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It's the public, servant! “Heavy words... in the press' mouth”

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On November 9, the National Audiovisual Council of Romania legally entered “the press' mouth” - in the Constitution Square, for 2 full hours. “The Anti-abuse protest” was organized as a result of repeated fines imparted by the media authority on allegedly unjustified bases.

Its authors, Mircea Badea and Victor Ciutacu, are currently active in the Romanian public debate as creators of the TV shows “In the press' mouth” and “Heavy Words”. The two journalists received spontaneous support from hundreds of Romanian citizens (ranging between 300 and 2000 – depending on the choice of source to be quoted). The protestors mobilized around “heavy words”, some of which made the slogans of the 1989 Romanian Revolution: e.g. “Freedom!” and “Down with censorship!”

The cherry on the protest-generating-cake was yet another fine through which the Romanian private TV Channel Antena 3 was sanctioned by the NCA on September 14th. The grounds: Mircea Badea and Victor Ciutacu having publicly offended a mayor from the party in power, and the Minister of Development and Toursim Elena Udrea. Insofar, Antena 3 received several fines, and consequently sued the NCA for those which they considered abusive. Moreover, Antena 3 won in Court the case in which the NCA abusively charged the channel a fine for Mircea Badea's already mentioned pamphlet. Nevertheless, the NCA eventually failed to return the abusively charged money. Protesters implied the NCA is a political organ, which serves the party in power, through slogans like “We are not afraid!”, “Băsescu's slaves!”, “This is our country, not your fiefdom!” or “Shame!”

Holding the power monopoly in regulating audio-visual programmes, the National Audiovisual Council of Romania defines itself as “guardian of the public interest”. Its mission is “to secure a climate based on freedom of expression and responsibility towards the public in the audiovisual domain”. This means that NCA issues decisions, recommendations and instructions on behalf of the Audiovisual Law, which transposes the Audiovisual media services directive. So far, so EU. Then why did “The Anti-abuse” protest gather any supporters at all, be they 300 or 2000; who left their workplaces between 2 and 4 p.m. (there is no siesta included in the Romanian workday) and yelled slogans that transported one back in time to the Freedom (of expression) Dark Ages - as if the exit ticket hadn't been already paid for by the Romanian people, officially, through a bloody Revolution?

The two journalists paid buses of people to attend -claims that media faction who perceives no threat to the freedom of expression- so they are pensioneers sent by the political opposition (namely the Social Democrats). Alternatively, the people are said to have shown up by personal choice and out of solidarity with the two journalists in their “protest towards the masked dictatorship.” Victor Socaciu -an oldie but goldie Romanian folk artist, currently a Social Democrat Deputy- places solidarity at the basis of his decision. “Because what happens to them is absolutely unjust and because some fundamental rights are being infringed upon under the rule of law. The NCA is just one of the instruments of this power who doesn't need an opposition.” Intellectuals, business persons, pensioneers and journalists -some from rival media trusts- left the square clean and in time.

It is beyond the purposes of this short brief to engage in value judgements on the described situation, endeavour which would require a far more comprehensive analysis. However, the fact remains that The National Audiovisual Council of Romania failed to dignify the protest and proceeded to fining Antena 3 one more time, as demonstrators were unfolding. Not only did no representative address the crowd, but the windows remained closed throughout the whole duration of the authorized event. Only later did an NCA member comment on it by using injurious language to characterize Mircea Badea and his public. Neither the slogan “you live on our money”, nor the windows open by other institutions functioning in the same building (e.g. Romanian Information Service) raised any question marks for the NCA members about the resposiveness and resposibility of the public servant. Rather, they conveyed the well learnt pre '89 message: It's the public, Servant!

by Geanina Gabriela Ţurcanu