By Mira Swaminathan – 06.11.2017
A new draft law was introduced in Romania in October 2017 that threatens the independence of the national news agency, Agerpres. The ECPMF is supporting ActiveWatch to further their resistance against this draft law.
A new draft law was introduced in Romania in October 2017 that threatens the independence of the national news agency, Agerpres. The draft law foresees that any political majority has the liberty to decide and the power to dismiss the director-general of Agerpres by rejecting Agerpres’s annual report, without having to respect or follow any objective criteria for the rejection of the report (such, for example, not meeting the goals set in the Annual Strategy adopted by Agerpres). This is a radically different approach from the earlier law that gave the director-general a five-year mandate in which he is expected to be unbiased and to promote the ideas, programmes and activities of all the political parties.
The provisions of this new law would have the same impact as the legislation regulating the management of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (SRR) and the Romanian National Television Corporation (SRTV). So this would ensure that after each election, the SRR and SRTV administration boards can be dismissed before the end of their mandates, to reflect the power and ideas of the new political force. Although the draft law has been voted for in the senate, it is yet to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies, and approved by the President.
Many media freedom organisations had denounced this provision as an instrument to politicise the public service media and one of them is ECPMF Member ActiveWatch, Romania. ActiveWatch considers that the amendments proposed to the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Agerpres risks lining up the National News Agency “in the controllable institutions gallery” and draws attention to the fact that civil society was present but “utterly” ignored at the debates that took place in the Senate Culture Committee.
ECPMF provides 1,000 euro to ActiveWatch to further their resistance against this draft law. This money is used by ActiveWatch for advocacy on the Agerpres draft law in the Senate, the documentation and monitoring of the Agerpres situation, participation in the Mass Media Committee of the Senate vote on the draft law – where they publicly expressed their disagreement with the law – updating blog articles, drafting reaction, collecting of signatures, recording senators’ contacts and names in a database and translating it into English and the communication of public reaction in Romania and across Europe.
In the letter to the Senate, ActiveWatch writes:
“Even though we consider that the public television and radio need an immediate reform, the political change of the management of these institutions makes it even harder for them to get rid of the political burden. In addition, regarding the national press agency, the institution’s progress in recent years is visible to the naked eye. The editorial performances have improved, the organisation’s website is growing, and the accusations of political interference at the editorial level are almost non-existent in the public space. Furthermore, according to information that emerged in the public space, there is an intention of centralisation of the three media institutions under a single umbrella, a national public media company. This possible merger is causing us deep concerns“.
It also says:
“Remember, honoured senators, that political power changes periodically. Let the public media serve the public interest, because, this way, they also help you, more than they could do it by being politically subordinated. (…) We believe that the public media institutions are under political siege and we ask you, no matter which political party you belong to, not to be part of the complete destruction of these institutions. You can start by saying NO to this Agerpres draft law!’
The letter was signed by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Reporters without Borders, the Romanian Trade Union of Journalists – MediaSind (member of the International Federation of Journalists) and the Center for Independent Journalism Convention of the Media Organisations.
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