Romanian government goes into battle against the media – Transcript
Sursa: France 24
Report by France 24 – Mirel Bran, Jonas Mercier, Mihaela Carbunaru, Kate Williams
Welcome back to the newsroom! Does free press pose a threat to national security? Well Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu, is facing criticism after he was seen to make that connection.
Together with other Romanian officials he recently signed off on a new Romanian Defence Strategy and it includes the suggestion that anti-government press campaigns could come to destabilize Romania. On the back of that critics are now accusing Băsescu of trying to crack-down on democracy.
Let’s take a look on this report and then we will be back to discuss the issue in just a moment.
When the authorities in Romania read the paper they want to see good news. That seems to be the reasoning behind President Traian Băsescu’s new National Security Strategy. Journalists who criticize public institutions are seen as a threat to National Security.
Valeriu Turcan (Purtător de cuvânt al Preşedinţiei)
Is just State Institutions sending out a message. Sometimes journalist’s criticism can weaken a democracy so this is a justified response.
Unsurprisingly the media is up in arms over the new measure.
Claudiu Pandaru (Redactor-şef cotidianul „Gândul”)
The President’s spoke person can say what he wants but calling the media a threat to National Security makes no sense.
Romanian journalists are known for saying what they think. With public discontent mounting over the state of the economy the press has openly denounced the Government’s handling of the crisis. Austerity plans include a 25% cut in civil servants benefits. In a country where the average salary is just only 300 Euros a month the measure has not gone down well.
Bogdan Hossu (Preşedintele Confederatiei Nationale Sindicale “Cartel ALFA”)
The Government is asking us to make even more sacrifices. We are saying no and we are standing firm on that issue. No to the Government!
A series of corruption scandals have also sent the Government’s popularity plummeting
Cristian Pârvulescu (Decan al SNSPA)
Less then 20% of the population supports this Government. If the society is critical of the Government is no surprise the press is to.
But instead of fighting corruption Romanian President has chosen a more vulnerable enemy and for many the infringement on free expression is reviving memories of censorship during communist rule.
Alright joining us now for more is Adina Crisan-Revol. She is a researcher at the Center for European Studies at the Politics University Sciences Po here in Paris. Also with us on the line from the Romanian Capital we have our correspondent Sanda Nicola. And we start with you Sanda. Tell us more about how Romanians have reacted to this move by the President.
Sanda Nicola (Corespondent France 24)
Good morning! Three weeks ago, a few days after the Government survived an unconfidence vote initiated by the socialist-liberal opposition triggered uprose among the Romanian media which targeted their indignation at President Traian Băsescu. Is he who chairs the Country’s Supreme Defence Council which includes the Prime-minister, the Interior Minister and the heads of various Intelligence Services. How the Romanian media, the majority which have embarqued on a long campaign against the Government, the new Security Doctrine brings back memories of Ceaşescu, when the press was subordinated by the regime, and when any act of criticism was perceived as an attack against the foundation of the state.
While relations between the Romanian press and the Conservative Coalition Government in Bucharest have been deteriorated in recent months and as you already saw the media has been very critical against the Government’s announced austerity measures. Of which the 25% reduction of salaries in the public sector combined with a failed attempt to reduce pensions by 15%. This later was deemed unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court and the measure was promptly followed by the decision to raise VAT to 24% on the eve of the summer holidays.
Well, the inclusion of the media among the country’s week points seems to divide even the Government. Asked in a press conference whether he thinks that media is a danger to the state, the Interior Minister, Vasile Blaga, a member of the Council himself, advised the journalists to direct the question to the Presidency. And is already known that since his re-election in December 2009, Traian Băsescu, who has paid overwhelming press opposition during the campaign seems to have initiated a total divorce between the President Institution and the media. He systematically refuses to give interviews and has ended the practice of taking groups of journalists with him when he travels abroad.
Alright, let’s turn then to Adina Crisan here in the studio. How is the Romanian press behaving towards the Government? I mean is there a basis here for the Government to basically say that the press is a destabilizing factor or could at least be a destabilizing factor?
Adina Crisan-Revol (Cercetator, Centre for European Studies Sciences PO Paris)
The press has been seen in the National Defence Strategy as a vulnerability which means an internal factor of risk which can be very difficult to manage with in the society.
In your view is that correct?
But the question is not if the press is good or bad, the question is here about the freedom of speech. And in the same Strategy of Defence, in the first page of the Strategy of Defence the President Băsescu says that Romania has won the freedom of speech very hard in the Revolution of 89’ and Romania is a democracy that protects the freedom of speech.
So in this Strategy there is a huge contradiction between what is said on one hand and what is said on the other hand. Because if you look at this strategy more closely the press is seen as a vulnerability but also as something that someone should work with in order to create Romania’s defence in the future.
Why then do you think that the President and his allies have introduced this move in the National Defence Strategy?
First this move is not so much his allies move but the President. Because the Minister of Culture who is a member of the Government and a member of a Party other than that of Băsescu’s Party, he criticized this move.
What are the main reasons behind this move? The reasons may be the fact that the press has been very critical about the Government’s management of the crisis and we all know that Romania had had difficult times in order to cope with the crisis and the austerity measures are very, very difficult. And this could also be a measure in order to make Romanians forget about the difficult times there are coping with.
Just briefly, some critics now are saying that Romania is on a slippery slope back to dictatorship. Would you agree with that image?
To my part is a bit more complicated then that because this National Defence Strategy… What is this National Defence Strategy? It is a Constitutional obligation of the President, in fact he has to present a National Defence Strategy six months after his election. So this was in December so now he had to present this Strategy. But this Strategy now has to be adopted by the Parliament and here we have the opportunity to see if we have a real democratic Parliament and if Romania is a real democracy. And in the context of Romania being both a member of NATO and the European Union, that should work, I suppose.
Alrigth, Adina Crisan-Rivol thank you very much for speaking to us here at France 24! Thanks also to Sanda Nicola for being with us from Bucharest. And with that we wrap our edition of Focus.