BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanian senators on Monday approved a proposal that would allow Parliament to dismiss the chief of the Agerpres national news agency, despite opposition from press groups, which said it could harm the outlet's political independence.

Senators voted 64-16 with 27 abstentions to approve the amendment, initiated by members of the ruling Social Democratic Party. Culture Minister Lucian Romascanu said the changes were necessary because Parliament currently lacked the authority to fire the agency's general manager.

But press groups, including Reporters Without Borders, the European Center for Press and Media Freedom and the Romanian Center for Independent Journalism among others, published a letter earlier urging lawmakers not to change the law, saying: "Don't destroy this institution. Don't vote to change the law." The proposal still needs to be approved by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies before it can become law.

Agerpres general manager Alexandru Giboi criticized the vote, saying lawmakers wanted "merely to transform (the agency) into.... a button that any political party in power can press," to control it.

Under existing legislation, Agerpres' general manager has a five-year mandate and the agency, under parliamentary control, is required to be politically impartial.

The European Federation of Journalists has called the measure "an instrument to politicize the public service media."