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October 6, 2022
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Russian Invasion Brings Back Censorship: Romania Wants to Ban ‘Fake News’

After the so-called Russian propaganda websites in Romania were banned by the Romanian Government, such as Russia Today and Sputnik, there is a strong initiative, supported by the same Government, to bring censorship back in the country after 33 years since the fall of communism.

The Department of Emergencies (DSU), the same that coordinated the drastic restrictions during the pandemic, reportedly supports several NGOs developing an “anti-fake news platform”. This scans online press, blogs and social networks to find “fake news”, sources of disinformation and Russian propaganda in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. The platform spots and red flags the “sources of fake news” for the authorities to take appropriate measures. What sort of proper measures? But of course, suspending the activity of the incriminated websites or news platforms.

Romania brings back memories of its communist past

Russian invasion succeeded in bringing back communist memories in a country where freedom of speech has been guaranteed so far.

Romanian citizens didn’t have the freedom of speech during communism, even though Constitution mentioned it and even guaranteed this right. Everything said against the regime was drastically sanctioned, sometimes with heavy years in jail. Thirty-three years after the fall of communism, Romania of 2022, a democratic country, thinks of reviving censorship and takes significant steps towards this goal.

The funny thing is that it is not only the Government to fancy reviving censorship but also the so-called “civil society” through different NGOs, all in the name of defending…the right of the people to be correctly informed. Isn’t it hilarious?

But the Romanian state has been preparing for this moment for two years. During the pandemic, Romanian authorities sanctioned all those who expressed other opinions than the official ones. Not only that, but the very same Government paid the free press with tens of millions of Euros in a campaign meant to help it survive the difficult times. In reality, all those paid had to host on their platforms Government’s messages. This, in the communication experts’ opinion, created a certain subjective way of presenting the news – the reality was replaced by the Government’s opinion, and the paid mass media suddenly lowered their criticism against the authorities.

Romanian authorities bluntly support the idea of censorship in the country

During the epidemic, the head of DSU, Raed Arafat, was one of the strong voices regarding civil liberties constraints. He repeatedly requested tight lockdowns and demanded censorship of mass media.

Now, all my respect for the freedom of speech, but I would cut their mic off. (…) The mic should be cut off for all those who ask the people not to take the jab. At least for three months.

Raed Arafat, Director of the Department for Emergency Situations within Ministry of Interior

Now, DSU and some NGOs like Global Focus, Active Watch, Media Wise and others want to create a mechanism to restrict free speech, or as they call it, a mechanism to put pressure on the Government to communicate more correctly.

But is this a strong enough reason to censor Romanians’ opinion? Is it enough to deny the freedom of speech in a country that appeared to get rid of communist habits?

Following the strong opposition of the civil society in Romania, it seems that the authorities have given up backing the project, at least for the moment. But, as the head of DSU threatened, sooner or later,, the censorship of the press would become a reality. The conflict in Ukraine, the growth of gas and energy and the food crisis could be reasons for the authorities to temporarily suspend people’s Constitutional rights in the name of combating fake news. This goes against the very same principles the initiative pretends to defend.

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