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News 11 Feb 16

Law Against Defamation Splits Romanian Media

Some journalists oppose a proposed sweeping new anti-defamation law, aimed at combatting discrimination, on the grounds that its real target is freedom of expression.

Marian Chiriac
Romanian Parliament is to vote over anti-defamation law | Photo: Senat.ro

Romanian journalists are protesting against a draft law on defamation, which was initiated by the leftist Social Democratic Party, PSD, calling it a device to shield politicians from criticism.

"This law aims to protect the politicians from being criticised for their actions,” TV producer Radu Banciu claims.

"In the name of defending tolerance of group differences, they just want to control not only the mass media but also Facebook and other social media,” he added.

According to the draft law, social defamation represents an act or the statement through which a person is put in a position of inferiority because he or she belongs to a group of people “who can be socially distinguished through one or more features related to gender, age, race, religion, ethnic origin, native language, cultural traditions, sexual orientation, social origin, disability, non-contagious disease, or HIV/AIDS infection”.

The Social Democrats say the law aims only to promote human dignity and tolerance of group differences.

The proposal stipulates that public radio and television should include programs that promote tolerance, while teachers should take classes on the subject, and schools should adopt an “annual plan for the implementation of actions to combat discrimination”.

Any company with more than 50 employees will have to include in its regulations a set of rules on human rights, fighting discrimination and on promoting human dignity and tolerance of differences.

But some journalists are not impressed, seeing other motives at work. "We risk paying a fine for saying that PSD members are corrupt, even if we have clear evidence of it,” a blog post by journalist Simona Tache, which has been widely redistributed on Facebook, warns.

"Far from promoting more transparency in the administration, the Social Democrats are interested in keeping the media silent,” she adds.

Other journalists are more approving in their approach to the law, however, and say the complaints are paranoid.

"In fact, the law does not forbid being critical about a politician, for example, it only amends a situation in which someone is put in a position of inferiority due of his or her gender, ethnic origin or disability,” journalist Dan Panaet from the Catavencii weekly says. 

"Anyway,  I am not sure if the best way of fighting intolerance and discrimination is a new law,” he adds.

The draft law includes the establishment of a special department within the existing National Council for Combating Discrimination, CNCD, that would monitor how this law is respected.

Social defamation could be punished by fines ranging from 1,000 to 30,000 lei (225 - 6,750 euro), if it targets an individual. The fines for denigrating social groups would go up to 100,000 lei (some 22,500 euro).

Parliament was supposed to vote on the law on Wednesday but it has now postponed for next week.

It is likely to be approved, as the Social Democrats and three other partner parties that support the law have a majority of the seats in Romania's parliament.

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