Dumitrița Holdiș, Project Manager, CIJ
In an unprecedented act of solidarity in the last years in the Romanian media, 96 news outlets and 165 journalists (and counting) from national and local organisations signed a freedom of information request initiated by the Center for Independent Journalism (CJI) asking for fair and timely access to information and transparency in decision making from both the national and local authorities.
In a reaction to the emergency law published by the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on March 16, CJI vehemently condemned the measures taken by the authorities to limit the right to freedom of expression and access to information. In addition to the withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights and moving to monopolize all official communication regarding the spread of the virus, the authorities restricted even the trickle of information available to the public. Vital data on the number of COVID-19 cases by county, the number of infected medical and auxiliary personnel, the number of deaths and recovered patients were centralized in national statistics communicated once a day.
CJI is requesting the urgent and conscientious implementation of national and international legislation assuring the right to access information of public interest. The petition addressed to the Romanian Government, the Ministry of Interior and the Group for Strategic Communication, is available in Romanian here.
The authorities must make public:
- The number of confirmed infections, recoveries, deaths, people in isolation and in quarantine, the number of medical and auxiliary personnel infected categorized by age, gender and county on a daily basis.
- Information on the state of hospitals, including the number of units dedicated to treating only COVID-19 cases with their available human and medical resources on a daily basis.
- Data on the number of tests available and the number of tests performed for each county on a daily basis.
- The names and responsibilities of all members of the Group for Strategic Communication, the group in charge of managing the crisis.
In order to ensure a timely flow of communication the immediate appointment of spokespeople for all public institutions, with their contact details should be made available publicly as soon as possible. We underline that both the Romanian legislation and the international treaties Romanian signed make the government accountable in front of its citizens. The OSCE Freedom of the Media Representative has already expressed his concerns regarding the restrictions the state of emergency legislation brings to the work of the media in Romania.
Romanian journalists are urging the authorities to stop using only repressive measures aimed at controlling the population to respond to the crisis, but to start mobilizing resources to support and inform the public and the press. They are concerned that these new restrictions to access public information, already shrinking before the pandemics, will have long lasting damaging effects on the transparency of the work of public authorities in Romania.