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Romania: MFRR to conduct media freedom mission ahead of…

Romania: MFRR to conduct media freedom mission ahead of super electoral year

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) will conduct a mission to Romania to take the pulse of the current state of press freedom and independent journalism as the country gears up for a super electoral year in 2024.

The mission will consist of two parts: an initial online fact-finding element involving meetings with media, journalists and civil society stakeholders, followed by an in-person visit to Bucharest later in the year to meet with political leaders and state authorities.

The initial element of the mission will take place over the week of 22-25 January and will hear insights from a wide range of stakeholders from across the media sector, including print, online, radio and television media outlets.

It will also meet with media owners, representatives from media regulatory bodies and intends to meet with the public broadcaster, as well as representatives from investigative reporting platforms and minority-language media.

The findings and conclusions from this first stage will be used to produce a report setting out the main challenges facing the media and journalists in Romania, and to prepare recommendations that can be discussed during the follow-up visit, which will be more focused on advocacy and meeting political power holders.

Key themes will include the safety of journalists, smear campaigns and vexatious lawsuits against media outlets and media professionals. Other systemic issues to be scrutinised include forms of media capture including, political pressure on media via advertising, pressures on editorial independence by media ownership interests, and the influence of the country’s powerful gambling industry on independent reporting.

The MFRR mission will be held at the start of the super electoral year in Romania, which is likely to see increasing pressures on free and independent journalism as news consumption increases amidst increased democratic debate and political messaging. The country will have four elections, including the presidential election.

The mission will be jointly organised by the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBC Transeuropa). It will be joined by ARTICLE 19 Europe, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU).

The mission is conducted as part of the MFRR’s advocacy work, which includes tracking, monitoring and reacting to violations of press and media freedom in EU member states and candidate countries, as well as conducting fact-finding missions to countries across the bloc and reporting findings to international institutions.

This mission is coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Romania: IPI stands by Libertatea as layoffs deepen concerns…

Romania: IPI stands by Libertatea as layoffs deepen concerns over pressure on editorial independence

The International Press Institute (IPI) today outlines its support for staff at the Romanian daily newspaper Libertatea and expresses growing concern over alleged pressures on its independent journalism after the recent firing of three members of its editorial management team.

IPI is proud to count Libertatea, one of the highest quality media outlets and sources of independent news in Romania, as a member of our Central European Independent Media Network, which brings together leading independent news outlets in the region.

On 6 December 2023, the newspaper’s Swiss owner Ringier announced that editorial director Cătălin Tolontan, deputy editor-in-chief Iulia Roșu, and editor of the print edition, Camelia Stan, would all lose their jobs, and that 20% of journalists would also be laid off. The decision was branded as a dark day for press freedom in Romania.

The move was justified by Ringier Romania as restructuring required to place more focus on digital revenue in an era of declining print sales. It follows the abrupt closure in early November of the print edition of Libertatea’s sister newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor (GSP), which is also owned by Ringier.

However, the dismissals came amidst ongoing accusations by staff at both Libertatea and GSP about what they claim is interference in the editorial independence in both titles by figures within Ringier’s management. The accusations – denied by Ringier – stem from an alleged attempt by representatives from the company to preview articles about gambling firms that are advertising clients.

Although print sales were cited as the main reason for the restructuring at Libertatea, IPI notes that Cătălin Tolontan did not have duties that exclusively concerned the printed edition, while Iulia Roșu worked exclusively on the digital edition. Both had been among a group of editors from the two newspapers who had brought complaints to Ringier about unjustified meddling by Ringier management linked to the gambling industry. Both had also questioned the reported suggestion by a representative of Ringier Sports Management Group – who has well-established connections with the gambling industry, including being the founder of the national gambling association in neighbouring Bulgaria – for weaker separation between editorial and advertising teams. Of the six editors who in August 2023 requested a meeting with Ringier management to discuss the requests to preview articles, four have since lost their jobs and another, Libertatea’s editor-in-chief, has resigned.

After the initial dismissal of GSP’s then editor-in-chief in October, IPI wrote to Ringier to outline our concerns. In this correspondence, the company strongly and repeatedly rejected accusations made by staff of editorial interference. IPI has now sent a second letter to Ringier to seek additional clarifications on the disputed facts in this case and to underline our concerns.

Following the latest developments, IPI outlines our support for the continuation of high quality and independent journalism at Libertatea, and the important investigative journalism on the betting industry conducted in recent years by GSP. This kind of public interest and watchdog journalism is sorely needed in Romania, which faces a super-electoral year in 2024.

Any and all efforts by external actors or management to meddle in the newspaper’s editorial independence, particularly regarding its reporting on the gambling industry and those affiliated with it, must be met with strong opposition. While financial sustainability is important and always required for a media company to retain its editorial independence, any suggestion from management of weakening the firewall between the advertising teams and editorial newsroom to achieve it must always be challenged.

In early 2024, IPI and other media freedom groups intend to conduct a fact-finding mission about the climate for media freedom and independent journalism in Romania. Among other themes, the mission will also scrutinize the increasing corrosive impact the gambling industry is having on the integrity and credibility of both current affairs and sports journalism in Romania, and the main figures associated with the betting industry responsible for the alleged pressures on editorial freedoms.

IPI will continue to monitor the situation closely and has requested to meet with Ringier management to discuss the matter further. IPI stands with all journalists in Romania who are committed to strong, free, and independent journalism.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Romania: Political advertising in media is further corroding independent…

Romania: Political advertising in media is further corroding independent journalism

Press freedom in Romania is under renewed threat as political parties have been distorting journalism with tens of millions of euros of public money flowing into the media.

 

By IPI contributor Tuukka Tuomasjukka

Major political parties and Romanian media outlets have in recent years signed significant contracts for political advertising, though transparency mechanisms are lacking. The content paid by parties is not marked as such, meaning the public can not distinguish bought publicity from legitimate journalistic content.

As Romania heads into a super electoral year in 2024 with four elections taking place, the issue of funding to the media – especially by the country’s largest political parties – is back in the spotlight.

Non-transparent funding of the media by some political parties distorts the public agenda and the tax payers are deceived by non-transparent politically sponsored content that is falsely promoted as journalism, Romanian press freedom NGO ActiveWatch writes in its recent report.

Cristian Andrei, a Romanian journalist specialized in contracts between press and political parties, told IPI that the mechanism is as follows: if a political party wants for example to promote a policy, they will take out a contract with a decoy agency, which then creates advertising contracts with news outlets. The content produced within the contract is not marked.

The contracts are paid with party subsidies that come from public money. Still, the content of these contracts are kept secret, as well as the media outlets that publish this content.

Citizens are basically being lied to with their own money, which, we must admit, is quite a feat, journalist Codruța Simina says in an interview for ActiveWatch.

According to journalists and civil society groups, these often lucrative advertising contracts have led to a drop in critical journalism as media soften or adapt their reporting to favour the party funding them. Romanian think tank Expert Forum states that the contracts reduce the independence of the media.

Romanian independent journalists have described the mechanism as a form of clientelistic bribery between politics and media which encourages self-censorship on certain topics or themes.

 

Increase in contracts after 2015

While the use of advertising money as a means of soft censorship of the press in Romania is by no means new, the money flowing into media from bigger political parties has surged in recent years, raising heightened concerns about its impact on editorial independence.

Political parties use public funds to buy the favorability of journalistic media”, says Cristian Andrei in an interview for IPI. “In big contracts of over one million euro annually, news outlets start to either avoid criticism or be less critical. A mechanism of auto-censorship appears. The political party is not demanding this directly, but the outlet changes its attitude as a result of the money it has received.

Politically paid content in Romanian press was made possible by a legislative change in 2015. Crucially, the contracts between political parties and media outlets are secret in Romania, which makes it hard to prove concerns about press freedom. According to public budgets, in 2022, the government coalition parties PSD and PNL spent altogether over 90 million Romanian lei (18.5 million euro) in contracts with media.

Contracts between political parties and news media have been growing significantly in recent years. According to Romanian news media Libertatea, in the first six months of each year, in 2021 the sum reached 24 million lei (4,8 million euro), in 2022 it was 47 million lei (9,5 million euro), and in 2023 it was 58 million lei (11,7 million euro). This has been happening simultaneously while the subsidies for political parties have been growing.

In some months the big Romanian political parties have bigger budgets allocated for press than big corporations, such as Coca Cola, Andrei compares.

The Prime Minister of Romania, Marcel Ciolacu, has justified the political advertising as allowing for parties to gauge the public reaction for different political initiatives. The advertising revenue has also represented a financial boost to many media outlets struggling in a small market.

There is no real debate, no pressure on politicians to change the system, ActiveWatch writes in its report.

However, the threat for democracy is strong especially due to the approaching bumper election year. In 2024, four different elections are due to be held in Romania: local elections, parliamentary elections, presidential elections and European parliament elections. As parties fight for public opinion, the already sizable influx of non-transparent money into the system will only increase, further complicating the ethical dilemmas of the media.

In the election year 2024, paid information can distort the vote, ActiveWatch writes.

 

International concerns

The millions of euros of politicized content pouring into Romanian media have also become a concern on the European level. In the Media Pluralism Monitor’s report in 2022, Romania was put into the highest risk group with Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovenia.

The Council of Europe and European Commission have both noted in recent reports that Romanian media does not provide enough information about the content paid by political parties and that these contracts have a detrimental effect on press freedom.

The Romanian public lacks trust in the system as well. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has recently reported that only one fifth of the country’s population thinks that the Romanian press is free from political influence. Only one third of the population trusts the news.

 

100,000 euros for an interview

Only a few of the numerous contracts between political parties and media companies in Romania have become public due to investigative journalism.

Online media Recorder published in autumn 2022 an investigation according to which political parties agreed contracts with some of the biggest television channels in Romania – Antena 3 and Digi24 – as well as online publication Hotnews and Newsweek-magazine.

Due to a lack of transparency, the exact number of media outlets benefiting from the advertising campaigns is not fully known. According to ActiveWatch, most of the time the money is channeled to websites of TV channels, as buying editorial content directly from the television channel outside the electoral period is prohibited by the broadcasting law.

The money goes through the websites of television channels, so that this money ends up feeding those that actually interest us: television channels, explained an anonymous member from PSD’s lead for Libertatea.

Recorder also had access to documents showing how PNL paid 1 000 euros per piece for 120 positive news articles about its activity. The paid articles were not marked as advertorials.

Companies have also been paid to distribute content that would most likely have been reported in any case, as they are in public interest. These include filming speeches in political meetings, being paid 5 000 euros per speech (65 000 euros altogether), broadcasting a press conference for 69 000 euros and conducting an interview with a presidential candidate costing 3,000 euros per minute, with a final cost of 100,000 euros. Two of the latter were marked ambiguously as “electoral debate” in TV due to the external funding.

“Many people watch such broadcasts and have no idea that the party paid for the airtime, and the moderator is not in the position of a journalist free of any constraint, but in the position of a host who has to put the client who paid for the broadcast in a favorable light”, Recorder explains in its story.

 

Distorting the media landscape

Journalist Dan Tăpălagă from the independent publication G4Media blames Romanian media for the situation. According to him the Romanian news media is distorted, non-functioning and its situation is critical.

“Romanian media accepted to play the political game. The watchdog of democracy is happy to receive small treats from the government and no longer barks at the government. It is wagging its tail happily, hoping that it will receive more easy money from the state. This easy money is distorting the media landscape”, he told IPI in an interview.

Tăpălagă says that only a part of Romanian media – some small online publications – covers topics that are unfavourable for the government. “Journalists here in Romania are not doing active propaganda on how good the political parties and government are. They play smarter: they avoid topics that are embarrassing for the government”, he added.

In September 2022, G4Media initiated a statement with two NGO’s in which they wanted to raise the alarm about the “unprecedented degradation of Romanian media landscape”. According to the statement, Romania risks facing the same situation where Hungary is and to lose European funds, if it won’t take measures to diminish political control over the free press.

We have a media that is completely quiet. Too quiet for this country, Tăpălagă says. He considers that the situation of Romanian media got worse with significant media subsidies, worth 40 million euros, that were given out during the corona pandemic in May 2020. These public funds are not unconditional money, Tăpălagă added.

 

Only hope for recovery comes from Brussels

The Romanian media market is suffering from Stockholm syndrome, says vice president Ionuț Codreanu from the Romanian press freedom NGO ActiveWatch “Mainstream media is too accustomed and familiar with political parties. The vast majority of media outlets don’t want to disturb political governance”, he says.

This also misleads the public, as they don’t get the actual news in their preferred media.

If people don’t hear something on the TV, they don’t believe it, journalist Ovidiu Vanghele describes the situation to ActiveWatch.

Codreanu underlines that solid independent media still exists in Romania, but it suffers from financial instability and brain drain.

According to ActiveWatch, there are also reasonable suspicions that political parties make contracts with media outlets to launch smear campaigns against their opponents.

ActiveWatch underlines media companies own responsibility for the current situation. “These commercial relations would not be possible without the active participation of media outlets that mislead their own audiences”, it writes in its report.

ActiveWatch considers that the mechanisms between press and political parties seem impossible to eradicate, and that the opacity of government parties is increasing in direct proportion to the sums these parties are investing in media. In its report, the NGO puts hope in forthcoming regulation on political advertising that the EU is working on, which should lead to more transparency in public communication. The European Parliament and European Council are currently negotiating the regulation.

The only hope for a slow recovery of these mechanisms also comes from Brussels, ActiveWatch wrote in its recent newsletter.

In the proposal for regulation, political advertisements need to be adequately labeled to distinguish them from editorial content. They will also be accompanied by a transparency notice, which will state for example the identity of the sponsor and the amounts spent.

The European Parliament has also been working on the draft Media Freedom Act (EMFA). Still, Codreanu considers the Romanian government to be superficial when transposing the European framework into national legislation.

I don’t believe our legislator is very serious when it comes to adapting new European principles, he says.

In its report, ActiveWatch says it has not identified any other country where political parties finance private media similarly to the current Romanian model.

How should the situation be solved? Journalist Cristian Andrei thinks that political parties should disclose the amounts they are paying, names of the publications and types of content and services they paid for on a monthly basis. In addition to this, all paid content should be marked.

However, Romanian politicians have opposed these ideas. The leader of the PSD group in the Chamber of Deputies, Alfred Simonis, told Europa Liberă that he “supports transparency in the spending of public funds, but that transparency should not lead to a situation where political competitors find out a party’s communication strategy and therefore the marking of articles paid for by the party should only be done 30 days after publication.”

The path forward remains unsure, but the situation is serious. Romanian civil society and journalists have hoped for reactive measures from an European level in 2023, before the electoral year starts. So far the international community has been quiet.

This article was commissioned by IPI as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Emilia Șercan Library

Media freedom groups dismayed at the abrupt closure of…

Media freedom groups dismayed at the abrupt closure of investigation into smear campaign against Romanian journalist

Journalists and media freedom groups today expressed dismay at the decision of Romania’s Prosecutor Office at the Bucharest Court of Appeal to close the investigation into the smear campaign against journalist Emilia Șercan. To do so the Prosecutor made the extraordinary ruling that ‘the offences’, including the publication of stolen private photos and the presumed disclosure of evidence held by the police, ‘were not provided for by the criminal law’.

This decision comes twenty months after Șercan first filed a complaint to the police about stolen personal photos posted on adult sites in February 2022. Within hours of filing the complaint, evidence provided by Șercan to the police was then posted on a Moldovan media web-site strongly suggesting that someone within the police had leaked the information.  

On 26 October, in anticipation of the probable closure of the investigation, media freedom groups appealed to the Prosecutor General, Alex Florin Florența, demanding the investigation be kept open and transferred to a new team supervised by himself. 

The letter noted the litany of failures and clear breaches of procedure in the original investigation, that suggest a deliberate attempt to scupper the investigation and to protect the perpetrators of the crime.

The smear campaign against Emilia Șercan began after she published, in January 2022, revelations that Nicolae Ciucă, President of the Romanian Senate who was at the time Prime Minister, had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation. 

This decision fails both Emilia Șercan and all Romanian journalists who seek to hold political power to account. 

We support Emilia Șercan’s search for justice and back her appeal to overturn this unjust decision. 

Signed by:

  • ActiveWatch
  • Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Emilia Șercan Library

Media freedom groups demand renewed investigation into crimes against…

Media freedom groups demand renewed investigation into crimes against Romanian journalist Emilia Șercan

In an open letter to the Romanian General Prosecutor the MFRR partners have condemned the negligent and error-strewn investigation into the crimes committed against journalist Emilia Șercan.

Prosecutor General of Romania, Mr. Alex Florin Florența

First Deputy Prosecutor General of Romania, Mr. Aurel Sebastian Vălean

 

Dear Prosecutor General, Alex Florin Florența, and first Deputy Prosecutor, Aurel Sebastian Vălean,

We are writing to express our deep alarm about the failure to effectively investigate and prosecute the criminal acts against journalist Emilia Șercan and the news that the ‘resolution’ of the case is imminent.

According to our information the investigation has been riddled with negligence, delays, obfuscation and evident breaches in procedure and in the rights of the injured party, resulting in a failure to establish the suspected perpetrators. As a consequence, any ‘resolution’ of the case is likely to mean its closure.

Should the case be closed without a prosecution, the conclusions to be drawn must be that the failure was a result either of incompetence and neglect, or a deliberate effort to cover up a crime that evidence suggests may have involved a senior police figure.

Regardless, Emilia Șercan, a respected and dedicated journalist, will have been denied justice by your offices.

Such negligence is even more unacceptable given that the crimes were most likely committed as part of a politically orchestrated smear campaign after Șercan had revealed over several years that leading members of the government, judiciary, security services and the military had plagiarized their academic theses.

The crimes against Șercan started straight after she published revelations, on January 18, 2022, that Nicolae Ciucă, President of the Romanian Senate who was at the time Prime Minister, had plagiarized his doctoral dissertation.  The following day Șercan received a message threatening revenge for the exposure that she reported to the police.

One month later, Șercan discovered through a Facebook message that five private photos of her had been published on 31 adult websites.

The following day, February 17, 2022, Șercan filed a complaint for theft (of photos) and violation of privacy (publication of photos) and provided a screenshot of the Facebook message as evidence to the Romanian police.

Forty minutes after she left the police station a Moldovan website published a smear article on Șercan accompanied by the five stolen photos and the screenshot of the FB message provided to the police.

According to Șercan, only the police had received the screen shot, and therefore the Moldovan website can only have obtained it via a police leak.

The smear article was subsequently posted on 78 more Romanian websites. At least one of the five images remains accessible through 68 different websites today.

The subsequent investigations included the following failures:

  • It took 14 months for the investigators to interview the six senior police chiefs alleged to have received copies of the original evidence (including the FB screenshot) and who may therefore have been the source of the leak. The identification of the six police chiefs was done, not by the prosecutor, but by Șercan using Freedom of Information requests.
  • The investigators failed, at first, to interview owners of the websites that posted Șercan’s photos as key witnesses. Following protests from Șercan, the prosecutors finally conducted interviews with three site owners, but they failed to notify and invite Șercan’s lawyer to attend the witness interview. Denying access to the injured party’s lawyer is a clear breach of Romania’s criminal law.
  • Upon appeal the Chief Prosecutor of the Bucharest Court of Appeal refused to repeat the interviews in the presence of Șercan’s lawyers, another breach of the criminal law.
  • Șercan’s Lawyer was denied access to some of the case file documents that were classified as ‘strictly secret’ by the intelligence services, despite being certified to access such documents.
  • The investigators presented evidence that another website, patrianoastra.com, had posted the screenshot of the FB post five hours before Șercan filed her complaint with the police. Such evidence, if true, would help clear the police of leaking the screen shot and photos. However, the investigators then refused a request to involve independent technical experts to examine this new evidence to determine the exact timing of the publication. Refusing the request for an independent examination is another procedural breach and renders this evidence highly unreliable. Moreover, reports by Qurium Foundation and Bitdefender conclude that the site falsified the dates of publication to a day earlier than actually published.
  • Meanwhile the crime against Emilia Șercan remains ongoing. Șercan made four separate requests to prosecutors to remove the photos, all of which went unanswered. It was only after a public appeal by 19 Romanian NGOs in July 2023 that the owner of the website with all five photos removed them, and not as a result of official action. Finally, on October 10, 2023, a full 20 months after the start of the crime and following a fifth request for action, the First Deputy Attorney General informed Șercan that they would start measures to “suppress the dissemination of the disputed photos in cyberspace”.

On October 10, Șercan was also informed by the First Deputy Attorney General that the file would be ‘resolved’ by the end of October. With nobody identified as a potential suspect, Șercan believes this can only mean the prosecutor intends to close the file with no further action.

Such a decision would be personally devastating for Emilia Șercan. It would also send a clear message to all journalists in Romania who attempt to expose crime, corruption or hypocrisy at the heart of government that the Romanian judicial system cannot be relied upon to protect them from criminal acts.

We therefore call upon you to do the following:

  • Take the immediate legal measures with due process, necessary to end the ongoing crime against Șercan by ensuring the stolen photos are no longer accessible online.
  • Fulfill the request made by Emilia Șercan to transfer the case to the General Prosecutor where a new team with the resources, the expertise and competence necessary can conduct the investigation to its conclusion.
  • Launch a separate investigation into the failures of the current investigations, the breaches of procedure and the possibility of a deliberate cover up.

We look forward to reading your response soon,

Signed by:

  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • International Press Institute (IPI) 
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU) 
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT) 
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 
  • ActiveWatch 
  • Center for Independent Journalism

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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Emilia Șercan Library

Romania: In conversation with investigative journalist Emilia Șercan

Romania: In conversation with investigative journalist Emilia Șercan

Investigating academic fraud committed by Romanian public figures. This is Emilia Șercan’s expertise. Freelance investigative journalist and senior lecturer at the University of Bucharest, she has been targeted by a renewed campaign of discreditation after her revelations that the Minister of Interior had plagiarised his PhD thesis. Unlike one year ago, when she was targeted by a jarring kompromat campaign involving the leaking of evidence from the Criminal Investigation Services, this time the smear campaign appears to be politically directed by one of the Romanian ruling parties.

 

Interview conducted by Sielke Kelner, Researcher and Advocacy Officer at OBC Transeuropa.

You have been facing a lot of pressure in the past three months. How are you holding up?

I am very tired because I have experienced a horrible time. I wish I had a couple of  days to catch my breath. I feel it is getting harder and harder to cope with the consequences of the misconduct of the Romanian justice system and politicians.

 

We spoke last November, and back then you had mentioned to me you were working on an investigative piece and a few weeks later, I saw your article on Lucian Bode. Did this new smear campaign start right after the publication of your article?

Yes, it did. This new wave of pressure came after I wrote about the doctoral thesis of the Minister of the Interior, Lucian Bode. The degree of confrontation and hostility I have been facing this time signalled a new peak of aggression characterising the Romanian public space. A multitude of websites, including media outlets which receive public funding, as well as outlets run by former journalists who are now political members of the National Liberal Party, have launched a series of attacks to discredit me, spreading the rumour that I want to run for the Presidency of Romania. They claim that this is the reason why I have committed to writing about the doctoral theses of a number of politicians. They have been trying as well to tie my journalistic approach to a political party, although I have no political affiliation or sympathies. I have publicly expressed that I have not the slightest connection with any political party. Nevertheless, they implied that this is in fact a political attack on Minister Lucian Bode. To be sure, I have been investigating academic fraud for the past eight years. For the past eight years, I have been properly doing my job as a journalist, not because I had any political interest. After having been subjected to a set of intimidations, pressure, death threats and attempts to compromise, now they have devised another way of discrediting my work by saying that I intend to run for president. They profiled me, insinuating I mirror Maia Sandu, the President of the Republic of Moldova. Just like her, they claim, I am a small, fragile woman with a political agenda. Let me stress this point again: I have never had the intention of becoming a politician. I am a journalist and that is what I will always be for the rest of my life.

 

Why do Romanian politicians fear your investigation?

Politicians are scared of the things they’ve done and don’t want the public to know about.  This time, the public efforts to discredit and attack me have to do with  the Minister of Interior’s fear of being labelled a plagiarist. It is also related to the role as Secretary General that Lucian Bode plays within the National Liberal Party. He is the one who leads the National Liberal Party (NLP), despite the fact that the NLP President is Romania’s PM, Nicolae Ciucă, but Ciucă has little political experience and is not suitable in politics. Thus, my revelations about Lucian Bode’s academic fraud constituted a big blow, not only to the Government, showing that the Minister of Interior is a plagiarist, but also to the National Liberal Party [governing party and party of the President of Romania Klaus Iohannis]. Furthermore, my investigation represented a big blow to the Romanian Intelligence Service Academy, given that the rector of this institution coordinated Lucian Bode’s thesis, a plagiarised doctoral thesis. Finally, it constituted a blow to the Babes Bolyai University, which tried to evade academic verification. They tried to make sure that it didn’t come to this result. The attacks directed against me and the attempt to discredit the investigation peaked when eventually Babes Bolyai University admitted that the doctoral thesis was plagiarised.

 

So, we’re talking about political interference.

For this last smear campaign, there is documented evidence of political interference. Two articles were published on two websites – websites with dodgy domains registered outside of Romania, and who share no details about their owners nor their editorial teams. The content published by these websites promotes propaganda for the National Liberal Party. Furthermore, an advertising agency that has stipulated contracts with the National Liberal Party disseminated those articles  on Facebook, popping up as sponsored articles on the social media platform. An investigation conducted by Misreport, a Romanian website dedicated to checking fake news and misinformation, found evidence that an advertising agency had been paid for the distribution of  those articles on Facebook, an agency which has contracts in place with the National Liberal Party, including the last rounds of elections that took place in 2020, both at local and central level.

 

Do you think it is strictly a personal attack or represents a broader threatening message directed at journalism in Romania?

There’s evidence demonstrating that the Liberal National Party has paid for the smear campaigns and the online distribution of articles against me. The current attack is different from the previous ones, because it looks like the result of a very high concentration of forces. This sort of thing happens when there is someone giving specific orders. And such instructions could have originated within a political party. This is also a clear signal directed towards the very small community of independent journalists in Romania, the ones left. I would like to mention that at present in Romania, we experience a complicated situation when it comes to the press, and this is particularly difficult when we talk about Romanian mainstream press. About 80 percent of the press in Romania is funded by political parties, which translates into an extensive political control over the press. Under these conditions, characterised by a press industry which is almost entirely politically funded or controlled, independent voices and independent journalists who criticise politicians in the current governing coalition are extremely vulnerable and can easily come under attack, just as I have. To be sure, investigative departments are rare in Romania. There are a few small websites, teams of journalists who are not subjected to political control, and who must face the inherent difficulties of how to secure funding. Driven by their own passion for the press, for justice, and for truth, they continued to write and produce material on disturbing subjects for the political class.

 

Actually, you write as a freelancer for PressOne

Yes, I write as a freelancer for PressOne. I have a long-standing collaboration with them, and I realise that perhaps if it was not for them, the only way to publish my investigations would have entailed starting a blog. There are very low chances that I would have been published by an outlet in Romania.

 

Does morality have any value in the Romanian public space or not?

It has almost no value. This is the extremely sad conclusion I have come to after eight years of writing about academic misconduct. In Romania, politicians have made a major effort to normalise shame and to normalise plagiarism.

 

Have you been granted solidarity?

There were colleagues who supported me, there were colleagues who were with me during this period. International support really meant a lot to me. I received the support of international organisations, international media organisations which have a comprehensive understanding of the challenges posed to journalists in different countries where freedom of expression and physical integrity of journalists are under threat. The solidarity that I have received both in the country and especially from international media organisations and from some international institutions, European institutions, has mattered a lot. Theoretically, my profile is the most vulnerable, prone to being attacked and harassed. And for a freelance female journalist, it means a lot to know that you are not alone.

 

Do you perceive yourself as a role model for young female journalists?

Yesterday, I started the second academic semester at the University of Bucharest by delivering a class to a cohort of first year journalism students. We introduced ourselves, and one of the students told me that she enrolled because of me, because I was a role model for her. Her revelation made me very happy and excited, obviously. Up until today I was told by colleagues that what I do is extraordinary, but to see that I inspired a young 18-years-old woman to come to college because she saw what I do, well, I find it extraordinary. I realise that this has the power to impact female role models. In the past decades, when students joined our department, they were mostly inspired by showbiz and celebrities. Going to college because you have a role model, a female journalist doing investigative journalism, I think is a big change.

 

You have been nominated for the Jan Kuciak Award. How does it feel to be internationally recognized for the work you do?

First of all, it was a surprise and I feel very excited when I think about it, because you realise that you get international recognition after years of work, which for the most part has gone uncredited by other journalists in Romania. Because often it happened that the stories I covered did not appear in the mainstream press. When I was notified about the nomination, I got emotional, and I called my editor and shared the news with her. The joy, and the surprise, all rolled into one. We cried together on the phone. I would like to take the chance to mention how important Matthew Caruana Galizia’s support was for this nomination. He encouraged me to enter and participate in this award. We met in 2019, at an event organised within the European Parliament. Shortly after, when I received a number of death threats, in a context in which police investigation stalled, I sought his help and he responded. Since then, we have stayed in touch.

This statement was coordinated by OBC Transeuropa as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Emilia Șercan Library

Romania: Renewed call for action after fresh smear campaign…

Romania: Renewed call for action after fresh smear campaign against Emilia Șercan

Today, 17 February 2023, marks one year since journalist Emilia Șercan filed a police complaint about cybercrime and violation of privacy after she discovered five stolen personal pictures taken about twenty years ago had been published on 34 porn websites. The next day, Șercan found that a Moldovan website had published an article containing the five stolen pictures and a Facebook Messenger screenshot she had provided to the Romanian police.

One year and multiple criminal complaints later, investigations have failed to identify either the perpetrator or the source of the alleged leak from within the police force, despite repeated calls for accountability from press freedom organisations and European bodies.

 

Accordingly, our organisations today renew our call on the Romanian authorities to designate the investigation a priority and dedicate sufficient resources to it. We also ask that the prosecutorial services merge the cases to improve efficiency and speed up the investigations and urge the Prosecutor General to receive Emilia Șercan, as she has requested on multiple occasions. We continue to have serious concerns about the implications of the case for media freedom in Romania more broadly, especially given the context. In January 2022, Șercan had revealed that Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă plagiarised his doctoral dissertation, after which she received several threats to her safety.

 

Not only have the Romanian authorities yet to respond meaningfully to concerns about the investigation’s lack of progress, including after local and international experts disproved the police’s claim that the leak must have taken place before the journalist reached the police station, but Șercan now faces another coordinated smear campaign aimed at discrediting her public interest journalism, which appears to have been directed by the governing National Liberal Party (PNL). It follows the publication of two articles, in September and November 2022, in which Șercan revealed that former Minister of Education Sorin Cîmpeanu and Home Affairs Minister Lucian Bode, a member and the general secretary of the PNL respectively, also plagiarised.

 

On 9 January, online outlet Hotnews published information it obtained showing that PNL leadership instructed the party’s politicians to discredit Șercan if they were asked about the issue in media interviews. At the same time, two ghost media websites with opaque ownership, dezvaluiri.net and oradestiri.net, published anonymous articles attempting to discredit Șercan that also appeared as sponsored posts on Facebook. Misreport, a Romanian platform specialised in tackling misinformation, conducted an analysis showing that the promotion was paid for by Green Pixel Interactive, an advertising agency registered as having contracts with PNL in the campaigns for the parliamentary and local elections in 2020. After Misreport called Green Pixel Interactive, the two ghost websites were deactivated, and their Facebook pages were deleted. Green Pixel Interactive did not answer questions about whether it was operating on behalf of PNL or its representatives.

 

This renewed harassment of Șercan is unacceptable and, given the prominent players apparently involved in its coordination, has a chilling effect beyond the case at hand. Accordingly, the undersigned organisations call on the leadership and members of the PNL to immediately condemn the smear campaign and to issue clear instructions not to discredit Șercan any further.

 

Meanwhile, we also call on the EU institutions to continue to follow the case closely and to consider its implications for media freedom and the rule of law in Romania in relevant regional-level processes. Specifically, the European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law report considers intimidation of journalists as a press freedom concern in Romania. Considering no progress appears to have been achieved in the investigations, and in light of the new smear campaign against her, we call on the European Commission to ensure that this is reflected in the forthcoming publication of the 2023 Rule of Law report chapter on Romania, as it is testament to the lack of adequate commitment to press freedom by Romanian public officials.

 

We call on the authorities and politicians to show they respect Romania’s European commitments and obligations to press freedom by effectively prosecuting the harassment of Emilia Șercan and condemning any politically-sponsored smear campaign.

Signed by:

  • ActiveWatch
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Emilia Șercan | Culisele operațiunii „Kompromat” - Interviu cu Emilia Șercan | YouTube/HotNews Romania Library

Concern over delay in investigation into leak of Emilia…

Media freedom groups concerned by delay in investigation into leak of Emilia Șercan’s stolen photos

MFRR consortium joined a collection of media freedom and freedom of expression groups in writing to Nicolae Ciucă, Prime Minister of Romania, Minister of Internal Affairs of Romania, Lucian Bode, General Prosecutor of Romania, Gabriela Scutea, General Prosecutor attached to the Bucharest Court of Appeal, Ioan Viorel Cerbu, Romanian Ombudsman, and Renate Weber, General Inspector of the Romanian Police, Quaestor of police Benone-Marian Matei.

The open letter, which follows up on a previous letter sent by the group on 13 April 2022, expresses concern at delays to the investigation into the publication of Romanian journalist Emilia Șercan’s stolen photos and the alleged leak of key elements of the investigation into this offense.

Open letter, sent electronically

28 June 2022

 

Dear Prime Minister of Romania, Nicolae Ciucă,

Dear Minister of Internal Affairs of Romania, Lucian Bode,

Dear General Prosecutor of Romania, Gabriela Scutea,

Dear General Prosecutor attached to the Bucharest Court of Appeal, Ioan Viorel Cerbu

Dear Romanian Ombudsman, Renate Weber,

Dear General Inspector of the Romanian Police, Quaestor of police Benone-Marian Matei

 

The undersigned organizations write to share their deep concerns about the delay in the investigations into the publication of Romanian journalist Emilia Șercan’s stolen photos and the alleged leak of key elements of the investigation into this offense.

 

The compelling need for independent investigations has been pointed out in an open letter that our organizations sent to the Romanian authorities in April 2022.

 

Although the principle of confidentiality of investigation applies, the law enforcement authorities seem to have failed – according to available information – to make significant progress four months after Emilia Șercan became the target of harassment and a smear campaign through the publication of her private pictures and the alleged leak of key elements of the criminal investigation into the matter amplifying the exposure of her private pictures. .

 

Moreover, neither the response of the Ministry of Interior to the above-mentioned open letter, nor the state reply to the alert published on the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists addressed our organizations’ legitimate concerns about the progress of the investigation into the leak.

 

Hence, our organizations find that the authorities are neither designating the investigation a priority, nor devoting sufficient resources to it.

 

Guaranteeing a swift and independent investigation appears all the more necessary and urgent in the light of the risk of alteration of evidence and of the inaccessibility of the evidence caused by the delay. This could significantly complicate the proper conduct of the investigation.

 

Furthermore, the information newly added to the file indicates possible involvement of the police in the alleged leak from the criminal investigation into the offense, as a screenshot that Emilia Șercan had provided to the police appeared in the media along with her private pictures. It seems that before the leak, solely the police – in addition to the journalist herself – had access to the screenshot.

 

This last hypothesis is supported by a recent independent expert report concluding that any surveillance of the plaintiff’s devices is unlikely.

 

It is all the more crucial to prosecute these offenses given that they specifically target a journalist who has been threatened for her investigations into the practice of plagiarism by heads of the highest state institutions, including military educational institutions.

 

It is of utmost importance that the probe into both the threats that targeted Emilia Șercan and into the alleged leak of her stolen pictures from the criminal investigation be conducted in total independence and reach a successful conclusion as soon as possible.

 

As stated by Vice-President of the European Commission Vera Jourova in her reply to the open letterof Members of the European Parliament on Emilia Șercan’s case, “the Commission calls on Member States to investigate and prosecute all criminal acts committed against journalists, whether online or offline, in an impartial, independent, effective, transparent and timely manner (…) and (to) make full use of existing national and European legislation, to ensure that fundamental rights are protected and justice is swiftly delivered in particular cases and prevent the emergence of a ‘culture ’ of impunity regarding attacks against journalists”.

 

Indeed, the authorities swift and transparent action in Emilia Șercan’s case is in the interest of improving press freedom in Romania, which recently has declined due to an increasing number of threats and resulted in RSF ranking the country 56th in its World Press Freedom Index.

 

Thank you for considering our concerns.

Signed by:

  • ActiveWatch
  • Article 19 Europe
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Transmis electronic

Paris, 28 iunie 2022

 

Subiect: Publicarea pozelor furate ale Emiliei Șercan și presupusa scurgere din ancheta penală

 

Stimate premier al României, Nicolae Ciucă,

Stimate ministru al Afacerilor Interne al României, Lucian Bode,

Stimate procuror general al României, Gabriela Scutea,

Stimate procuror general de pe lângă Curtea de Apel București, Ioan Viorel Cerbu

Stimate Avocat al Poporului, Renate Weber,

Stimate Inspector General al Poliției Române, Chestor de poliție Benone-Marian Matei

 

Organizațiile semnatare vă scriu pentru a-și împărtăși îngrijorarea profundă cu privire la întârzierea investigațiilor privind publicarea fotografiilor furate ale jurnalistei românce Emilia Șercan și presupusa scurgere a unor elemente cheie ale anchetei în această infracțiune.

 

Necesitatea imperioasă a unor investigații independente a fost subliniată într-o scrisoare deschisă pe care organizațiile noastre au trimis-o autorităților române în aprilie 2022.

 

Deși se aplică principiul confidențialității anchetei, autoritățile de aplicare a legii par să fi eșuat – conform informațiilor disponibile – în a face progrese semnificative la patru luni după ce Emilia Șercan a devenit ținta hărțuirii și a unei campanii de defăimare prin publicarea fotografiilor sale private și prin presupusa scurgere de elemente cheie ale anchetei penale, amplificând expunerea pozelor sale private.

 

Mai mult, nici răspunsul Ministerului Afacerilor Interne la scrisoarea deschisă menționată mai sus, nici răspunsul statului la alerta publicată pe platforma Consiliului Europei pentru promovarea protecției jurnalismului și a siguranței jurnaliştilor, nu au abordat preocupările legitime ale organizaţiilor noastre cu privire la progresul anchetei privind scurgerea.

 

Prin urmare, organizațiile noastre constată că autoritățile nu acordă acestei investigații un statut prioritar și nici nu îi alocă resurse suficiente.

 

Garantarea unei investigații rapide și independente pare cu atât mai necesară și mai urgentă în lumina riscului de alterare a probelor și a inaccesibilității probelor, cauzate de întârziere. Acest lucru ar putea complica semnificativ desfășurarea corectă a investigației.

 

Mai mult, informațiile nou adăugate la dosar indică o posibilă implicare a poliției în presupusa scurgere din investigația penală asupra infracțiunii, întrucât în ​​mass-media a apărut o captură de ecran pe care Emilia Șercan o furnizase polițiștilor, alături de pozele sale private. Se pare că înainte de scurgere, doar poliția – pe lângă jurnalista însăși – a avut acces la această captură de ecran.

 

Această ultimă ipoteză este susținută de un recent raport de expertiză independentă care concluzionează că orice supraveghere a dispozitivelor reclamantei Emilia Șercan este puțin probabilă.

 

Este cu atât mai important să investigăm aceste infracțiuni cu cât vizează în mod specific o jurnalistă care a fost amenințată pentru anchetele ei privind practicarea plagiatului de către șefi ai celor mai înalte instituții ale statului, inclusiv instituții militare de învățământ.

 

Este de maximă importanță ca ancheta atât cu privire la amenințările care au vizat-o pe Emilia Șercan, cât și cu privire la presupusa scurgere, a pozelor ei furate, din cadrul urmăririi penale, să se desfășoare în deplină independență și să ajungă la o rezolvare cu succes cât mai curând posibil.

 

După cum a afirmat vicepreședinta Comisiei Europene, Vera Jourova, în răspunsul său la scrisoarea deschisă a deputaților din Parlamentul European cu privire la cazul Emilia Șercan, „Comisia solicită statelor membre să investigheze și să urmărească penal toate faptele penale comise împotriva jurnaliştilor, fie online, sau offline, într-o manieră imparțială, independentă, eficientă, transparentă și în timp util (…) și (să) utilizeze pe deplin legislația națională și europeană existentă, pentru a se asigura că drepturile fundamentale sunt protejate și că actul de justiție este îndeplinit rapid în cazuri individuale și pentru a preveni apariția unei <<culturi>> a impunității în ceea ce privește atacurile împotriva jurnaliștilor”.

 

Într-adevăr, acțiunea rapidă și transparentă a autorităților în cazul Emiliei Șercan este în interesul îmbunătățirii stării libertății presei în România, care recent a scăzut ca urmare a unui număr tot mai mare de amenințăr, și a dus la clasarea de către RSF a țării pe locul 56 în Indexul mondial al libertății presei.

 

Vă mulțumim că luați în considerare preocupările noastre.

Signed by:

  • Reporteri fără Frontiere (RSF)
  • ActiveWatch
  • Article 19 Europe
  • Federația Europeană a Jurnaliştilor (EFJ)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

MFRR 3 consortium logos
Emilia Șercan | Culisele operațiunii „Kompromat” - Interviu cu Emilia Șercan | YouTube/HotNews Romania Library

Romania: Open Letter calling for swift and independent investigation…

Romania: Open letter calling for swift and independent investigation concerning publication of stolen pictures of Emilia Șercan and leak from criminal investigation

Ten European and international press freedom and freedom of expression organisations, members of the MFRR and their partners, have reacted to the harassment of Emilia Șercan, expressing serious concerns about the case and its implications for media freedom in Romania. Today, the ten organisations sent an open letter to the Romanian authorities calling for swift and independent investigations. The letter recalls that the threats and harassment of Șercan are set against a background of recent aggression and undue pressure against journalists and media workers in Romania coming from politicians, prosecutors, police, and military officers. 

Open letter, sent electronically

14 April 2022

 

Dear Prime Minister of Romania Nicolae Ciucă,

Dear Minister of Internal Affairs of Romania Lucian Bode,

Dear General Inspector of the Romanian Police, Quaestor of police Benone-Marian Matei,

Dear General Prosecutor of Romania Gabriela Scutea,

We, the undersigned organisations in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and partners, are disturbed by the harassment of journalist Emilia Șercan through the publication of her private pictures and the alleged leak from the criminal investigation into the matter. We call for swift and independent investigations of both issues and previous threats against Șercan. 

On 16 February, Șercan found a dehumanising message from an unknown person among her spam on Facebook Messenger, which alerted her that five personal pictures taken about 20 years ago had been published on 34 porn websites. The next day, Șercan filed a police complaint about cybercrime (concerning the theft of the pictures) and violation of privacy (concerning their upload on the porn websites). In the process, she also provided a screenshot of the Facebook message. 

On 18 February, Șercan discovered that a Moldovan website had published an article containing the five stolen pictures, as well as the Facebook Messenger screenshot made by Șercan, and submitted only to the Romanian police, plus a short comment on Șercan’s professional conduct. Șercan ascertained that the article was published approximately 40 minutes after she left the Criminal Investigation Service. A link to the article was subsequently posted by 74 websites, primarily Romanian and some from the Republic of Moldova. 

Șercan filed another criminal complaint regarding the possible leak from the criminal investigation and violation of privacy with the Internal Affairs Department of the Romanian Police. On 21 February, chief of the Romanian Police Mr Matei presented Șercan with an analysis of the media spread of the pictures, which would have cleared the police and supervising prosecutor of suspicion. Șercan characterised the police’s analysis as implausible and “fabricated”. On 8 March, Șercan discovered that the Internal Affairs Department had sent her complaint to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the 4th District Court of Bucharest, which is potentially a source of the leak. Subsequently, the file was transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Bucharest Court of Appeal.

We have serious concerns about the harassment of Șercan and the implications for media freedom in Romania more broadly, especially given the context: on 18 January 2022, Șercan revealed in an article that Prime Minister Ciucă plagiarised his doctoral dissertation. The following day, she received a threat to her personal safety on her professional email address, followed by another threat on 2 February via Facebook Messenger. Both threats are under investigation by the Criminal Investigation Service of the Bucharest Police. 

Moreover, the threats and harassment of Șercan are set against a background of recent aggression and undue pressure against journalists and media workers in Romania coming from politicians, prosecutors, police, and military officers. These include, among others, the threat against the wife of G4Media editor-in-chief Pantazi by an employee of the Ministry of National Defence, in March 2022; a reporter and her crew working for Italian public broadcaster RAI who were kept for hours in a Bucharest police station after an anti-vaccine Romanian Senator kept them locked up inside her office during an interview, in December 2021; attacks on two women journalists at a congress of the National Liberal Party congress by party members in September 2021; and, judicial pressure on Libertatea and Newsweek Romania following a criminal complaint and several SLAPPs filed by a Mayor of a Bucharest district, in May 2021. 

The European Commission has made it clear that Member States “should investigate and prosecute all criminal acts committed against journalists, whether online or offline, in an impartial, independent, effective, transparent and timely manner”, as underlined in its recent Recommendation on ensuring the protection, safety and empowerment of journalists and other media professionals in the European Union, “to ensure that fundamental rights are protected and justice is swiftly delivered in particular cases and prevent the emergence of a ‘culture’ of impunity regarding attacks against journalists” (Rec. 4). 

On 8 March, the MFRR partners, together with ActiveWatch, wrote to the Romanian authorities, urging them to ensure that the complaints filed by Șercan in relation to the stolen photos, the leak from the criminal investigation and the earlier threats are swiftly and diligently investigated.  Unfortunately, to date, a substantive response to these asks has not been provided.

Accordingly, we renew today our call for quick and independent investigations. Any criminal acts these investigations reveal must be duly prosecuted, so those responsible are held to account. Particularly as concerns the complaint about the leak from the criminal investigation, sufficient safeguards that effectively guarantee the investigation and prosecution’s independence must be in place.

Sincerely,

Signed by:

  • ActiveWatch
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Center for Independent Journalism Romania
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This open letter was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Zece organizații europene și internaționale care militează pentru libertatea presei și pentru libertatea de exprimare, membri ai MFRR și partenerii acestora, au reacționat la hărțuirea Emiliei Șercan, exprimând îngrijorări serioase cu privire la acest caz și la implicațiile pe care acesta le aduce pentru libertatea presei în România. Astăzi, cele zece organizații au trimis o scrisoare deschisă către autoritățile române, prin care cer investigații prompte și independente. Scrisoarea amintește faptul că amenințările și hărțuirea la adresa lui Șercan au loc pe un fond de agresiune recentă și presiune nejustificată împotriva jurnaliștilor și a lucrătorilor media din România, venite din partea politicienilor, procurorilor, poliției și a ofițerilor militari.

Scrisoare deschisă, trimisă electronic

14 aprilie 2022

Re: Publicarea fotografiilor personale ale Emiliei Șercan, sustrase ilegal, și scurgerea de informații din ancheta penală trebuie investigate cu promptitudine și independent 

Prim-ministrului României Nicolae Ciucă, 

Ministrului Afacerilor Interne Lucian Bode, 

Inspectorului General al Poliției Române, Chestorul de poliție Benone-Marian Matei, 

Procurorului General al României Gabriela Scutea, 

Noi, organizațiile semnatare ale Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) și partenerii noștri, găsim tulburătoare hărțuirea jurnalistei Emilia Șercan prin publicarea fotografiilor personale sustrase ilegal și prin presupusa scurgere de informații din ancheta penală ce investiga fapta respectivă. Cerem anchetarea promptă și independentă a ambelor situații, precum și a amenințărilor precedente adresate lui Șercan. 

Pe 16 februarie, Șercan a primit un mesaj dezumanizant de la o persoană necunoscută, ce ajunsese în Spam pe Facebook Messenger, mesaj care a alertat-o cu privire la faptul că cinci fotografii personale făcute acum 20 de ani au fost publicate pe 34 de website-uri cu conținut pornografic. Următoarea zi, Șercan a făcut o plângere penală referitoare la infracțiunile comise prin sisteme informatice (cu privire la furtul fotografiilor personale) și la violarea vieții private (cu privire la încărcarea lor pe website-urile cu conținut pornografic). Tot atunci, a pus la dispoziție organelor de cercetare și o captură de ecran cu mesajul primit pe Facebook. 

Pe 18 februarie, Șercan a descoperit faptul că un website din Republica Moldova publicase un articol ce conținea cele cinci fotografii furate, precum și captura de ecran ce suprindea mesajul primit pe Facebook Messenger, pusă la dispoziție doar Poliției Române, alături de un scurt comentariu asupra conduitei sale profesionale. Șercan a constatat faptul că articolul fusese publicat la aproximativ 40 de minute după ce părăsise sediul Serviciului de Investigații Criminale. Link-ul către articolul respectiv fusese postat ulterior de 74 de website-uri, în mare parte din România, și unele din Republica Moldova. 

Șercan a făcut o nouă plângere penală, referitoare la posibila scurgere de informații din ancheta penală și la violarea vieții private, la Direcția Control Intern a Inspectoratului General al Poliției Române. Pe 21 februarie, șeful Poliției Române, dl. Matei, i-a prezentat Emiliei Șercan o analiză a modului în care fotografiile s-au răspândit în media, analiza ce ar fi arătat că poliția și subcomisarul atribuit cazului erau în afara oricăror suspiciuni. Șercan a catalogat analiza poliției drept neplauzibilă și „fabricată”. Pe 8 martie, Șercan a descoperit faptul că Direcția Control Intern trimisese plângerea sa către Parchetul de pe lângă Judecătoria Sectorului 4 București, care este o potențială sursă a scurgerii de informații. Ulterior, dosarul a fost transferat la Parchetul de pe lângă Curtea de Apel București. 

Avem serioase motive de îngrijorare cu privire la hărțuirea lui Șercan, în mod special, și, în sens general, la implicațiile asupra libertății presei în România, cu atât mai mult cu cât aceste fapte au loc în următorul context: la 18 ianuarie 2022, Șercan dezvăluise într-un articol faptul că Prim-ministrul României a plagiat în teza de doctorat. A doua zi, a primit amenințări cu privire la siguranța sa personală pe adresa de e-mail profesională, urmate de altele – pe 2 februarie, primite pe Facebook Messenger. Ambele incidente sunt investigate de Serviciul de Investigații Criminale din cadrul Poliției București. 

Mai mult, amenințările și hărțuirea la adresa lui Șercan au loc pe un fond de agresiune recentă și presiune nejustificată împotriva jurnaliștilor și a lucrătorilor media din România, venite din partea politicienilor, procurorilor, poliției și a ofițerilor militari. Aceste incidente includ, printre altele, amenințarea împotriva soției redactorului-șef G4Media Pantazi de către un angajat al Ministerului Apărării Naționale, în martie 2022; un reporter și echipa sa, care lucrează pentru postul public de televiziune italian RAI, ținuți timp de mai multe ore într-o secție de poliție din București, după ce un senator român anti-vaccin i-a închis în biroul ei în timpul unui interviu, în decembrie 2021; atacuri asupra a două jurnaliste la un congres al Partidului Național Liberal, de către membri de partid, în septembrie 2021; și, presiunea judiciară asupra Libertatea și Newsweek România în urma unei plângeri penale și a mai multor acțiuni în instanță și plângeri depuse de un primar al unui sector din București, în mai 2021.

Comisia Europeană face foarte clar faptul că statele membre „ar trebui să investigheze și să urmărească penal toate actele criminale comise împotriva jurnaliştilor, fie ele efectuate online, sau offline, într-o manieră imparțială, independentă, eficientă, transparentă și în timpul corespunzător”, după cum este subliniat și în recenta Recomandare privind asigurarea protecției, siguranței și susținerii jurnaliștilor și a altor profesioniști media din Uniunea Europeană, „pentru a se asigura că drepturile fundamentale sunt protejate și justiția este făcută prompt în cazuri particulare și pentru a preveni apariția unei „culturi” a impunității în ceea ce privește atacuri împotriva jurnaliştilor” (Rec. 4).

Pe 8 martie, partenerii MFRR, împreună cu ActiveWatch, au scris autorităților române, îndemnându-le să se asigure că plângerile depuse de Șercan în legătură cu fotografiile furate, scurgerea de informații din ancheta penală și amenințările anterioare sunt investigate cu promptitudine și diligență. Din păcate, până în prezent, nu am primit un răspuns substanțial la aceste cereri. 

În consecință, reluăm astăzi apelul nostru pentru investigații rapide și independente. Acele fapte penale care reies în urma investigațiilor trebuie urmărite în mod corespunzător, astfel încât cei responsabili să fie trași la răspundere. În mod particular în ceea ce privește plângerea cu privire la scurgerea de informații dintr-o anchetă penală, trebuie să existe suficiente garanții care să asigure eficient independența anchetei și a demersului urmăririi penale.

Cu stimă,

Semnat:

  • ActiveWatch
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Center for Independent Journalism Romania
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This open letter was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.

Italian journalist Lucia Goracci poses for portraits at the end of a press conference for the Disarmament Archives - Golden Doves for Peace 2017 award, at the Foreign Press Association in Rome Library

EFJ Statement: Italian journalists locked up by Romanian anti-vax…

EFJ statement on Italian journalists locked up by Romanian anti-vax senator

A reporter and her crew working for Italian public broadcaster RAI were held in a Bucharest police station for several hours on Monday 13 December after an anti-vax Romanian Senator sequestered during an interview in her office. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) condemns the attack on the RAI crew and the unjustified arrest of the journalists by the Romanian police.

Italian journalist Lucia Goracci and her crew were detained after the alleged attack by the husband of Senator Diana Iovanovici Sosoaca, after the Senator blocked the crew in her office.

During her interview by Lucia Goracci, the Romanian senator decided to block the TV crew in her office and called the police.

The tension culminated with the intervention of the police in Sosoaca’s office. The Italian journalists have accused the Romanian police officers not protecting them. They said they managed to leave Sosoaca’s office only due to the intervention of the Italian Embassy in Bucharest.

Lucia Goracci was searched and questioned by the Romanian policemen. The TV crew was allowed to leave the police station only after 8 hours.

Lucia Goracci filed a complaint with the 4th police station in Bucharest against Senator Diana Şoşoacă, claiming that she was sequestered in Sosoaca’s office and that the senator’s husband, Dumitru-Silvestru Şoşoacă, bit her hand.

Dumitru Silvestru Şoşoacă was heard at the Prosecutor’s Office, being also accused of attacking a police officer amid the incident with the Italian journalists. Silvestru Şoşoacă  was placed under a judicial control of 60 days.

The Romanian Government issued a statement, strongly condemning “any act of intimidation of journalists or obstruction of the right to free information of citizens. (…) Prime Minister Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca considers this incident unacceptable and categorically rejects the manifestation of differences of opinion through violence”.

It seems that the anti-vax senator wanted to trap Italian journalists by making them look like troublemakers,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “The Romanian police should have protected them instead of arresting them. We call on the Romanian authorities to investigate this incident fully in order to establish the responsibility of the senator, her husband, but also the police officers who intervened.

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.