A call from EC chief Jose Manuel Barroso to defend justice from media influence has resulted in divided reactions.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 12/02/13
Some media in Romania negatively influence the judiciary sector, the EC said. [AFP]
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said the Romanian government will seek to ensure media freedom while preserving the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
Media freedom is a fundamental value, but it requires a balance "with the independence of the judiciary and the working of the rule of law," Ponta said in Brussels last week.
The prime minister's declaration came in response to concerns raised by Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, to correct what it called the influence the media is exerting on the justice sector.
"Freedom of speech is sacrosanct for us … but at the same time we cannot dismiss the fact that we have received complaints by the Constitutional Court, by the Superior Council of Magistracy, about campaigns orchestrated in the media against the independence of the magistrates, either prosecutors or judges," Barroso said in a joint press conference with Ponta on February 2nd.
The commission's most recent Mechanism of Co-operation and Verification report, through which the commission has monitored progress of justice in Romania since 2007, also raised the issue.
"The situation suggests the need for a review of existing rules, to ensure that freedom of the press is accompanied by a proper protection of institutions and of individuals' fundamental rights as well as to provide for effective redress," the report said.
The EC call was met with differing opinions in the country.
"I do not know any legislative system that features concrete stipulations on the media-justice relation. The MCV report refers to punctual pressures exerted on justice while the laws are passed to last for years," Iulian Comanescu, former Romanian journalist and renowned blogger, told SETimes.
"On the one hand, the European Commission tries to turn a contingent situation into a legislative subject, [on the other hand,] the wording of the MCV report is too vague," he added, referring to the call for "review" and EC spokesman Mark Gray's refusal to name the specific media concerned.
Renate Webber, a liberal European Parliament MP, was "astounded" by the EC call for a change in legislation.
"I personally consider as inadmissible the European Commission's request for a legal framework in which the media functions in Romania, especially since it expressly mentions the possibility the Superior Magistrates Council participates in elaborating such legislation. It is as if it played the role of the censorship section of the former Communist Party," she told SETimes.
Cristian Preda, a European Parliament MP member of the opposition liberal-democrats, sees the conclusions of the report in a different light.
"The report should have referred to party media trusts, because what it envisages are mercenaries, not journalists. Not a free, critical and rational media is the one criticised, but the propaganda machinery of the current ruling coalition," he told SETimes.
But Weber said that criticism in the Romanian media can hardly be considered "pressure."
"If we judged things by these standards, the whole democratic media in the world had to keep quiet. Romania has to be evaluated by the same criterion, not by some invented for it only," she said.
But Comanescu said the Romanian media is almost heavily involved in politics.
"The Romanian media is unable to self-regulate and commits numerous encroachments on various rules that lie at the basis of the branch," he said.
Both Preda and Weber agree that the latest report complicates the evaluation for the Schengen accession.
"This is the worst report since 2007. The introduction of new criticism … shows Romania has regressed over the past year," Preda said.