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Romania: the media in a credibility crisis

"You lie to the people on TV" is a frequently heard slogan at demonstrations in Romania, most recently during protests against the social democrat Ponta government at the end of 2014. This particular protest was sparked by the presidential elections: television stations with high viewing figures like Antena 3 or Romania TV had supported Victor Ponta's election campaign and used all possible means to defame his political opponent Klaus Johannis. This was yet another demonstration of active intervention in politics by media companies, the majority of which use their own channels and newspapers to promote their business or private interests. But some media tycoons, like Sorin Vantu or Dan Voiculescu, have now been held to legal account for their dubious business practices.

Active intervention via TV.
© picture-alliance/dpa

The use of the media as an instrument of power has plunged them into a profound credibility crisis in recent years. Newspapers that still reached millions of people shortly after the 1989 revolution and played a leading role after press freedom had been restored have seen their circulations fall dramatically. "Many readers think you don't need to spend money on press products that are in any case manipulated,” says media journalist Petrişor Obae. The print runs of renowned dailies are often below 15,000 copies, and it is only thanks to their usually free online services that they still play any role at all in the media landscape.

For some years now these political pressures have been compounded by economic ones. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the advertising revenues of the Romanian dailies have fallen by 80 percent. Most media companies therefore only employ journalists on a freelance basis in order to save additional costs. And almost everywhere delayed payment is the order of the day.

Most editors know what their bosses' business interests are and wouldn't dream of sparking a conflict of interests through critical reporting. Instead, many media people are trying to go into politics and to become party spokespeople. The Romanian NGO Active Watch sees this as one reason why some media are completely politicised.

Many newspapers were forced to close in the wake of the economic crisis and thousands of journalists lost their jobs. Some of them have since joined the blog community on the Internet. They finance themselves via crowdfunding, donations and other project funding and publish critical commentaries outside the mainstream media, for example on Voxpublica or Contributors, or else they engage in investigative journalism, like the Rise Project, for example.

Press Freedom Index:

Reports without Borders: 52nd place (2015)
Freedom House: 84th place (2014)

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© Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung

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