ROMANIA
Written by Julia Szambolics, Ph.D. & Meda Mucundorfeanu, Ph.D.

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Profile

  • Area: 238.397 square kilometers
  • Population: 19.63 million (2017)
  • Capital: Bucharest
  • State form: unitary semi-presidential republic
  • Official language: Romanian
  • Religion: Orthodoxy (86.45 percent)

  • Analysis
    Abstract
    According to a ranking created by Reporters without Borders, Romania is on the 46th place out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2017. The media is gradually being transformed into a political propaganda tool, which is visible especially during election years, and is characterized by: excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, editorial policies subordinated to owner interests and intelligence agency infiltration of staff. (Reporters without Borders, 2017).
    In recent years, several media owners have been indicted or prosecuted for corruption and tax evasion. The 2016 local and parliamentary elections, as well as the mass protests in January-February 2017 have given way to massive misinformation and manipulation. The media has significantly contributed to radicalizing the public discourse. The journalist’s job is still abusively used by some people in order to intimidate, blackmail or fulfil personal interests. The Romanian National Audio-visual Council has discredited itself strongly in the public eye because of its passivity, the timidity with which it sanctions the violation of laws and the internal conflicts among its members. Media deviations from professional rules have been sanctioned by courts, based on the new Civil Code (entered into force in autumn 2011). The number of lawsuits seems to be rising.
    On the other hand, there is a continuous rise of quality media. In 2016, media investigations had a great impact on the public agenda. (FreeEx Report, 2016-2017)
    Communication Policy and Regulations
    Political Environment
    Romania’s troubled political and economic transition from communism to democracy over the past 20 years has had a major impact on the media. The evolution of the media from total state control to freedom has been strongly linked to political cycles, changes in government structure and economic development. The transformation of the media since the 1989 anti-communist revolution can be divided into four distinct periods, dominated in turn by the state, prominent journalists, multinational media companies and local investors (Background Information Report, 2010: 309):

    • 1990-1995: Public television, the main source of information for most Romanians, is still controlled by the state, while other media outlets continue to be dominated by former supporters of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was overthrown and executed in 1989.

    • 1995-early 2000s: The TV station ProTV goes on air. This is the first truly commercial and independent TV station. As far as print media is concerned, old newspapers are restructured and new ones, including some quality newspapers, gain circulation and prominence.

    • Early 2000s: During this period the control of foreign and domestic media companies over the media grows, while that of journalists slowly vanishes.

    • After 2004: This is the period of the rise of “media moguls”. The state is openly hostile but unable to do anything against this. Foreign media investors retreat.

    Like most post-communist countries, Romania struggles with issues of political independence. In 2016 the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom calculated the so-called Political Independence Indicators, which assess the existence and effectiveness of regulatory safeguards against political bias and political control over the media outlets, news agencies and distribution networks. According to this institution, the lack of political independence represents the most significant threat to media pluralism in Romania. Three indicators have a risk level of over 80%: Political control over media outlets (88%), Editorial autonomy (81%) and the Independence of PSM (Public Service Media) governance and funding (92%). These three have the potential to affect other dimensions with low risk assessment, such as the media and democratic electoral processes (25%) and dimensions with medium level, such as in the state regulation of resources and support for the media sector (38%). The risk of political control is considered to be high (88%), because political actors or parties can be owners of all types of mass media (audio-visual, radio, newspapers, online). There is no conflict of interest or incompatibility between political activities and media ownership. This legal situation represents a risk, because it facilitates direct involvement of political actors in the media. Consequently, there are certain politicians who own media directly or indirectly (through family members) and the lack of safeguards for editorial autonomy can and does lead to political control though owner interference into editorial content. (Media Pluralism Monitor, 2016: 7-8)

    Legal Environment
    The media is regulated through a series of laws. The most important among them is the Constitution. It guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits any form of censorship. It also states that, “Freedom of the press also involves the free setting up of publications,” and that, “No publication shall be suppressed.” The Constitution guarantees the right to information and contains a few other paragraphs about the media, including one stating that public radio and TV should be autonomous. (The Romanian Constitution, 2003)
    Another important piece of legislation is the Law 544 on Free Access to Information of Public Interest, which was adopted in 2001. According to this law, public institutions are required to release information of public interest to the public, on their own or by request. The law contains a specific chapter granting special privileges to journalists, such as obtaining information faster than the general public.
    Other laws regulate the activity of the public television and radio, the audio-visual landscape, the functioning of the national press agency, such as the penal and civil codes, the law on classified information, the law on national security, the laws on the functioning of the secret services, the police, the Defence Ministry etc. (EJC, Media Landscapes, 2009).
    In 2016 the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom calculated the so-called Basic Protection Indicators, which represent the regulatory backbone of the media sector in every contemporary democracy. They measure several potential areas of risk, including the existence and effectiveness of the implementation of regulatory safeguards for freedom of expression and the right to information.
    According to this Centre, Romanian legal provisions regarding the protection of the media sector are relatively solid. It is the inconsistent implementation of these provisions that give rise to potential risks in this area. This is largely due to structural problems with the Romanian state institutions (justice system, administrative capacity) and to the socio-economic context.
    The indicator on the Protection of freedom of expression shows a medium risk (36%). Freedom of expression is recognized in the Romanian Constitution and in the Civil Code, and Romania ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).
    The right to information is recognized in the Romanian Constitution, as well as in the above-mentioned Law 544/2001 on Free Access to Public Information. However, lengthy lawsuits and inconsistent judicial practices reduce the effectiveness of appeal mechanisms regarding the denial of access to information. (Media Pluralism Monitor, 2016: 4)
    Media Offers
    The Romanian media market is dominated by television, while the internet use is in a continuous rise and the newspaper circulation in decline. The print market in Romania represents only 5 per cent of the entire media market, compared with 28 per cent in Hungary or 21 per cent in the Czech Republic. (Media Pluralism Monitor, 2016: 2)
    In 2016, TV not only kept leadership, but drove the total market growth with 13 per cent, over the 10 per cent registered by the overall media market. Radio has developed as well, 96 minutes is the daily consumption. For print, the year 217 was another year of decline in readership, circulation, coverage, consequently in budgets. (Media Fact Book, 2017: 7)

    Media Access and Consumption

    News Agencies
    The state-owned agency, AgerPres, does not represent an important source of information for the general public or for the journalists, because of its poor reporting. AgerPres is formally controlled by the Parliament, but because the legislative institution is not allowed to influence the public agenda, it shows no interest in the agency anymore.
    The most important news agency is the privately owned Mediafax, which has been the dominant player on the market for the past decade. Its high prices were a major reason for concern among Romanian editors. This ended when the media group owned by an important media mogul of the country launched the NewsIn agency to compete with Mediafax. The competition forced Mediafax to decrease prices and to be more flexible in negotiating contracts. NewsIn did not survive the economic crisis and in 2009 became a limited online operation platform. (Background Information Report, 2010: 320)

    Television
    The TV market is an oligopoly, in which two important players share the biggest advertising budgets: a family media business (Intact Group) and a publicly owned company (Central Media Enterprises). The smaller news-only TV market is crowded, with five national cable stations that all make the list of top offline news brands: Realitatea TV, Antena 3 (Intact group), Digi 24, România TV, and B1. (Digital News Report, 2017)
    In terms of ratings performance, in 2016 the top 3 TV stations were: PRO TV, followed by Antena 1 and Kanal D.
    The public service broadcaster, TVR, has a very low share (Rtg. 0.4 per cent) and a high debt to the state of almost 150 Million Euro. (Media Pluralism Monitor, 2016: 4)

    Radio
    2016 proved to be a good year for Radio, as the market managed to maintain the growing trend registered in the previous year +5%. Radio stations continued their efforts to attract and consolidate the audience through various marketing campaigns and events. In general, most of the urban population spends less than one hour listening to the Radio. Starting at 24 years old radio listeners begin a medium to heavy consumption, which stabilizes after the age of 35. (Media Fact Book, 2017: 67, 71)

    Print
    In Romania there are 8 main newspapers: Click, Libertatea, Gazeta Sporturilor, Evenimentul Zilei, România Liberă, Adevărul, Ziarul Financiar and Jurnalul Național.
    The most read Romanian newspapers, print edition, in 2016, were the tabloids Click with 483,000 readers and the daily newspaper Libertatea with 349,000 readers, followed by Adevărul with 131,000 readers and Ziarul Financiar with 80,000 readers. (www.paginademedia.ro, 2016)
    The events from 2015 (investigations carried out by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate) have continued to impact the print press market, which continued its decline in 2016. Print did not manage to revive, the editorial content continued to shift to the digital platforms, generating a constant decrease of readers. (Media Fact Book, 2017: 75)

    Online
    According to the National Institute of Statistics, almost 70% of people aged 16 to 74 in Romania, equivalent to 10.6 Million users, used the internet in 2016, up 1.2 percentage points over the previous year. (Media Fact Book, 2017: 58) Facebook was launched in Romania later than in Western countries and still does not have the Code of Conduct translated into Romanian. It got more powerful in 2009-2010, and is now the country’s most important social media platform with more than 1.3 million users, 10 times more than in the previous year. Women represent 52% and men 47% of users, most of them being 18-27 years old. Facebook is often used to organise spontaneous protests, such as that of September 2010, when more than 70 journalists organized a flash mob outside the Ministry of Finance to protest against changes in the tax system. (Background Information Report, 2010: 320)
    Journalists' autonomy
    Journalism Education, Career and Salary
    In Romania, there are no formal barriers to becoming a journalist, though Journalists need accreditation to enter certain institutions. The Freedom of Information Act adopted in 2001 has a specific chapter dedicated to the protection of journalists. This came as a result of the Parliament’s abuses against journalists who reported on the institution’s expenses. The Act specifies among others the restrictive conditions in which accreditation can be withdrawn if a journalist seriously disturbs an institution’s activity.
    There are approximately 20 university programs of journalism in Romania, both public and private. The average number of students per class is 60, so a large number of young potential journalists graduate each year. The results of a focus group conducted with senior editorial staff concluded that less than 20% of those entering the profession graduated from journalism university programs.
    Workforce legislation in Romania is inflexible and encourages collective bargains, but is seldom implemented. In each industry, trade unions and owners’ associations negotiate collective contracts that become compulsory for the entire industry. Such a collective contract was signed and it became compulsory on paper, though it was largely ignored. According to this contract, the minimum wage for the media industry is the value of the national average wage plus 10%. Between the years 2005 and 2008, the media boom led to an inflation in journalists’ salaries, and those with seniority earned 5 to 10 times the national average wage. The entry-level wage in a national newspaper editorial office was around 500 to 600 Euros, while at mid-level the average was around 2000 to 3000 Euros. A particular problem was the widespread practice of splitting these amounts in two parts: the minimum wage as salary and paying the rest in temporary intellectual rights, in order to avoid paying taxes to the state. Successive governments accepted this situation, although it was illegal, and the practice was seen as an informal way of subsidising the media industry. In 2009 and 2010, with the decrease in advertising revenue, most media outlets resorted to layoffs or to cutting pay by 20 to 30%. To make matters worse, the state suddenly became quite strict regarding the previously accepted practice of avoiding social taxation. One case revealed that even the drivers of a media company were paid using intellectual rights contracts. In August 2010, the government changed the law, practically forbidding the intellectual property contracts, renaming them “independent activities” and imposing social duties on them. Consequently, journalists had to go to 3 different offices and wait in line to pay the related taxes each month. This situation led to a petition initiated by journalists calling for a fiscal strike. The petition was signed by more than 6000 people within two months. The government changed the payment method, but the new taxation remained in place, further decreasing media industry revenue. (Background Information Report, 2010: 323)
    According to a newspaper article comparing the Romanian and the German media landscape, the Romanian salaries in the print press are between 300-1500 Euro, while freelancers can barely find a place to publish due to low budgets. Furthermore, no journalist benefits from clear employment contracts, where employer-employee relationships are clearly regulated. (evz.ro, 2015)

    Journalists’ Working Conditionsy
    The Romanian news environment is defined by intense competition for television and online audiences, sustained by understaffed newsrooms that struggle for financial survival. (Digital News Report, 2017) Over the years several attempts have been made to create a law specific for the press. Through their representatives and organisations, journalists generally opposed such initiatives arguing that a law would impose restrictions rather than grant freedoms.
    However, a new study carried out by CIJ, ActiveWatch and IMAS (The Romanian Institute for Marketing and Polls) and published in October 2009 found that about 70% of journalists think that a press law would improve the quality of Romanian journalism. Only about 35% think that such a law would limit press freedom. Looking at other findings of the study, one could draw the conclusion that such an apparent shift of opinion could be explained by the low standards in this profession and the lack of protection against outer and inner pressures.
    According to the study, half of Romanian journalists are not familiar with any ethics code, most journalists claim that professional norms are not observed in newsrooms, and 60% of them blame political pressure for this fact. Moreover, 31% admit that they are involved in bringing advertising contracts to their company, 43% admit that it is hard or very hard to verify a piece of information from several independent sources, while 17% claim that certain stories are forbidden in their newsrooms. At least in theory, though, there are organisations and professional documents ensuring accountability. The Romanian Press Club is regulated by its own ethics code and a so-called Council of Honour has the role of penalising journalists or media outlets that break the professional norms. However, critics argue that journalists working for the media outlets represented in the Club do not know or do not have to respect the ethics code, and that the decisions of the Council of Honour have been seldom and arbitrary. (EJC, Media Landscapes, 2009)

    Journalists’ Role Perceptions and Reputation of Media and Journalism in Society
    In 2016, maybe more so than in other years, journalism exposed corruption, incompetence, and malpractice in vital areas, such as health, education, and public security. Yet journalists do little to support each other, and are often highly critical of one another in public, even if they have to face similar issues.
    Trust in the Romanian media has drastically declined due to a long list of issues, ranging from corruption and blackmail to insolvency, from fake news to obvious political biases. Some of the most powerful media owners and directors have criminal records and have spent time in jail in recent years. (Digital News Report, 2017)
    Compared to other countries, trust in Romanian media is low. This has to do with evidence of political and economic interference in the news agenda, and last but not least with the prosecutors’ files on politicians and media owners. (Digital News Report, 2017)
    A study conducted by Delia Cristina Balaban et. al in 2009 about the self-perception of Romanian journalists reveals that objectivity, truth, professionalism and creativity are the most important values as far as being a journalist is concerned. The values less mentioned by the 106 respondents are accuracy and equidistance. Other conclusions show that Romanian journalists declare that they strive to be professionals. Romanian journalists have academic degrees (the majority of them, especially the young ones, in journalism or communication), even though journalism is a profession where academic degrees in the field are not necessary to be employed. The client orientation was proved to be strong for journalists working for both local and national media. The affiliation to professional organisations is very low, especially for journalists working in Cluj-Napoca. When it comes to journalistic ethics, the surveys describe a journalist with high ethical standards. (Balaban et al., 2010: 23-24)
    Sources
    References
    • D. C. Balaban, M. Abrudan, I. Iancu, I. Lepadatu, Role Perception of Romanian Journalists. A Comparative Study of Perception in Local versus National Media, in Romanian Journal of Communication and Public Relations, vol 12, no 1 (18)/2010, pp 9-26.
    • S. Fengler, T. Eberwein, G. Mazzoleni, C. Porlezza, and S. Russ-Mohl (eds), Journalists and Media Accountability: An International Study of News People in the Digital Age, Peter Lang, 2014

    Related Links
    Recommended citation form
    Julia Szambolics & Meda Mucundorfeanu: Romania. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2018. http://mappingmediafreedom.de/romania/ (acces date)


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