The signatory organizations express their bewilderment and concern regarding the findings and recommendations referring to mass-media included in the CVM.
We consider that these do not take into consideration the legal framework in force and the standards which result from the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and ignore the profile of the Romanian political class, which has often tried to limit the freedom of the media, by economic pressures and legislative measures. There is a real risk that statements like the ones in the CVM (“review of existing rules, to ensure that freedom of the press is accompanied by a proper protection of institutions and of individuals' fundamental rights as well as to provide for effective redress”) be invoked by the Romanian politicians in order to justify new legislative initiatives meant to limit the freedom of speech, situation with which we are confronted every year.
The presence of such assertions in the report suggests that the current practice of the Romanian courts is not strict enough in cases regarding freedom of speech; hence, such kind of assertions risk leading towards a shift of the internal judicial practice, by affecting the freedom of speech. We would like to remind you that, according to the European Court of Human Rights case-law, freedom of speech is protected also when the media exaggerates, offends, shocks, as long as it pursues a free and in good faith debate of the matters of public interest, including then when it is about the way justice works and fight against corruption.
Also in January, the EC has launched the Report on Media Freedom and Pluralism, which signals, at EU level: „the limitation of the media independence resulting from the private and commercial interference” and, respectively, the issue of „the focus of the property on mass-media and the consequences of this focus on the media pluralism and journalists’ independence”. In other words, using the media in order to solve political disputes is not the effect of the independent activity of the journalists, but the effect of them being used as mercenaries by the owners of the media institutions. The recommendations in the Report on Media Freedom and Pluralism are edifying: measures meant to consolidate pluralism, the independence of the regulatory bodies – including the National Audiovisual Council - and of the public radio and television institutions.
In this context, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the current legislation offers enough defense tools to those who consider themselves victims of media attacks. The new Civil Code, as well as the Law of Audiovisual and the Law for the organization and operation of the Superior Council of Magistracy include explicit provisions which protect the right to dignity, right to one’s own image, right to reputation, right to privacy, including for the members of the judicial system. There are already decisions of the Courts under the new Civil Code which rule in favour of those that went to court to protect their rights, which, in their opinion, have been violated by the mass media.
The use of the media as a weapon for political disputes is a fact constantly signaled by the media and human rights organizations, during the last ten years. We ourselves have publicly accused blackmail, harassment, ordered attacks, things that have proved to be common practices in the Romanian media. These are serious deviations from the role of the journalism in a democratic society as well as from the professional and ethical rules and they deeply affect the credibility of the media. But the signatory organizations consider that the current legal protection means for the victims of the abuses the report refers to may provide enough remedies, provided that they are used.
In terms of the National Audiovisual Council, even if its work in the last year leaves much to be desired, this is not a matter of legislation, but of the ability of an institution to enforce law in a way independent from the political environment. Ensuring independence and a good operation of this institution is a stake which needs the support of the EC, and there is no need to change the norms regarding the content of media communication, but it is the will of the politicians.
We would like to remind to the European Commission that the freedom of speech was one of the four conditions imposed by the EC to Romania during the EU pre-accession process, while defamation and slander were removed from the Criminal Law only six years ago, in spite of the keen resistance of the political class. Without the support of the European Commission and without the pressure put by the EC on the authorities in Bucharest, the situation of the freedom of speech would have been worse. This is why the signatory organizations would like to ask the European Commission to preserve its concern on the protection of freedom of speech in Romania and to remain and advocate of these rights in front of the Romanian authorities.
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
APADOR-CH – Romanian Helsinki Committee
Center for Independent Journalism
Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism