The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE has released a final report on 15 January 2013 available HERE regarding the parliamentary elections that took place in Romania on 9 December 2012. The ODIHR Expert Team noted several legal improvements that may be addressed following the electoral media coverage in November-December 2012 of the parliamentary campaign.
Content and discontent coexisted according to personal and collective media interests. While the Romanian media market regulations state that public broadcasters must apply the same tariff for paid campaign coverage of all electoral contestants, some candidates have voiced their discontent regarding overcharging prices applied by some private-owned media channels. The Expert Team also noted that the tight legal provisions regarding the request for free airtime on public broadcaster also affected each candidate’s right to announce his/her request. It also highlighted the fact that tight regulations affected the editorial freedom of private broadcasters to flexibly arrange schedules, structure and format of election-related programmes.
The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) was confronted with several complaints regarding political imbalance in media coverage as well as false statements but it nevertheless issued small fines. The ODIHR Expert Team suggested the CNA should enhance its monitoring methodology and instruments so that it reacts proportionally to the complaints raised. The report added that during the electoral campaign, the Government in office issued an emergency ordinance affecting precisely the CNA sanctioning mechanism allowing for fine suspensions in case of appeals affecting both the CNA and the complainants.
Unable to publicly justify the emergency of such ordinance precisely during electoral media coverage, the Romanian Government asked for an advisory opinion from the CNA and other institutions. While conducting the report, the ODIHR Expert Team found that the political affiliation of CNA members clearly biased deliberations on media coverage. The Expert Team suggested that CNA members should be elected free from any political or economic interference.
Perceived as the main instrument for electoral coverage, news television channels are not free from political editorial bias. With several channels owned by politicians or parliamentary candidates, it is clear that editorial content is vulnerable and less trusted by average citizens. The report highlights the case of the INTACT media group owning several channels and under the control of Dan Voiculescu, former MP and MP candidate during elections. Several examples of the sort were offered as in the case of OTV channel which no longer holds its license since January 2013.
Outside the framework of this report, it is strange that OTV no longer broadcasts following last weeks CNA’s decision to suspend it for not paying its fines, a decision that might have been taken also during election coverage but which has obviously been politically delayed.