Romanian Journalists Union MediaSind asks Gov't to axe Culture Minister

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The Romanian Journalists Union SRJ MediaSind is asking the government to remove Minister of Culture Lucian Romascanu from office over his latest statements regarding the Romanian Television Broadcasting Corporation (SRTV), the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation (SRR) and National News Agency AGERPRES.

"The Romanian Journalists Union MediaSind, in its capacity as social partner representing National News Agency AGERPRES, having looked at the latest public reactions and actions of Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu, is calling on the government to remove him from office as a matter of urgency. SRJ MediaSind considers that the minister's recent actions and statements regarding the Romanian Television Broadcasting Corporation, the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Corporation and AGERPRES seriously affect the independence of the public service media institutions, and greatly contribute to denting their credibility," the trade union representatives said in a press statement this Thursday to AGERPRES.

SRJ MediaSind argues that "one needs to follow the example of consolidated democracies, where the rule of law also relies on strengthened public media services," which must be set in the service of the citizens and not transformed into the mouthpieces of the state, as the minister and his colleagues in the power apparatus would want.

Trade union representatives point out that, asked in a recent interview if the current ruling coalition intends to merge the three media institutions, Lucian Romascanu "attempted a diplomatic response," denying such plans are currently afoot, yet without ruling out the idea, "which would actually result in transforming SRTV, SRR and AGERPRES into political propaganda instruments."

At the same time, SRJ MediaSind points out that "through his latest press statements, the minister also reveals the plans of the power to lay off a considerable number of AGERPRES staff."

"Lucian Romascanu asked agency Director General Alexandru Ion Giboi for a restructuring project, with severe consequences for the employees, which would have destabilized the activity of Romania's public service news agency. Paradoxically, although he claims he has nothing to reproach the agency, Lucian Romascanu deems a staff downsizing is necessary. According to the AGERPRES Director General, 70 staff were supposed to be dismissed in Lucian Romascanu's opinion," the release states.

MediaSind also brings to attention that the Minister of Culture has made no reference whatsoever to the fact that the wages of AGERPRES staff are the lowest among public institutions, that they get no bonus, no overtime pay, although they work even 10-12 hours a day, including on weekends and legal holidays to keep the public informed.

"Thanks to their work, which to Minister Romascanu is insignificant, the website agerpres.ro currently has about one million unique monthly visitors, and the number of the institution's subscribers topped 500. Instead of proposing to unblock positions in the agency, at a time when AGERPRES would need to hire in order to meet the market's demands, Lucian Romascanu requests a job slash without putting forward any objective criteria. As a matter of fact, the ruling program of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the party he is a member of, provides for no redundancies in the public sector, but quite the opposite, for wage increases," the release says.

SRJ MediaSind representatives go on to argue that "using his position as MP," Lucian Romascanu requested from the agency's management information about commercial contracts, the list of subscribers and the commercial offer, although such information should be confidential as long as AGERPRES operates in a competitive system.

"At the same time, the incumbent Minister of Culture seems to have learned the lesson of 'original democracy', as he suggests and supports the separation of culture from the media sector, in defiance of the European practice where the two are included in the same sector of the creative industry," SRJ MediaSind argues.

SRJ MediaSind considers that "these irresponsible statements and actions of the Minister of Culture meant to destroy the credibility of public service media institutions" have harmed Romania's international image.

"The main international organizations in the industry, the European Federation of Journalists, UNI Europa Media Entertainment and Arts, EANA — the European Alliance of News Agencies, reacted promptly, notifying the European Commission, the Council of Europe and EU embassies. If political pressure continues, SRJ MediaSind will respond with new actions of protest, as it also contemplates lodging a petition with the European Parliament for the start of actions to trigger the infringement procedure," the release states. AGERPRES (RO — author: Nicoleta Gherasi, editor: Mariana Nica; EN — author: Simona Klodnischi, editor: Adina Panaitescu)

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