European press unions call upon Parliament to depoliticize public radio, withdraw bill amending AGERPRES law

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European press unions request Romania’s Parliament and Government depoliticize the public radio service, withdraw the bill amending the functioning law of AGERPRES National News Agency, initiated by the current Minister of Culture, Lucian Romascanu, to unlock negotiations regarding the Collective Labour Contract in culture and mass-media area and for the Culture Ministry to give up its intention to divide this sector.

According to a release of the Romanian Trade Union of Journalists MediaSind (SRJ MediaSind), representatives of the UNI Europa Media, Entertainment & Arts debated within the General Assembly, that took place between 14-16 October, in Brussels, a series of issues in the area, such as the politicization of public service media, social dialogue, media pluralism, work conditions, the fair pay of employees and the fake news phenomenon.

In this context, the General Assembly of the UNI Europa Media, Entertainment & Arts (UNI Euro MEI), an organisation which represents 70 unions from 50 European countries, unanimously voted a resolution dedicated to issues in Romania. Moreover, the chair of FAIR-MediaSind has been elected as member in the Executive Committee of UNI Europa Media, Entertainment & Arts.

“The resolution addresses the danger represented by the intention of the Power to take over public media institutions. We recall that the strategy of the ruling party in this regard was unveiled by Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu, who stated in a press release the following: ‘I stated that I wish AGERPRES, together with TVR and SRR, represent the professional communication bodies of the Romanian state.’ Furthermore, the Resolution calls upon the Romanian authorities to observe the EU directive and the International Labour Organization conventions, collective negotiations and those of the freedom of speech, to depoliticize the public radio service, to unblock negotiations regarding the Collective Labour Contract in culture and mass-media sector, to eliminate the discrimination of the Law No. 153/2017 regarding the wages of musicians in orchestras, choirs and ballet dancers who are employed in public institutions, the Ministry of Culture to renounce its intention to divide the culture and media sector,” the press release said.

The Resolution will be sent to Romania’s President, Prime Minister, President and Speaker of the two Chambers of Parliament.

“EURO-MEI believes that the obligations took on by Romania as an EU member state must be observed and enforced to all citizens, including the employees of the culture and media sectors. EURO-MEI requests the authorities of the Romanian state to carry out a dialogue with representatives of FAIR-MediaSind, in order to solve the existing conflict and reported problems. EURO-MEI will use all institutional channels to put these demands into practice,” the Resolution points out.

The delegation of Culture and Mass-Media Federation FAIR-MediaSind was represented by President Leonard Paduret and Executive President Cristinel Godinac.

The Senate Culture Committee on Wednesday, 11 October, issued a unanimously favourable report on a legislative proposal to make additions to the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the AGERPRES National News Agency that proposes the dismissal of the organisation’s director general in case of Parliament rejecting the AGERPRES annual activity report.

“We followed the proposal of our colleagues in the committee so that the National News Agency will follow criteria that already exist for the Romanian Television Broadcasting Corporation and the public radio. When things do not seem to be heading in the right direction, Parliament can look at the report and make a decision regarding the director general,” said committee chairman Radu Cosmin Preda, at the end of the meeting.

Attending the committee’s proceedings, AGERPRES Director General Alexandru Giboi (photo) said he did not support this legislative change.

“We do not support this legislative amendment. We believe that at this moment the level of control over the AGERPRES National News Agency is more than enough. We are talking about a news organisation and we do not consider that placing two notions – control and press – side by side is very beneficial either to the development of the press or to the freedom of expression in general,” he said.

Moreover, Alexandru Giboi underscored that many aspects regarding the AGERPRES law should be discussed and improved, “brought to 2017, not sent back to 1990.”

In his turn, chairman of the Romanian Trade Union of Journalists MediaSind Cristinel Godinac endorsed the view of the National News Agency’s director general.

“No change of political majority should influence the leadership of a national news agency, the biggest agency of Romania, an agency which has a tradition that you all know. It’s frustrating, firstly, for the journalists of AGERPRES National News Agency that political pressure exist at every election or every change in the political coalition,” Godinac said.

The draft law was initiated by Social Democratic Party (PSD) Senators Lucian Romascanu, currently the Culture Minister, Valer-Daniel Breaz, Gabriela Cretu, Ovidiu-Cristian-Dan Marciu and Liviu-Lucian Mazilu.

 

Open letter to the embassies

 

“As the current director general of AGERPRES, I considered, and still do consider that one needs to publicly voice concern over the Culture Minister’s vision for the future of SRTV, SRR and AGERPRES. Yes, these should be professional bodies, not political ones. But to say that these three key institutions should represent “communication bodies of the State” in 2017 (not 1984) means changing them from media organisations designed exclusively for professional public information into de facto the press office of a political power. And, in respect to the equality of these three public media institutions, one can admit that it’s a desirable thing. But, it would be best, and perhaps wiser, politically, to start by equalising the employees’ rights, not by equalising the ways of removing managers from office,” Alexandru Ion Giboi, the Romanian National News Agency  AGERPRES general director underlines in an open letter to the embassies accredited in Bucharest.

“Once again, as director general of AGERPRES, I’m publicly underlining my availability towards decent debate on the subject of modernising the Agency, based on quantifiable objective professional criteria, not on political ones. I remain committed to my mission to safeguard truth and provide quality public information,” Giboi also states in his open letter to the Embassies.