November 6, 2012
Bucharest, Romania

To: The members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

Ref: the „EU Charter: Standard settings for media freedom across the EU” Report
 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ActiveWatch is a Romanian human rights organization concerned with freedom of expression, also a member of the Reporters without Borders network. ActiveWatch took notice with great interest of the „EU Charter: Standard settings for media freedom across the EU” reaport, and the hearings that took place at the LIBE Committee on the 6th of November, which were attended by one of our members.

Our concern about freedom of speech in Europe is driving us to bring to your attention a situation which seriously affects press freedom - the presence of undercover intelligence officers in the newsrooms. We have been confronting this situation in Romania during the last years. The most serious case came into public light this summer when Jurnalul National, one of the biggest generalist dailies in Romania, uncovered the presence of an infiltrated agent from the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) in its newsroom. His presence was confirmed by the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) and by the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of this institution.
To put this into context: until 23 years ago Romania lived under a dictatorship whose main repressive force was the infamous Securitate. In 22 years, the newly formed democratic intelligence service SRI has not manage to distance itself from the perception of being the continuation of Securitate, due to its personnel/staff, its practices and the lack of public control over its activity.
Secondly, the penetration of newsrooms by undercover intelligence agents is not forbidden by the Romanian legislation.
Thirdly, the highest national security body mentioned media among the “vulnerabilities” against national security in the 2010 National Defense Strategy. The lack of legislation and this strategy opened the legal ground to infiltrate the newsrooms.

Such practices endanger freedom of expression, as they:

- threaten the confidentiality of sources,- attempt to misinform and manipulate the public,

- hamper the gathering of information,

- damage the credibility of the media,

- allow the surveillance of newsrooms,

- introduce a climate of distrust in the newsrooms.

We want to add that the European Charter on Freedom of the Press specifically mentions the surveillance of newsrooms as being unacceptable („The protection of journalistic sources shall be strictly upheld. Surveillance of, electronic eavesdropping on or searches of newsrooms, private rooms or journalists’ computers with the aim of identifying sources of information or infringing on editorial confidentiality are unacceptable.”)

Therefore, we propose the LIBE Committee an amendment to the “EU Charter: Standard settings for media freedom across the EU” Report” requiring EU member states to adopt legislation banning the infiltration of newsrooms by intelligence officers and we call on the LIBE Committee to offer its support to our proposal.

 

Sincerely yours,

Mircea Toma

President of ActiveWatch


 

ActiveWatch / CC BY 3.0