Last week the Romanian parliament voted to remove broadcasting fees in a move that could put the country’s public service media in danger.

On 25 October, the Romanian parliament voted to eliminate public broadcasting fees. The proposal was made by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) ahead of the general elections, in a move to eliminate more than 100 taxes.

While cutting taxes might sound good in principle, the reality might be way different.

According to the proposal, in fact, the funding would now come directly from the state budget in a move that would make public media less “public” and subject to a much greater political control. The Parliament already has the power to appoint board members and general managers, but this move may give it even more power when it comes to editorial policies.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) expressed its concerns over the last few weeks.

“The EBU believes removing stable funding from TVR and Radio Romania would seriously endanger public service media (PSM) in the country and expose it to political pressure”

As the EBU notes, broadcasting fees paid by citizens are the most used source of funding for PSM across Europe and they are also the most stable source of funding and a key way for public media to connect with and become more accountable to the audience. Plus, the license fee for public television in Romania currently represents 67.56% of its revenue and it also one of the lowest in Europe, with just 4 RON a month (0.8 EUR).

“It is a populist and irresponsible measure, risking to turn the public media services into governmental services or, better said, propaganda services,” said Razvan Martin, who works for the ActiveWatch organization.

The proposal was approved without any public debate or any information on how the state funding would be secured, especially in times of austerity. Romanian public television has been in financial difficulties for a while, with a debt amounting to around €151 million. Assessing how to secure funding would thus be a crucial step.

“Eliminating the broadcast fee – without any impact analysis, without identifying appropriate budgetary sources and without measuring the impact on the state budget – is a proof of political amateurism and rudimentary populism,” said the director of the Center for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadani.

The proposal was also presented as a way to improve transparency and control over public media expenses, in spite of the fact that there is currently nothing in its administration that impedes such clarity and transparency.

More than 20 NGOs in the country echoed the complaints and expressed their concerns over the approved proposal.

“We believe that direct funding from the state budget will be the last episode in the complete politicization of the public media, already strongly controlled by the manner of appointment and – especially – dismiss of the board,” they wrote.

The law will still have to be signed by the president Klaus Werner Iohannis who, according to the Constitution, has 20 days to decide whether to confirm or reject the measure.

“How can someone imagine that this issue, which has not been solved for years, could be solved in a week,” Iohannis said about the removal of the broadcasting fees. “Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, but without a debate, without an assessment, and without a long-term plan, once cannot solve things,” he added.

The EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre already wrote him a letter asking to reconsider the measure that  “will remove all semblance of an effective PSM that can contribute effectively to a cohesive and democratic society. In this way, political interference in TVR affairs can be expected to reach a level almost unprecedented across the entire EBU membership.”

Iohannis will meet with public media representatives to discuss the issues in the upcoming weeks prior to his final decision.

Header image: The Palace of the Parliament (Palatul Parlamentului) in Bucharest