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Dialogue of the deaf continues: minister of culture wants to transform public media organisations into a state press office
We have bemusedly welcomed a press release issued today, October 12, 2017, by Lucian Romascanu, the current minister of culture, the initiator of the law for political subordination of the AGERPRES National News Agency. The simplistic, mistaken argument is unfortunately going on, and instead of inviting all the stakeholders to a civilised debate in which, through real dialogue, to identify solutions for the development of the public media organisations, Lucian Romascanu insists on a disastrous project for the future of the National News Agency.
The context is very simple. AGERPRES is currently headed by a Board of Directors, which chairman is a director general. The members in the Board of Directors, apart from the chairman, are all hired through competition by the Agency, without any political interference. The appointment and dismissal procedure of the director general is a public one, established under the AGERPRES statutes.
In its current form, the law contains the political influence on the Agency at the time of the appointment of the director general by the prime minister in office, an appointment followed by a parliamentary vote. Serious politicisation would follow the amendment of the current statutes by allowing Parliament to dismiss the AGERPRES director general as the political decision-makers see fit, as long as the draft under consideration in Parliament does not mention professional criteria that could form the basis of the vote against the activity report.
Indeed, I am not the most important in this discussion, as the incumbent AGERPRES director general. However, the initiator of the law should have given proof of openness before submitting the draft to Parliament. The initiator of the law should have invited all the stakeholders to a transparent debate, based on real arguments, not to feel himself tardily ignored, at a time when any proposals coming from professionals are ignored.
The statement of Minister Lucian Romascanu, that the AGERPRES director general is the only irremovable office holder in the public system, is also wrong. More attention to public institutions would have had the minister consider, for example, the Constitution of Romania, which Article 140, paragraph 4, which regulates the management of the Romanian Court of Accounts: "Audit advisers shall be appointed by the Parliament for a term of office of 9 years, which cannot be extended or renewed. Members of the Court of Auditors shall be independent in exercising their term of office and irremovable throughout its duration. They shall be subject to the incompatibilities the law stipulates for judges." If being irremovable is a problem, it may be necessary for the minister to propose a change in the Constitution, to "modernise" it to his own liking.
On the other hand, I don't think the comparison of the situation and functioning laws of the three public media organisations is made with a constructive goal, but rather a destructive one. 17 out of 19 presidents of the Romanian National Television Broadcasting Corporation (SRTV) board of administration, from 1989 until today, where changed before reaching the end of their tenure. If this is a good example to follow from Mr Romascanu's point of view, I have a ton to disagree with him. I want to mention that the entire professional media community of Romania, represented by the CJI, ActiveWatch and MEDIASIND, has requested for years the amendment of the SRTV and SRR legislation, in the sense of weakening the political control represented, precisely by the possibility of the annual report "falling" into discretion of Parliament.
I thank Mr Romascanu for re-bringing to the public attention my professional "origin," especially for mentioning this word - "professional." It's not a secret for anybody who my former employer is. From this point of view, the position of chief of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) Press Office represented a stage in my professional career. When I was employed there, the membership or political affiliation to PSD weren't requested by the employer, therefore, I haven't been, nor am I, a party member. In other words, we might consider that, the issue in fact and law, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, at that time, appointed a truly apolitical person to the leadership of AGERPRES.
In conclusion, I would like to publicly voice concern over Mr Culture Minister's vision for the future of SRTV, SRR and AGERPRES. Yes, they should be professional bodies, not political ones. But to say that these should represent "communication bodies of the state" in 2017 means to change them, from media organisations designed exclusively for professional public information into the press office of a political power. And in respect to the equality of these the three public media institutions, I agree that it's a desirable thing. But, it would be best to start by equalising the employees' rights, not by equalising the ways to remove managers from office.
In this context, the public information and AGREPRES development represents, just as before, my objectives as director general of the Agency.
Alexandru Ion Giboi
AGERPRES National News Agency
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