Lower Chamber adopts Dragnea’s bill eliminating over 100 non-fiscal taxes. Elimination of radio-TV licence tax stirs controversies

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The Lower Chamber on Tuesday adopted the bill filed by Social Democratic Party (PSD) President Liviu Dragnea, providing for the elimination of over 100 non-fiscal taxes, including the radio-TV licence tax, rejecting the amendments of the special commission which would have seen the radio-TV licence tax remaining in force.

The draft law on eliminating some taxes, as well as modifying and adding some normative acts was adopted by 225 votes in favour.

Thus, among the fees to be eliminated there are the environment stamp duty for motor vehicles, Trade Register fees, consular and citizenship fees, criminal record fees, radio-TV license fees, additional fee for temporary passport issue, fee for the loss or modification of documents, extra-judiciary stamp duty, recreational or sports fishing fees, fee on services provided by the Interior Ministry to the population, fees charged by the National Pension House.

 

Dragnea wants radio and TV licence taxes paid from state budget starting in 2017

 

PSD President Liviu Dragnea criticised, within the Lower Chamber, the way in which the public television and radio broadcasters reacted to the proposal to eliminate the radio and TV license tax, and proposed a tax of 21 Lei per citizen for the public radio broadcaster and 34 Lei per citizen for the public television broadcaster starting next year.

“In their view, this Parliament, which appointed TVR’s Board of Directors, which approved a large sum from the public budget for TVR, is odious. Maybe this imagination which is used to manipulate public opinion could have been used to present a restructuring plan for TVR and to enhance the Romanians’ interest in this broadcaster,” Liviu Dragnea said at the debates on the bill.

Liviu Dragnea reminded the leaderships of the public radio and TV broadcasters that they were appointed in office, stating that this will change.

“The leadership of the Radio and TVR was not appointed through competition, as I proposed and I believe we will adopt. Almost half of the public radio broadcaster’s revenues, of approximately 95 million Euros, come from the state budget, and with such a budget, which would make envious any private radio broadcaster, it doesn’t have debts. TVR surpasses 100 million Euros and has debts of over 150 million Euros,” Dragnea stated.

Liviu Dragnea proposed the adoption of two radio and TV licence taxes payable from the state budget, starting next year.

“Now the tax is collected from the Romanians’ left pocket and the state’s right pocket. We propose predictable financing. Then indeed they wouldn’t fear political control and political influence. Starting next year, through the state budget law, we should approve a tariff level of 21 Lei per Romanian citizen for the public radio broadcaster, which means a budget of 420 million Lei, and 34 Lei per citizen for the public television broadcaster, which means a total budget of 680 million Lei,” Liviu Dragnea proposed.

 

Liberals mull filing constitutional challenge against elimination of radio and TV licence tax

 

The Liberals are mulling filing with the Constitutional Court a challenge against the elimination of the radio and TV licence tax, PNL Lower Chamber MP Andreea Paul stated on Tuesday, after the Lower Chamber adopted the reintroduction of this tax on the list of eliminated non-fiscal taxes.

“We will carry out all overtures to save the public mass-media’s freedom of expression and to guarantee their autonomy. (…) Article 35 of the Constitution guarantees the autonomy of the public television and radio broadcasters and the Constitution explicitly says that we – the Parliament and the Government – have the obligation to observe them. What PSD is doing today seriously violates the Constitution. We will consider this analysis too (filing a constitutional challenge – editor’s note), but here the legal experts should have a say. Journalists, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be controlled by politics, regardless of its stripes,” Andreea Paul stated at the Palace of Parliament.

 

Dragnea on PNL’s intention to file constitutional challenge: Let them challenge it so that there’s no longer any doubt about their hypocrisy

 

PSD President Liviu Dragnea stated on Tuesday, referring to PNL’s intention to file a challenge against the law eliminating 102 taxes, that the Liberals will find it difficult to explain that they are attacking a bill they voted in favour of, stating that doing so would reveal PNL’s hypocrisy, which already has the Ciolos Government as its “instrument.”

“My final advice for the PNL colleagues who have allegedly announced that they want to attack this law at the CCR. Apart from the fact that it will be difficult for them to explain that they are attacking a bill they have already voted in favour of, they have an instrument that no longer needs any kind of personality, namely the Government led by Ciolos, which files challenges at the CCR. They’ve challenged the debt discharge law, tabled by a PNL MP, supported by us, approved by Parliament, they’ve challenged the debt conversion law, backed jointly and approved by us, let them also attack this tax law for there to no longer be any doubt in what concerns this hypocrisy,” Dragnea stated within the Lower Chamber.

 

PM Ciolos on radio-TV licence fees being repealed: We are now outside the law

 

Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos on Tuesday commented on Parliament’s decision to get rid of the radio-TV licence fees, saying that the independence of the public radio and television broadcasters also depends on the funding source, and consequently the decision places the financial situation of both outside the law.

“We are now virtually outside the law, because, as my collaborators have informed me, the law says the State is not allowed to fund a public television broadcaster 100 percent from the national budget for various reasons. One of the components of the independence of the national television relates to funding sources. So, we have to think about what we want in the fee’s stead, and I would be glad if those who have decided to come forth and tell us what they envisage for the future,” said Ciolos on a working visit at the Renault Technical Centre at Titu.

Ciolos added that he will decide whether to challenge at the Constitution Court “certain elements” of Liviu Dragnea’s law on the basis of the relevant ministries’ analysis, claiming that the elimination of the radio-TV licence tax is illegal.

“I hope everyone in Romania understands that it is easy to cut taxes and it can even be impressive, from an electoral standpoint, but you also have to think what you replace them with. Not necessarily what taxes you introduce in their place, but the environment stamp tax which was eliminated today… we too, the Government, have backed the elimination of this tax and its replacement with a different system of taxes, not because we want to be meaner to Romanians and want to force them to pay taxes, but because this environment stamp tax, firstly we agree, should be one better adapted to the reality, but we need such a system for collecting funds in order to be able to fuel the Environment Fund so as to be able to finance the Cash for Clunkers programme, so as to be able to finance the Green Home programme,” Dacian Ciolos stated while visiting the Renault Technical Centre in Titu.

He also stated that the elimination of this tax also eliminates the source of financing for the Environment Fund for 2018.

 

Public Radio’s head: I strongly deny PSD leader’s accusations as blatant untruths

 

President and CEO of the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (SRR) Ovidiu Miculescu “strongly” rejected on Tuesday ovidiu-miculescuthe Social Democratic Party (PSD)’s head, Liviu Dragnea’s allegations that he threatened the head of the SocDems’ group at the Chamber of Deputies and that the public radio is granting pay bonuses worth 4,000 euros from the radio-TV fees.

“I strongly deny the accusations by Mr Liviu Dragnea, chairman of the PSD, voiced from the rostrum of the Chamber of Deputies. I have to say that the words of Mr Dragnea are blatant untruths I can demonstrate as such anytime. Beyond my attributions, as president and CEO of Radio Romania, a capacity that allowed me to express often my concern and deep disappointment with this measure [the repealing of the radio-TV fees], I am an ordinary man and I don’t see how could have anyone ever interpreted any of the arguments I raised during the debates as a threat. Moreover, I now declare publicly that this alleged phone talk with any leader of a parliamentary group, alleged by Mr Dragnea, has never taken place and I once again stress that all of his statements are blatant untruths. What is going on in this case is as frightening as it is revolting,” said Miculescu in a statement to Agerpres.

According to him, ‘we are witnessing an incredible political ambush with the single purpose of making Radio Romania vulnerable and subsequently politically grabbed.’

In Miculescu’s opinion, the repealing of the radio-TV fees brings serious damage to the independence and lack of bias on the part of the radio public broadcasting service.

“Leaving aside my capacity as Radio Romania Chairman and CEO, a capacity in which I often expressed my concern and deep disappointment with this measure, I am a regular person and I don’t see how anyone could have ever interpreted the arguments I used in the debates as threats. I’ve always emphasised that this measure causes serious damage to the independence and objectivity of the public radio broadcasting service and prevents Radio Romania from carrying out the public mission it took on 88 years ago,” said Miculescu.

The PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, on Tuesday said that the RRA director Ovidiu Miculescu should say if he found it ethical ‘that millions of Romanians’ pay the fees for the public radio broadcaster so that RRA pay bonuses worth 4,000 euros from these fees.

He also asked Miculescu to say if he was politically nominated and by whom, if he participated in a competition for the office and what the competition entailed.

 

Public TV broadcaster says license fee – main funding option, further committed to serving viewers’ interest

 

irina-radu-1Romania’s National Television Broadcasting Corporation (SRTV) says that the license fee has been and further remains its major funding option, but points out that regardless of the funding source, the public broadcaster will keep on serving the interest of the viewers.

“The Romanian TV Broadcasting Corporation has learned of today’s decision of the Chamber of Deputies to scrap the TV fee as of January 1, 2017. As stated in previous releases, from TVR’s standpoint, the fee has been and further remains the main financing option. Yet regardless of the funding source, the Romanian Television Corporation will further serve the interest of the viewers, just like the other European public media institutions,” reads a release of the SRTV Communication, Public Relations and Protocol Service sent to Agerpres on Tuesday.

“No matter what the funding conditions will be, I express my determination to continue the already begun process for the institution’s streamlining and overhauling according to the first stage of the strategy approved by the Board of Directors. The Romanian Television Corporation must return among the most watched televisions, it must be able to air European and world championships and must organize and broadcast the Eurovision contest, but all these do not depend on in-company decisions alone. What we can do, given that we are the European television with the lowest financing and the most serious and diverse issues, is to be flexible, and we should take the best decisions in the contexts we need to cope with,” said TVR CEO and president Irina Radu cited in the release.

 

Trade unions ask President Iohannis not to promulgate law repealing 102 rates and taxes

 

The FAIR-MediaSind Culture and Mass-Media Trade Union Federation is asking President Klaus Iohannis not to promulgate a law repealing102 rates and taxes, including radio-TV fees for the funding of the public radio and television broadcasters, that Romania’s Parliament passed on Tuesday.

“We believe that repealing the radio-TV fees is a direct attack at the freedom of expression, an important pillar of democracy. The repealing of the fees will virtually guarantee total subordination to the political power of the Romanian Television Broadcasting Corporation and the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation. Once promulgated, the law would return Romania back in time to the years of the communist regime, when the entire media were controlled by the Party. We believe this demarche is populist and electoral in nature, because discarding the radio-TV fees and their replacement by national budget allocations will not relieve the citizens of a tax, because its equivalent will still be borne by the citizens, because the Government will be compelled to increase other taxes to cover the operational expenses of the two organisations,” MediaSind said in a press statement released on Tuesday.

 

 More than 20 media organisations slam vote to axe radio – TV license fee

 

Several NGOs slammed the Chamber of Deputies’ vote this Tuesday to axe the radio and television license fee, arguing that this measure “deeply” alters the mission of public media institutions and creates an “excessive dependence” on the political vector.

“We consider that direct funding from the state budget will be the final episode in the complete politicization of public media, already strongly controlled through the manner of appointing and – especially – dismissing the Boards of Directors. The proposal to scrap the radio/TV license fee was submitted without presenting any alternative solutions, without identifying budgetary resources and without any analysis on the impact on the state budget – proving political amateurism and rudimentary populism,” reads a release of Active Watch, the Center for Independent Journalism and the Convention of Media Organizations sent to Agerpres on Tuesday.

The signatory organizations remind that Law No. 41/1994 governing the organization and activity of the National Radio Broadcasting Corporation and the National Television Broadcasting Corporation is an organic law and any amendments thereto must meet the procedural requirements set forth by the Constitution and the legislative chambers’ regulations.

According to the cited source, throughout Europe the public media funding system is a subject of lengthy public debate and given the serious financial difficulties facing TVR, any demarche in this direction is legitimate, but on the other hand the NGOs advocate an authentic public debate to weigh the various options.

The signatory organizations call on President Iohannis not to promulgate this law and use his prerogatives to start a national public debate on media public services.