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News 09 May 13

Libel Ruling Leaves Romanian Media Confused

A court decision preventing the planned decriminalization of slander in Romania has caused confusion in the media.

Marian Chiriac

Romanian journalists say a Constitutional Court ruling on April 29 has caused much confusion in their ranks about the legal status of libel.

The court ruled that an earlier decision of the Supreme Court - that defamation and libel should no longer be considered criminal offences - was itself unconstitutional.

"The decision will allow the courts to interpret the law differently... and will influence the work of many investigative journalists who will be worried about tackling sensitive issues in case they are accused of a crime,” journalist Liviu Avram said. 

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, appears to agrees.

In a May 7 press release, Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said the new court ruling undermined earlier efforts to decriminalize speech offences in Romania.

”The authorities should take the opportunity to decriminalize defamation as part of a current move to amend the constitution,” Mijatovic said.

“By decriminalizing speech offences, Romania would cement its position in the progressive group of countries that recognize the importance of journalists and media being able to perform their job without fear of criminal prosecution.”

Some Romanian journalists support the Constitutional Court’s ruling, however, on the grounds that too many journalists are slanderous, often out of laziness.

“The Romanian press should become more responsible," says journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu from the Gandul daily newspaper.

"There were so many cases when journalists replaced facts with personal attacks and when their reports affected the image of some public officials," he added.

"Criminal sanctions should force some journalists to become more professional," he continued.

There is a long and complicated history of Romanian officials trying to resolve the legal uncertainty over decriminalization of libel.

In 2006, the parliament approved changes to the criminal code, repealing two articles which incriminated libel and slander.

A year later, the Constitutional Court declared the repeal unconstitutional on the basis that “freedom of expression cannot be understood as an absolute right”.

In 2010, the general prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court  claiming that the two separate interpretations of the law were causing chaos. On 29 April, the court then ruled the former decision unconstitutional.

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