Romania: The power of the media moguls

A number of Romania’s media entrepreneurs have been jailed for corruption. Their media outlets have been plunged into a profound financial crisis, with their credibility all but destroyed.

Supporters of the private broadcaster Antena 3 demonstrating on 19 February 2016 against the State's confiscation of the Intact group's television studios after Intact owner Dan Voiculescu was convicted of money laundering.
Supporters of the private broadcaster Antena 3 demonstrating on 19 February 2016 against the State's confiscation of the Intact group's television studios after Intact owner Dan Voiculescu was convicted of money laundering.
Every week, the private television station Antena 3 airs reports attacking Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and portraying its work as politically controlled. The persistent repetition of these accusations means many Romanians have long since stopped believing in an independent fight against corruption in their country.

This coverage plays right into the hands of Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the social democratic ruling party PSD, who is himself under investigation for corruption. He is also the driving force in parliament when it comes to watering down legislation in order to impede the crackdown on corruption, especially where politicians are concerned.

But the private television station Antena 3 is not the only media outlet on Dragnea’s side. The public service broadcasters haven’t put up much resistance either. The parliament abolished broadcasting fees in 2017 and since then television and radio have been financed solely from the state budget. Media experts fear that this means the public broadcasters’ reporting will now be biased in favour of the government.

Unbiased reporting is rare in Romania’s television and newspaper industry. Entrepreneurs and politicians founded television channels and newspapers in the 1990s to conduct politics and business and become rich, powerful and influential. Thanks to the anti-corruption campaign, a number of well-known media entrepreneurs have been brought to book in the meantime, including Dan Voiculescu, whose media trust Intact owns the private TV channel Antena 3. Voiculescu served nearly three years in prison for money laundering and fraud.

Media entrepreneurs like Dan Voiculescu still call the shots in the media industry. But over the years, new competitors have emerged on the media market, which is nevertheless under enormous economic pressure. Advertising revenues have plummeted in recent years, with a number of media companies filing for bankruptcy. Delays in the payment of salaries are common at almost all media outlets. According to Romanian media watchdog Active Watch, this has created an environment where journalists in Romania are regularly accepting bribes from government authorities and companies not to give them negative coverage. In this way local authorities and private companies are controlling Bucharest’s entire press and behaving like despots.

Many of the editorial departments are not just under struggling financially but also have to contend with a credibility crisis. Newspapers that were read by millions of people after the 1989 revolution and became leading publications after freedom of the press was reinstalled have faced a drastic drop in their circulation in recent years. "Many readers don't see any point in spending money on press products, given that they are manipulated anyway," said media journalist Petrişor Obae. Even at prestigious dailies the circulation is frequently below 10,000 copies and it is only thanks to their websites that they still play a role in the media market.

A blogger community has long since established itself online. It represents the only serious alternative to the biased media. It finances itself with the help of crowdfunding, donations and other project funding and publishes critical commentaries on blog sites such as G4 Media, Contributors or CriticAtac and Baricada. The Rise Project now provides a forum for investigative journalism.

Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 44 (2018)

Last updated: May 2018
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