Attn. of the leaders of the political parties groups and of the members of the Media Committees from the Senate and Chamber of Deputies

Dear Mrs. MP, Dear Mr. MP,

We submit to your attention the extremely alarming situation in which we find the Romanian Public Television (TVR/ SRTv). The recent developments in this institution impose not only the launch of an emergency inquest led by the Media Committees in the Parliament, but also the dismissal of Doina Gradea as President – General Manager (PGM) of the Romanian Broadcasting Society (TVR/ SRTv).

Herein, a few of the arguments supporting the urgency and the necessity of an inquest and the dismissal of the President – General Manager:

-       The Ethics and Arbitration Committee in TVR, the internal professional forum supervising the compliance with the journalist's statute, recently published a report[1] which found, among others, “worrying incompatibilities and contradictions between the behaviour, rationale and action of the President – General Manager and the Director of TVR1, on the one hand, and the legal, regulatory and procedural requirements applicable to the public broadcasting service, on the other. The contemptuous manner of expressing about certain employees, or individuals pertaining to certain professional or age categories, the denigration of the Ethics Committee, the lack of knowledge of journalistic and deontological norms or their downright dismissal, the manner of discouraging the employees who dare not to share the same opinions, the lack of transparency in the decision making process ― all these are aspects which inherently lead to a deterioration of work relationships, contributing to a settled and generalised climate of distrust and – most seriously – bringing discredit to the managerial authority in TVR. The Ethics Committee report is based on hearings of several TVR journalists, as well as hearings of the management team in TVR, including of PGM Doina Gradea and of the Director of TVR1, Eduard Dârvariu.

-       In the referenced report, the Ethics and Arbitration Committee further concluded, based on the information emerged from the hearings, that: "There are credible indications that reasonably support the idea of interventions from outside of TVR, even from the political arena, in favour of replacing editorial management staff of certain television programs with journalists approved based on extra-professional criteria." In other words, there are many indications that TVR's current executive management had made editorial changes based on political or other type of interventions from outside the network.

-       Furthermore, it’s been made clear by the information presented and analysed in the report issued by the Ethics Committee that Mrs. Gradea does not understand the mission of public television, as she believes that journalists should not criticize the political parties in power, mostly based on the idea that the governing parties approve the budget of this institution.

-       As a result of this Report, TVR's Board of Directors, led by Doina Gradea, announced that it would sue the members of the Ethics and Arbitration Committee, a situation without precedent in the history of the public service broadcaster[2]. Moreover, the intention to revoke the two members appointed by the Board of Directors and the President – General Manager was brought into discussion, even though a measure such as this comes in violation of the provisions of the Journalist's Statute. We consider this an act of intimidation of critical voices raised against the leadership of the public television network, including against journalists who dared to speak freely before the members of the Ethics and Arbitration Committee, revealing possible irregularities in the management of the institution.

-       All of these actions undertaken by Mrs. Gradea come in contradiction with the recommendations of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)[3], the most important alliance of public service media where TVR is a member. In a 2016 report[4], the EBU recommends that "TVR should strengthen the Ethics and Arbitration Committee. The first step would be to release it from the political influence from within. Secondly, top the management should not be allowed to ignore the opinions issued by the EAC. Even if the role of the EAC remains advisory, the top management should provide justification when varying from the recommendations from EAC."

-       In a recent move, Doina Gradea hired on a non-transparent basis a former Romanian Intelligence Service officer, as secretary of the Ethics and Arbitration Committee (declaring that he had been employed as Ombudsman, a position in fact non-existent in the institution's approved employment structure[5]). According to the regulations, the selection of subordinate staff falls under the scope of the Ethics and Arbitration Committee, therefore this particular employment also risks being unlawful. We believe that this appointment is an attempt at controlling the Committee's work and an attack on its independence. Furthermore, it is worrying that TVR's current executive management believes it serves the public to appoint, to a position that it claims to be that of the Ombudsman, a person without journalistic experience, who is also a former intelligence officer. This unfortunate appointment, considering the resume of the person involved, comes after a period when political parties, and especially the Social Democratic Party, insisted on the unfavourable influence of secret services and of "undercover officers" infiltrated in the media.

-       We also bring to attention the fact that this year, the contract for "Statea Nației" (State of the Nation) was not renewed, after Dragos Pătraru, the creator of the show, criticised a member of the TVR Board of Directors, reported the editorial pressures to which his team was subjected by the TVR management and made public records of his discussions with Doina Gradea and Eduard Dârvariu. We consider that the removal of the "State of the Nation" television program from the TVR1 program listing is due to the criticism voiced by producer Dragos Pătraru against TVR, and is therefore equivalent to an act of censorship[6]. Moreover, it proves the existence of an arbitrary and deficient management, given the record ratings this TV show brought to TVR1 and TVR2. At the same time, the suspicions of political pressures made public continue to reflect badly on the institution, diminishing its credibility, but also that of the Social Democratic Party, accused of being the artisan of these pressures.

-       There are serious signs pointing towards the potential boycott of the work of the Board of Directors (BD) by Doina Gradea, publicly reported by several BD members, including members appointed by the PSD. Mrs Gradea's systematically refused to provide the BD with information, documents and internal reports that would support certain controversial decisions (as was the case of Pătraru) on the pretext that they were confidential or that it would not fall under the scope of the BD members to assess them[7].

-       To add to the above, the day before this letter was issued, Doina Gradea appointed Alexandru Sassu as the interim Executive Producer of TVR Alexandru Sassu is a former PGM of the public broadcasting network between 2007-2010[8]. The mandate of Mr. Sassu in TVR was extremely controversial, as he was accused of political pressure and arbitrary management[9]. It is also worrying, overall, that during Mrs. Gradea's mandate, the network is led by dozens of interim managers.

In our capacity as media and human rights organizations, with good governance expertise, and concerned with the rights to freedom of expression and information, we ask you to act as guarantors of compliance with the law on public broadcasting services, to order, as an act of emergency, an inquest into the work of the public television and to dismiss Doina Gradea as a member of the Board of Directors and implicitly from the position of President – General Manager. We express our hope that this time, the members of the Social Democratic Party in the Parliamentary Media Committee will act in the public interest and in the interest of democracy and not in the interest of certain top members of the party and their clientele[10].

Art. 20, para. (3) of the Law no. 41/1994 of 17 June 1994 on the organization and functioning of the Romanian Public Broadcasting stipulated this situation and stated that "the specialized standing committees of the two Chambers may propose, with the vote of the majority of the members of the Parliament, the dismissal of any member of the board of directors whose activity is deemed inappropriate. The Parliament decides by majority vote. The place vacated in this manner or for any other reason shall be dealt with by the alternate”.

Signatories:

ActiveWatch

Center for Independent Journalism

Center for Public Inovation

Miliția Spirituală

Freedom House, Romania

Kompatibil Association

ProDemocracy Association

AZIR, the Romanian Chapter of the European Association of Journalists

VIDEOVEST Association - Timișoara

The Journalists Society Galați

The Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism

Frontline Club Bucharest

CeRe - Resource Center for Public Participation

Bogdan Iancu (lect. univ. SNSPA)

The Romanian Health Observatory

 


[4]INTERNAL REPORT ON THE VALUES OF THE PUBLIC MEDIA SERVICES”, published by the de European Broadcasting Union for TVR, December 2016.

[5]Ibidem 2.

[6]ActiveWatch: The State of the Nation is censored by the TVR management ” by Petrișor Obae, Pagina de Media, 27.06.2018

Seven members of the Board of Directors are breaking off with Doina Gradea and request an extraordinary meeting to discuss the case of the <<State of the Nation >>”by G.S., HotNews.ro, 1 July 2018”

Sorin Ilieșiu, appointed by PSD in the Board of Directors of TVR, Open Letter to Liviu Dragnea, on State of the Nation: „This program was wrongfully cancelled”, by Iulia Bunea, Pagina de Media, 01.07.2018

The Ethics Committee in TVR asks the leadership to stop putting pressure on the freedom of journalists and to consider whether "the arguments for denouncing Patraru's show" are correct. The seven members of the committee noted the subjectivity of the parties to the conflict, but they say it is essential to have a decision based on "public interest, economic assessment and ratings. >>”, byCătălin Tolontan, tolo.ro, 20 July 2018.                           

[9]A history case of Alexandru Sassu’s mandate here: FOCUS: Alexandru Sassu - politician and "mogul" at the state television network – loses the leadership of TVR”,by Mădălina Cerban, Mediafax, 30 March 2010.

ActiveWatch / CC BY 3.0