Thursday, July 10, 2008

Romania's 'happy news' quota unconstitutional, court rules

BUCHAREST (AFP) - Romanians have a right to doom and gloom, the country's constitutional court ruled Wednesday, blocking a government move obliging radio and television stations to broadcast good and bad news in equal proportions.

The court ruled that a new law, which stipulated that upbeat news should make up half of all newscasts on Romania's radio and television stations, was unconstitutional. The senate had passed it unanimously the previous month. The opposition liberal democrats, the PDL party, had appealed to the constitutional court, arguing that the new legislation infringed freedom of expression.

The law had been the idea of two senators -- one from the governing National Liberal Party, the other from the far-right Great Romania party -- who bemoaned the "irreversible effect" of negative news "on the health and life of people." The aim, they said, was to "improve the general climate and to offer to the public the chance to have balanced perceptions on daily life, mentally and emotionally". It would be left to the National Audiovisual Council in Romania to judge what is "positive" and "negative".

But the coucil itself was unimpressed by the new law. "News is news," said council chairman Rasvan Popescu. "It is neither positive or negative. It simply reflects reality. I don't believe that the introduction of such a quantitative criteria can work. Events cannot be programmed, nor can minds." Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), also slammed the legislation as "unacceptable for a member state of European Union." Only states such as China or North Korea had similarly anachronistic media legislation, RSF had said. The media in Romania were tightly controlled until the 1989 collapse of communism.

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