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June 25, 2022

Libel and slander back into Criminal Code

On the International Day of the Press, President Traian Basescu sent a message saying he still believes that press regulation and control should come from within the trade itself rather than from the outside.

The slander and libel will become again criminal offences stipulated by the Criminal Code and anyone found guilty of such crimes – journalists, public personalities or regular citizens – will face the consequences of the criminal law, meaning conviction and criminal record. This legislative change comes after a decision made by the Constitutional Court on January 18, sustaining the non-constitutionality claim in connection with article 56 of Law no. 278/2006 on the modification and completion of the Criminal Code. The article refers to the abrogation of a number of articles in the old Criminal Code – 205 – libel, 205 – slander, 207 – proof of truthfulness and 236 index 1 – defamation of country or nation. By decision of the Constitutional Court, all these articles will be reintroduced into the Criminal Code. All Constitutional Court decisions are binding. Under article 147 of the Constitution, any provision ruled unconstitutional ceases to have legal effects 45 days after the publication of the decision of the Constitutional Court if, in the meantime, the Parliament or Government do not put in agreement the legislation with the Constitution. During this term, all unconstitutional stipulations are suspended by law. In other words, the Parliament – since it is a law rather than an act issued by the Executive – is supposed to adopt the new law with strict reference to the article ruled unconstitutional. The libel and slander law to be adopted was prepared on May 3, the International Day of the Freedom of the Press. Practically, the new normative act will re-criminalise libel and slander in the previous form when they were punished by penal fine.

The decriminalisation of libel and slander was a subject of intense public debate for many years, with media and civil society representatives claiming the criminalisation of such instances was a way of restricting the freedom of expression. On the other hand, the opponents of de-criminalisation claimed the measure would actually hurt other rights such as the one to image or privacy. Romanian courts of law, in their turn, were never able to provide a consistent case law and by that, give defendants or victims of such crimes the certainty that they will benefit from fair trial. There have been libel and slander trials ending either in spectacular acquittals or shocking convictions accompanied with very high pecuniary compensations. The re-criminalisation of the two offences happens at a time when Romanian public life and, implicitly, the mass media, abounds in unprecedented scandals and allegations that are not always backed by solid evidence or arguments.

Basescu defends journalists  On the International Day of the Press, President Traian Basescu sent a message where he says he still believes a press regulation and control should come from within the trade itself rather than from the outside. ‘On this day, journalists around the world celebrate one of the most important democratic values – the freedom of the press. In Romania, the freedom of the press was gained with big effort and gradually consolidated over the past years, including by decriminalising slander and libel, as well as thanks to all those who have opposed the adoption of a law of the mass media,’ reads President Basescu’s message, published by the Presidential Administration. ‘I have unconditionally supported their effort and I continue to believe that any regulation and control of the press should come from within the profession and not from the outside,’ Traian Basescu also said.  The president wished all journalists success as well as ‘resources and strength of character in order to fight anyone trying to restrict their freedom and subdue them to their personal interests.’ In a Facebook post, Premier Victor Ponta, in turn, gives assurance that the Executive will continue to be a guarantor of the freedom of speech.


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