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19.12.2016

RO: President challenges the cut of the radio- and TV fee

Eugen Cojocariu

On 15 November 2016, the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis filed a motion with the Constitutional Court in Romania to declare unconstitutional the Law adopted on 25 October 2016 by the Romanian Chamber of Deputies (Lower chamber of the Parliament). The Law slashes 102 non-fiscal taxes and duties, among them the public radio and TV fees and the Environment Fee. The draft law, introduced by Social Democrats, had been adopted by the Romanian Senate (upper chamber) on 17 October 2016.

The head of state claimed that the law violates the separation of powers and other legal principles governing the relationship between Parliament and the Government, the role of the Government, and the national budget. In a debate on the impact of the elimination of the public radio and TV fees, the President Iohannis emphasized that the fees paid by citizens for public radio and television are a guarantee of public broadcasting service. The fee paid by citizens guarantees the editorial independence of the public media, added the President. Klaus Iohannis criticized the way in which the bill was rushed through (it was adopted by both Chambers in only two weeks after it was initiated), the fact that the law has a serious budget impact and that there was no public debate regarding this issue. On the other hand, stated the President, the draft law didn’t get governmental approval and had no funding sources specified. He specified that he received requests to block the law from international bodies.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Association for International Broadcasting (AIB), among others, issued letters of support for maintaining the licence fee funding for the Romanian public audiovisual broadcasters. Many journalists professional associations, as well as trade unions and NGOs of Romania issued similar letters. The Council of Europe also issued a media freedom level 2 alert on 26 October 2016.

The sponsor of the law, the head of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, said that the funding of the two institutions would not be affected, and that their management has to be depoliticized, ensuring editorial independence. The PSD said the President’s move is politically motivated. The National Liberal Party has agreed with the elimination of the non-fiscal taxes and duties but supports the idea of keeping the Environment Fee and the Radio-TV fee, even if the Liberals have voted in the Chamber of Deputies in favor of the draft law.

In 2015, the licence fee paid by the Romanian households and the firms represented 49.30% of the total revenues of Radio Romania and, respectively, 66.75% of the total incomes of the Romania Television.

Eugen Cojocariu, Radio Romania International

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