Romanian lawmakers are no longer allowed to film and live stream plenary sessions of the parliament. The decision follows an assault on the minister of Energy during his speech at the tribune of the Chamber of Deputies.
The parliament of Romania adopted on February 9 amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Chamber, a day after they were introduced by three political parties.
Under the new rules, the use of verbal or physical violence is expressly prohibited.
Individuals will not be allowed to broadcast and live stream, like with Facebook Live, plenary sessions in Parliament, committee meetings and debates.
Only the official broadcast approved by the Chamber of Deputies, or media granted a proper authorization, will now be allowed to inform Romanians about public debates.
Displaying political banners is also prohibited.
Infringing the rules can result in a speech time reduced down to 10 seconds in sessions during three months, a 50% decrease in salary, or Parliament employees who no longer assist the offenders.
More and more politicians use social media live streams as a direct-to-voter communications tool. Live streaming is also criticized for a lack of control on content, and people may use it for communications stunts, too.
Six non-governmental organizations signed a public letter denouncing the amendments. They considered they would make Romania’s legislature even more opaque than it is today.
“The ban on displaying banners in Parliament, as well as the ban on filming or broadcasting live on the Internet, is, in our view, a restriction on freedom of speech, which is a fundamental right all the more protected when it comes to political debate.”
The signatories called on “the political parties in Parliament not to use the pretext of aggression in the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies to limit the transparency of parliamentary debates and the freedom of all citizens, including parliamentarians, to express themselves in connection with the legislative process”.
Interruption of the Energy Minister speech by a party leader
The amendments were proposed after Romania’s Minister of Energy was assaulted during his speech by a party leader on Monday.
Virgil Popescu, the Minister of Energy of Romania, was speaking at the tribune of the Chamber of Deputies on February 7 when George Simion suddenly went on stand, grabbed the Minister and repeatedly told him out loud he was a thief for a few seconds.
George Simion is the leader of the Alliance for the Union of Romanians.
The AUR party, which means gold in Romanian, is a far-right populist party created in 2019 active in Romania and Moldova. It received 9% of the votes during the last legislative elections in 2020 in Senate and in the Chamber of Deputies.
George Simion said he didn’t regret the assault but was also glad he didn’t punch him as it would have meant the end of his political career. He also said he would continue using Facebook live and denounced censorship with the amendments.
Motion censure against Romania’s Energy Minister
The session was adjourned but resumed later. The General Prosecutor’s Office opened a file for outrage in Parliament and public disorder.
The Minister was giving a speech against a motion censure that targeted him. Last week, the USR, a progressive and the third largest political party in Romania, initiated a simple motion, a type of vote of no confidence not legally binding, against the minister of Energy.
The USR accused Virgil Popescu of “endangering Romania’s energy security” by failing to reform the energy sector, liberalizing the energy market, or also increasing dependence on Russian gas. USR also considers the management of the energy bill crisis as a “disaster”.
For Dacian Cioloș, former Prime Minister and former president of USR, the incident actually offered a diversion for the minister whose resignation was postponed. “Instead of being fired by Prime Minister Ciuca, he gained time with the help of AUR”. And on the other hand, “AUR is gaining a few more points in radicalizing its electorate” he wrote on Facebook.
On February 9, the amendments were voted by 202 parliamentarians in favor. The same day, the motion of censure against the Minister of Energy was rejected by 190 lawmakers.