WORLD

One road to good news: legislate it

RACHEL MENDLESON July 21 2008
WORLD

One road to good news: legislate it

RACHEL MENDLESON July 21 2008

One road to good news: legislate it

WORLD

RACHEL MENDLESON

Is the constant barrage of bad news getting you down? Had enough of media reports of car crashes, murders, corruption? You might consider moving to Romania, where lawmakers are trying to force good news into the broadcast. Before going on vacation, the senate passed a bill mandating that “positive” news make up at least 50 per cent of TV and radio reports to “improve the general climate,” and offer a “balanced view of everyday life.”

Some Romanian journalists dismiss the bill, which must get through constitutional court this week and then be approved by President Traian Basescu before becoming law, as a joke. “It’s completely stupid,” says Vlad Petreanu, a television producer at Antena 3. He says the push for good news is a reaction to the media’s shift toward a ratingsdriven, “what bleeds, leads” mentality. To others, the motivation appears more sinister. The chair of the European Federation of Journalists, Arne König, decried it as “obvious political interference” in media, which have enjoyed autonomy since the 1989 revolution. The legislation does not define what constitutes positive or negative content; the fear is that it could become a tool for propaganda in the upcoming elections, says Michael Bird, editor of The Diplomat in Bucharest.

What’s baffled many is how the bill, forwarded in part by staunchly nationalist senator Gheorghe Fuñar (who as a city mayor had park benches and garbage bins painted in Romania’s blue, yellow and red), even made it to the senate. Considering its apparent violation of the Romanian constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights, says Petreanu, “everybody’s pretty sure it won’t pass.” Killing it is less certain: last year a bill outlawing the publication of opinion polls before elections was sent back to the senate, where it still languishes. M