the years, several media organizations have reported several problems with the interpretation of the law on access to information, the law on personal data, provisions of which are abusively used by various officials to restrict access to information.