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Rory O'Connor Headshot

Good News, Bad News and Obama

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It was too good to be true.

The Romanian Senate recently and unanimously voted in favor of a law that would require 50 percent of the material reported by media outlets in that country to be "positive news."

Senators said the law would help to fight against "the extraordinary harms of negative news and their irreversible effects on health and people's lives," and left it to Romania's National Council for Audiovisual Broadcasting to decide what constitutes good or bad news.

But no -- the Council was not content to leave enough good alone, and swiftly denounced the new law. "News is news," noted Council president Rasvan Popescu. "It is neither positive nor negative, it simply reflects reality." Press freedom groups such as Reporters Without Borders also criticized the proposal, calling it "unacceptable for a member state of European Union," and comparing it to similar laws in countries such as China and North Korea.

Faced with this summary of discontent, Romania's constitutional court ruled last week that the law infringed freedom of expression and was thus unconstitutional. The ruling blocked the government's effort to require radio and television stations to broadcast good and bad news in equal proportions. "Romanians have a right to doom and gloom," concluded Agence France-Presse.

The aim of the law, according to two senators who had proposed it, was to "improve the general climate and to offer to the public the chance to have balanced perceptions on daily life, mentally and emotionally". But as Audiovisual Council president Popescu concluded, "I don't believe that the introduction of such a quantitative criteria can work. Events cannot be programmed, nor can minds."

It's easy to make fun of this brief Romanian rollout of media-mandated happiness, of course. Sophisticated media savants, after all, are always quick with a quip about the naïve natives... But judging from this week's hysterical outcry over the controversial New Yorker cover illustration showing a "Muslim, flag-burning, Osama-loving, fist-bumping Obama," and the resulting calls from the media that the media restrain itself from such "tasteless and offensive" displays, maybe we're not as sophisticated as we claim. Maybe we don't believe that "Events cannot be programmed, nor can minds." Instead, maybe we fear that they can.

If so, is anyone else ready to cowboy up for some more happy news? If so, maybe we can sponsor legislation that will in the future forbid all such "arrogant, indulgent, derogatory, incendiary, shocking and (maybe) racist" acts of journalism?

Oops -- you're right, that would be unconstitutional, wouldn't it?