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ActiveWatch report: August 10 saw most, most serious aggression against journalists in 2018-2019

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The street protest of August 10, 2018, saw the most and most serious and aggressive behaviours against journalists, "aggression coming from the law enforcement forces, which should have ensured the protection of all the citizens in the midst of those events that are still unclear to the public opinion and investigators," according to the FreeEx report "Press Freedom in Romania 2018-2019" by media watchdog ActiveWatch.

"May 2018 - May 2019, witnessed were actions of the Romanian Gendarmerie that were at least controversial, sometimes confirmed to be abusive through first instance decisions. The Romanian Gendarmerie has quite often been accused of following political orders, and the events on the evening of August 10, 2018, occasioned by the Diaspora protest, grabbed headlines even in the foreign press due to the violence of the law enforcement forces," says the report. Mention is also made of the case of German journalist Paul Arne Wagner, who was apprehended and led to the Gendarmerie while researching the anti-government protest in Piata Victoriei on June 20, 2018.

The report was officially published on Monday. ActiveWatch, who produced the report, shows that, according to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, the state of the press in Romania remains problematic, with the country having declined three positions in 2019 already in the global ranking, from 44 in 2018, to 47.

"The only explanation for this reasonable position in the global ranking would be that Romania is not a war zone (...) and that we have no journalists killed for having done their duty," ActiveWatch said.

According to the organisation, in Romania, "honest journalists and their profession as a whole are sabotaged most of the times by former journalists who have either officially entered politics or live on party subsidies."

The report analyses professional ethics in the media, protests in Romania, pressure on the media coming from authorities, public organisations and political parties, integrity, pressure from editorial offices.

"2018 was a year in which the criminal records of media owners generally stagnated or developed favourably. Criminal accusations range from false testimony, influence peddling, money laundering, organised crime group formation, blackmail, bribe giving, to crimes against humanity (see the case of the miners' riots of the 1990s implicating media mogul Adrian Sarbu). "

As for the pressure, ActiveWatch mentions the moment when the National Authority for Personal Data Surveillance and the Teleorman Police asked RISE Project investigative journalists to reveal the sources of a press expose that covered national leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), major at rule, Liviu Dragnea.

At the same time, ActiveWatch says, "major media organisations acted as tools of their owners and openly supported their vested political, economic or legal interests."

Regarding the situation of whistleblowers, the FreeEx report notes that the Ombudsman as the authority responsible for representing /protecting whistleblowers "is passive or only formally intervenes."

The report also provides recommendations for journalists, whistleblowers, editors and politicians. Thus, journalists are encouraged to point to consciousness when disagreeing with editorial practices.

"The use of media as a tool to obtain political and/or economic influence may work in the short term, but, in the future, such approach leads to the moral and financial bankruptcy of the media organisations and their wielders. Respect to the public is the surest of investments," the FreeEx report shows.



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