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We are concerned about PM Ponta’s real commitment to guarantee the freedom of speech

The recent public statements by senior Romanian officials and the Prime-minister himself are sources of concern as to the commitment of the current government to protect the freedom of speech, pluralism and to allow critical views to be aired.

On August 18th, Prime-minister Victor Ponta seriously downplayed his spokesman’s disgraceful comments regarding an “anti-governmental” journalist. In order to justify the ban of Biro Attila –a reputed journalist with - from his FB account, the PM’s spokesman Mirel Palada accused ‘’undercover morons’’ of “planking down anti-governmental words” on his FB wall.

“And this is how we roast some more anti-government piglets on the spit, and we block them and down a beer in the memory of the souls of those has-beens who are no more. (…) What a pleasure to execute him electrically! How adroit am I to kill by blocking the objective, therefore anti-government journalists. Hey, puffy ones, you don’t even know what pleasure you give me,” he continued. Mr. Ponta did not take any action against his spokesman, only stating his disagreement with the manner Mirel Palada expressed himself and asking him to decide to follow due standards if he wants to continue to work for the government.

*Finally, at the request of the Romanian Press Club, Mirel Palada apologized on his FB account "all those offended."

Moreover, PM Victor Ponta also downplayed the assault on three journalists during the protest staged on August 10th 2014 by pro-governmental Antena 3 TV station’s supporters against the final ruling of the High Court for Cassation and Justice on a corruption and money laundering case which involved the owner of Antena 3, Dan Voiculescu.

Two female journalists - Ioana Moldoveanu (Vice Romania) and Mădălina Dicu (B1 TV) – were assaulted and abused then, while Cristian Dorombach - blogger and journalist with Realitatea TV who tried to defend his female colleague from B1 TV – was also aggressed in this intensively-promoted protest of Antena 3’s anchors. Victor Ponta has expressed his regret for not being able to take part at that “walk” for “press freedom and against abuses”.

On the other hand, the National Broadcast Media Council (CNA) has been incapacitated for the last few months, and its president, Laura Georgescu, has been pitted against allegations of favoring pro-governmental TV stations, while repressing critical views. On February 6th, 2014, CNA -the Romanian broadcasting media regulator- disproportionately fined B1 TV station with the record fine of 70,000 RON ($23,000, 15,000 EURO) for the opinions expressed by journalist Robert Turcescu, who called the amendment of the Criminal Code in the infamous “Black Tuesday” a "strong blow applied to the rule of law" and said that "the lawmakers practically mounted a coup, [and] have amputated the Penal Code putting themselves above the law." Mrs. Georgescu was proposed as member of the CNA by Prime-minister Victor Ponta.

In our view, all these instances required a strong reaction of Mr. Ponta in defending the freedom of speech.

However, in each of these incidents, the Romanian Prime-minister practically chose to stand by those responsible with freedom of speech infringements.

Freedom House Romania
August 19th, 2014