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The draft law giving new levers to the BC in electoral campaigns passed in the first reading

10 July 2020
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The Parliament approved on first reading the draft law which involves amending the codes regulating elections, administrative offences, and audiovisual media services. Earlier, Media Azi wrote that the document provided the Broadcasting Council (BC) with new levers, enabling it to suspend broadcasting licenses for the televisions showing “privileged treatment” during electoral campaigns. At the same time, the document contains provisions prohibiting TV stations founded by non-governmental organizations to cover electoral campaigns.

The draft law introduces sanctions for improper coverage of the campaign by radio and TV stations. Specifically, broadcasters could temporarily lose their broadcasting licenses if they repeatedly favored competitors during electoral periods and if they covered campaigns without being allowed to.

MPs propose that media service providers/distributors be deprived of the right to disseminate and publish information on the coverage of elections and referendums for a period of seven days if they adopt “privileged treatment” of politicians, parties, competitors “by virtue of the social status and/or the functions held by their candidates.” The same sanction will be applied if media service providers and distributors violate the obligation of “fairness, responsibility, balance, and impartiality during the electoral period, or until the end of the electoral period, in case of repeated violation of those provisions.”

The opinion of the Legal Directorate of the Parliament on this draft law states that the phrases “privileged treatment” and “violate the obligation of fairness, responsibility, balance, and impartiality” are “ambiguous and potentially corruptible, which can lead to misinterpretations.”

The amendments also provide for the introduction into the Electoral Code of the prohibition of hate speech or instigation to discrimination during the campaign and in electoral actions, and the introduction of sanctions for such deeds into the Code of Administrative Offences.

At the same time, sanctions are provided for the involvement of religious denominations, non-profit, charitable, and trade union organizations into electoral campaigns. The representative of the TV8 television station, Mariana Rata, had previously drawn attention to this amendment. “It is dangerous for TV8 and other media outlets registered as NGOs. If the amendment is not modified or excluded, all media outlets that are NGOs risk not being able to cover electoral campaigns,” explained the news director of TV8 for Media Azi.

The draft law also proposes that only media providers of general content and/or news services be obliged to organize electoral debates. Currently, all national media service providers have the obligation, and local/regional providers have the right, to organize electoral debates during electoral campaigns for parliamentary and presidential elections and for republican referenda.

Adela Raileanu, an MP of the Party of Socialists, proposed several amendments to the draft law, including that media service providers be able to organize electoral debates in the morning hours, and not only in the evening, as it is currently required. She also proposes that private stations no longer be required to broadcast free electoral advertising. Only the public broadcaster would thus have this obligation. “Televisions are not richer than some parties. We are violating the rights of broadcasters,” the MP noted.

The draft law is to be voted on on second reading.