October 30, 2017

Paris, Leipzig, Bucharest

 

Ladies and gentlemen senators,

 

Human rights and press freedom organizations, signatories of this open letter ask you to block by vote the attempts of some groups to politically dominate the national press agency AGERPRES, in a first step, and to gain total political control, in a second step, of all public media services in Romania.

Monday, the 30th of October 2017, the Senators are scheduled to vote for the project that aims to modify the Agerpres Law. The project was initiated by a group of Social Democratic Party (PSD) senators, including the current  Minister of Culture and National Identity, Lucian Romașcanu.

The project doesn’t intend to modernize the Agerpres functioning law, as it claims, and it is not based on an analysis of the functioning and performance of the national press agency and of the needs for  legislative changes to enhance its activity. The project is designed specifically and solely to change the way in which the Director of this public institution can be dismissed, the obvious target being to urgently change  the current management of this organization.

More specifically, according to the project you are supposed to vote for, the Agerpres Director might be dismissed by the Parliament at any time during their term of office, by rejecting the annual report. The draft does not include though any objective criteria for the rejection of the report (like, for example, not meeting the goals set in the Annual Strategy adopted by Agerpres).

In fact, the same mechanism by which the public television and radio are currently at the mercy of the ruling political party or coalition is to be extended to the national press agency also.

The rejection of the annual report of the public television and radio, without the existence of clearly defined criteria in the law, made it possible for the management of the public television to be arbitrarily dismissed. Thus, since the year 2000 to present, only one General President-Director was able to finish their 4-year mandate. That person was, incidentally or not, supported by the Social Democratic Party.

In less than a year in power, the majority PSD-ALDE coalition managed to change the management of both public television and radio, by rejecting their annual reports, and to name as General Presidents-Directors a person agreed by PSD for the public television and a PSD member for the management of the radio.

Even though we consider that the public television and radio need an immediate reform, the political change of management for 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 organization'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 centralization of the three media institutions under a single umbrella, a national public media company. This possible merge is causing us deep concerns. Changing Agerpres management, by adopting the draft law  subjected to the Senate's vote on Monday, is just a first step in this direction. We believe that such an unification of the three public media institutions is extremely dangerous for public media’s freedom. Centralizing these institutions under a single (political) leadership could drastically limit the journalists’ watchdog role they’ve been granted with and paid for by the citizens.

The draft amendment to the law on the Romanian version was criticized by the OSCE, the European Federation of Journalists, UNI Europa Media, Entertainment & Arts, International Federation of Musicians, and it is considered a threat, according  to the freedom of expression platform of the Council of Europe. Also, major publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, EuroNews, FoxNews, RFI, etc. commented on PSD intention to politicize Agerpres.

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.

In conclusion, we believe that the public media institutions are being 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!

Reporters without Borders

European Center for Press and Media Freedom

ActiveWatch (member of the Reporters without Borders Network and IFEX)

Romanian Trade Union of Journalists - MediaSind (member of the International Federation of Journalists)

Center for Independent Journalism

Convention of the Media Organizations

 

UPDATE

The Senate adopted the draft law on the 30th of October, with 64 votes ”for”, 16 ”against”, while 27 senators refrained from voting. The project will now have to be debated in the Chamber of Deputies.

ActiveWatch / CC BY 3.0