Senate Culture Committee issues admission report to supplement AGERPRES statutes

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The Senate Culture Committee on Wednesday has issued a unanimously favourable report on a legislative proposal to supplement 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.

Preda believes that in the near future a new law "with more clear tasks, management objectives for the management team" can be developed for objective assessments.

"What has emerged very clearly from the committee debates is that a broader discussion should be considered because we are talking about a law that is, after all, very old and that should somehow be updated to the year 2017. I believe that in the near future, together with our colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies, we may eventually turn to (...) a new law that includes clearer tasks, management objectives for the management there, that will be a basis for some objective assessments," said Preda.

He argued that at the moment, "strict control of Parliament cannot be done in any way under the provisions of the 2003 law".

"If there are some issues that are disturbing, like the waste of public money — not that this would be the case now — how can we, Parliament, who manage this media organisation, intervene, interfere, tell us what we think? What is it that we can do? There are three or four reasons in the law that would invalidate the term of office of the director general, namely the impossibility of holding the office for more than six months; (...) resignation, which ultimately is unilateral action ( ..); final conviction for committing offences; the existence of a situation of incompatibility (...) The activity report is a normal matter (...) We take note of it, we read it and see what we agree and disagree on, we may think that there are things that could be better done and pass it on to the management at a meeting of the committee. But in my opinion, strict control of the Parliament under the law of 2003, cannot be done in any way," Preda added.

He expressed his conviction that the new provisions on the AGERPRES management will not be abused. "A matter like sacking the director general when you do not like the colour of his or her eyes," the senator said.

Preda argued that many provisions in the AGERPRES statutes "are no longer up-to-date"

Attending the committee's proceedings, AGERPRES Director General Alexandru Giboi 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.

Giboi explained that currently "the control is exercised (...) both through the presentation of the annual activity report and controls carried out by the Court of Accounts, the Finance Ministry, Labour Inspection, etc."

"All this regards the control of the financial activity the budget execution, everything related to the activity of the National News Agency is currently checked by these institutions of the Romanian state, which don't interfere, through their control, with the journalistic, editorial activity of the agency, as is normal," he added. Giboi underscored that many aspects regarding the AGERPRES statutes should be discussed and improved," updated to 2017, not sent back to 1990."

On the other hand, the director general wanted to underline that the organisation's management is not exercised by Parliament.

"There are several important aspects that you mentioned. I can agree with some of them, while with some I do not, and others we can talk about. It's important to have a dialogue and be constructive. (...) The management of the agency is not exercised by Parliament. (...) You said 'management' at one point and, giving that the press is present, it would be best to be very clear," Giboi said, when referring to the statements of chairman Preda.

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.

He added that the amendment "threatens the independence of the AGERPRES National News Agency." Godinac said he had talked about this topic with Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu and "a discussion was scheduled" in order to find a solution together with the initiators to amend the law."

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.

In their reasoning, the initiators propose the removal from office of the AGERPRES director general in case Parliament rejects the institution's annual activity report. Furthermore, they maintain that the AGERPRES director general "enjoys, in fact, total immunity during his/her tenure," adding that "from among the public culture organisations under parliamentary control, AGERPRES is the only one for which Parliament has no action instrument in case of inadequate operation caused by poor management." AGERPRES (RO — author: Oana Ghita, Daniel Popescu, editor: Catalin Alexandru; EN — author: Corneliu-Aurelian Colceriu, Rodica State, editor: Rodica State, Corneliu-Aurelian Colceriu)

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