The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemns the unacceptable intimidation and obstruction of journalist Crina Boros by staff in the forestry data team at the Romanian Environment Ministry and calls for disciplinary measures to be taken against one individual who insulted the journalist in a misogynistic manner during the meeting.
IPI and our global network further call on the Minister of Environment, Tánczos Barna, to publicly denounce the actions of his staff in demeaning a journalist who was carrying out important work on a matter of public interest. We urge the Ministry to provide public data sought by Boros through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about logging in a timely manner, in line with its legal obligations under FOI law and commitments to transparent governance.
Boros, a British freelance investigative data journalist of Romanian origin, is working on an investigative project probing illegal mining and habitat destruction in the EU member state, supported by a grant from Investigative Journalism for Europe (IJ4EU). Romania is subject to infringement proceedings by the European Commission over its systematic and continuous failure to protect old growth forests from illegal logging.
As part of her investigation, Boros had filed two FOI requests to SUMAL, the Forests department data and IT service of the Romanian Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests. The information requested involved data on logging permits and loggers. An initial FOI request submitted in August 2022 received long-delayed responses and only parts of the agreed data were released, while other elements were kept hidden.
After repeated requests for a meeting over several months, SUMAL finally invited the journalist to its office in Bucharest on 18 May 2023. Boros attended with Cristina Guseth, the director of Freedom House Romania, which provided support for the investigation. SUMAL told her it was the first time a journalist would be received by the Ministry’s Forests IT team. Boros attended with the understanding that it would involve a technical discussion about the data she had requested and an interview with a forestry expert, at the suggestion of the Ministry.
However, when she arrived, Boros was subjected to almost two hours of aggressive and humiliating behaviour by the staff at SUMAL and from the Ministry’s Communications department. As the meeting began, a man who refused to give his name entered and said he was from the Control Corps of the Environment Minister. He immediately made the journalist stop recording the discussion. The individual then tried to pressure Boros, accusing her of representing obscure political interests and questioning why she wanted access to the database.
The man became increasingly aggressive and shouted at the journalist in a misogynistic and intimidatory manner. At one point, he told Boros that he had friends in the forestry industry and that her requests for information about logging could harm the interests of private forest owners. Seven other individuals working for SUMAL were present at the meeting, yet none intervened.
Boros said she began to shake and needed to leave the room for two minutes to compose herself. After re-entering, she confronted the man and criticised his behaviour. The man was ejected from the meeting and Adrian Inescu, spokesperson from SUMAL, took over the lead of the discussions.
However, the belittling behaviour continued. The journalist was told she could take down notes by hand of the tens of thousands of temporarily published records on the database, which was shown to her on a projector screen. One of the comms representatives, who handled Boros’ FOI request, told her that any request of information made via a phone conversation was not considered as part of her FOI. This is in clear contradiction to Romania’s public information access law, Article 6.
“IPI strongly condemns this act of intimidation and bullying of Crina Boros during the meeting SUMAL,” IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The fact that a respected journalist was subjected to such appalling behaviour for simply trying to carry out her watchdog role in investigating a matter of clear public interest is alarming. We urge the Romanian Environment Minister to comment publicly on this incident and on the unacceptable behaviour of his staff.
“Answers are needed about why the individual allegedly from the Control Corps, who appears to have connections to the logging industry, was permitted to participate in the first place, and then allowed to act in such an aggressive manner. IPI believes disciplinary proceedings should be immediately initiated against the individual for unethical behaviour and pressuring a journalist. It must also be made clear who gave the green light for the individual to represent the Ministry in such a meeting.
“Moving forward, we urge SUMAL to ensure no pressure is ever put on journalists seeking access to the public data it oversees. We further urge the Environment Ministry and SUMAL to immediately provide the public data requested by the journalist under its FOI obligations. We note that Article 15 of Romania’s FOI law states that mass-media’s access to public-interest information is “guaranteed”. There is no justification for these continued delays and obstruction. IPI will continue to monitor this case, and the wider situation and the landscape for transparency and access to information for journalists probing deforestation and logging in Romania.”
Access to public data on logging and forestry in Romania have long been opaque. Investigative journalists probing the issue regularly face obstruction. FOI requests for public data are often only partially successful. Challenging access to Romania’s environmental data is a point on the EU’s logging infringement against Romania.
In recent years, journalists investigating illegal logging have also faced physical attacks. In September 2021, journalist and freelance filmmaker Mihai Dragolea and director Radu Constantin Mocanu were attacked and badly beaten by a group of 20 people armed with sticks and axes while they were documenting the issue of illegal logging in a forest in north-eastern Romania. At the time, IPI and its partners in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) used the practical support fund to help the two journalists replace the camera equipment that was destroyed and continue their documentary.
IJ4EU’s Investigation Support Scheme is coordinated by IPI and provides financial support to cross-border journalistic teams working on investigations of public interest in Europe. Crina Boros is a grantee of IJ4EU’s Freelancer Support Scheme, which is managed by the European Journalism Centre (EJC).
This statement by IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries, and Ukraine. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.