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February 24, 2021

Victor Ponta: ‘I was blackmailed by a media tycoon’

First South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) conference in Romania took place at the Palace of Parliament on Tuesday. The main topics on the agenda were the freedom of the press, political influences on the mass-media, how journalists report on corruption and the current condition of the Romanian investigative journalist.

Invited to the conference, Prime Minister Victor Ponta accused media tycoon Adrian Sarbu of intimidation; he asserted Sarbu promised to make him president in exchange of tax exemptions. ‘As a prime minister, I have very clearly related how I was blackmailed by a media tycoon, who told me he made all the presidents so far, and how I should exempt him from taxes if I want him to make me president, too. When I answered him I’m not interested, and I would like him to pay taxes, I became the daily target of his media trust. One thing remains: he will still pay taxes. Otherwise, of course, he will face law enforcement, irrespective of the effects of the attacks – unfair, mostly – against the man who asks him to pay his taxes’ declared Ponta, quoted by Agerpress.

Asked whether he pressed charges following this episode, Ponta answered: ‘When Mr. Sarbu told me every president won only with his support, it did not seem a crime to me – it seemed like self-delusion.’

The prime minister also said he was ‘extremely outraged and concerned’ by the fact there are criminal lawsuits which, he said have consequences on reporters and media institutions. ‘The fact a media owner is sentenced for a criminal act is a fact that happens in a judicial system, but to seize media headquarters and put physical pressure on certain media institutions is a thing that has not happened in Romania for 25 years and I think it must give us huge reason for concern’, he said.

Valeriu Zgonea: ‘I am happy that the new Criminal Code has no provision on  slander and libel’

Lower Chamber Speaker Valeriu Zgonea, also attending the conference discussing the freedom of the media, said tabloid media is driving away from the moral and ethical benchmarks of the profession. ‘We have lately seen a trend where a large portion of the Romanian press is enrolling to the tabloid mercenary work, seen as a quick but also secure way of attracting masses and financial resources. Like anything else, this also comes with a  cost, which can only be the abandonment of some of the ethic and moral benchmarks of the profession and mistaking public interest for what the public is interested in’, Zgonea said.

The official also said he was happy that the new Criminal Code does not contain any provisions on slander and libel. ‘When we speak about the freedom of the press I think we should make a clear distinction between the general legal framework where the activity takes place and the freedom of individual journalists. In Romania, the freedom of expression is a fundamental right, enshrined by the Constitution. (…) In this context, I am happy that the new Criminal Code adopted in February 2014 has no provision on slander and libel. Nonetheless, we must make efforts in Parliament and vote again on Law 12/2014, sent back for re-examination by the president, which stipulates the abrogation of the section of the Criminal Code punishing journalists with penal fine or imprisonment for opinions on the work of judges or criminal investigation bodies. The law is now at the Senate. I will take all the legal steps to make sure that it is promulgated this year, as soon as possible’, Zgonea said.


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