Reporters Without Borders appealed today to Romanian President Ion Iliescu and prime minister Adrian Nastase to stop attacks on the national and foreign media orchestrated by the authorities, who accuse them of giving the country a bad image and waging an "news war" against Romania.
"This fierce anti-media campaign is tarnishing Romania's image much more than the stories themselves," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in letters to the two leaders. "The defence ministry's wish to monitor the media's behaviour can only strengthen observers' doubts about the country's ability to draw closer to Euro-Atlantic organisations. "We remind you that respect for press freedom and basic rights is one of the conditions for membership of these bodies. We ask you to make every effort to ensure that journalists can freely exercise their right to inform the public," he said.
The daily newspaper Jurnalul National, reproduced a document on 28 May bearing the letterhead of the Supreme Defence Council (CSAT), entitled "Plan to Counter Attacks Against Romania" and accusing the media of "harming the country's reputation" and paying "too much attention to corruption scandals, rackets concerning people-smuggling and international child adoptions."
The extracts quoted by the paper said "the government must find the hostile Internet websites networks and take action against them with effective technology." The document proposed setting up a nationwide system to combat harmful images of the country which would involve CSAT and all government ministries and agencies (including the intelligence services), as well as establishing a "national centre to monitor media behaviour" run by the president's national security adviser, Ioan Talpes, formerly head of Romania's foreign intelligence service.
President Iliescu, who heads CSAT, at first denied there was such a plan but later admitted the authorities were preparing to discuss one. Information minister Vasile Dincu said he had "helped draft the plan" but then withdrew his remark.
Threats and pressure by the authorities against Romanian and foreign media have increased in recent weeks. After an article in the French daily Le Monde on 22 May by its Bucharest correspondent, Mirel Bran, headed "Is Romania ready to join NATO?", the government secretary-general, Serban Mihailescu, threatened to prosecute Bran and charged in the press that he was in the pay of Romania's enemies.
The article, which mentioned Mihailescu's nickname, "Mickey Baksheesh," questioned whether the country could meet the criteria for NATO membership in view of the tradition of corruption and the continuing power of the secret police from communist days, the former Securitate. It also mentioned threats against journalists by defence minister Ion Mircea Pascu. He had warned newspapers that reprinted a 30 April article by the US newspaper The Wall Street Journal suggesting NATO distrusted the Romanian secret police, that "life is too short to waste on tiresome discussions."
Foreign minister Mircea Geoana protested in writing on 15 May to the French TV station TV5 for broadcasting a programme on 6 and 7 April called "24 Hours in Bucharest," in which homeless young people were seen living rough at Bucharest railway station and children were shown rummaging through a dustbin in the southwestern town of Petrosani. The minister criticised what he called the "dubious choice" of some topics and deplored the fact that the programme "did not manage to show Romania's cultural richness" and that its producer refused to interview prime minister Nastase.
A law curbing press freedom presented by defence minister Pascu was recently passed by the chamber of deputies and is due to be considered by the senate. The so-called "right of reply" law would oblige media to publish a "reply" within three days of publication of material on pain of a fine between three and 100 million lei (_3,180).