The Parliament Votes Amendments on Countering Audiovisual Misinformation in the Final Reading. Opinions

The deputies voted the amendments to the Code of Audiovisual Media Services aimed at countering misinformation in the final reading. These include prohibiting the rebroadcast of programs from the countries that have not ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. This decision was made on Thursday, June 2, with the vote of 54 parliamentarians. The opposition is dissatisfied with several issues related to the procedure of promoting the initiative.

De facto, the voted document is part of the initial draft law on information security which included, among other issues, new functions of the Information and Security Service in the sphere of countering misinformation, new notions and a number of amendments to the Law on Freedom of Expression or a possibility to block a webpage if owner identification data is not published. On May 27, three Members of the Action and Solidarity Platform (PAS) faction registered a set of amendments excluding all these provisions and leaving only those referring to the Code of Audiovisual Media Services. The published document states that the decision was taken following the debates on the initial draft law, all the suggestions, recommendations, and objections filed by all the parties concerned, as well as the state authorities’ opinions.

The Media Azi portal has previously written about the first round of public debates on the initial draft law, the second series of consultations, and the expert review of the National Anticorruption Center.

The amendments voted by the parliamentarians on June 2 introduce the notion of misinformation in the law, which implies “deliberately spreading false information created in order to harm a person, a social group, an organization, or state security.” Besides, the Code was supplemented by the provisions according to which media service providers shall not broadcast, and distributors shall not re-broadcast programs containing informative, informative and analytical, military, and political content produced in countries other than those of the European Union, the United States, Canada, and the states that have ratified the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Movies and entertainment shows without any militaristic content shall be the only exception. Broadcasts which justify aggressive wars, deny war crimes and crimes against humanity, or incite hatred shall also be prohibited regardless of their origin, and broadcasts purchased from abroad must come from or be produced in the EU countries or the states which have ratified the Convention at least 50%.

The law also stipulates restrictions on broadcasting commercial information and provides for a range of sanctions, including fines of up to 100 000 lei for TV channels and radio stations in case of spreading misinformation.

Dissatisfaction with the Project Promotion in the Final Reading

“I suppose we have reached a project which could properly improve the provisions of the Code of Audiovisual Media Services,” Liliana Nicolaescu-Onofrei, President of the Media Commission, declared at the legislative authority. Many opposition deputies seemed to be dissatisfied with the fact that the draft was promoted for the second reading even though it was essentially modified. For instance, Vadim Fotescu from the “Sor” Political Party invoked a standard from the Law on Regulatory Acts, according to which, if more than 30% of the text of a draft law have been amended following the approval and public consultations, it shall be repeatedly submitted for approval and public consultation, which was not the case with the draft law in question. Adela Raileanu from the Bloc of Communists and Socialists also insisted on the same issue. In addition, they affirmed that the voted amendments were registered after the legal deadline.

“This procedure is applied to the working group drafting a law; on the Parliament’s platform, it is no longer valid. In this case, it has already entered the legislative procedure, therefore, it is not applicable here,” Ion Creanga, head of the Legal Department, specified.

“We have been working according to the rules. (…) I do not think we have a 30% change in the content. That excluded part… Have you measured it?” Nicolaescu-Onofrei asked. “I guess it would be much easier to follow the legal path, to make two separate projects, to initiate the procedure in the first reading with a well-prepared project, and to organize another debate or two if necessary,” Raileanu replied.

A New Lever for the BC

Liliana Vitu, President of the Broadcasting Council, has declared for Media Azi that, following the adoption of the amendments, the authority chose the notion of misinformation as a new lever. “However, it will take some time before we could use it, because it is a unique practice for regulating misinformation, there are no similar procedures applied in the EU countries where broadcasting regulation authorities make daily decisions regarding such issues. The BC will develop a methodology for assessing misinformation and proving that specific contents are misinformation,” she says.

As to the sanctions, Liliana Vitu specifies that, currently, they are required due to detecting infringements, “because, by introducing such a definition, we would also like to have a preventive effect: when there is a sanction lever for misinformation, and the sanctions are rather harsh, they could probably reduce the amount of misinformation.”

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