Romania: the press involved in party politics

Romanian media - and especially the print media - are often heavily influenced by politicians, and this has led to a major loss of credibility. In view of the drastic decline in circulations throughout the industry, the country's printed press is at risk of disappearing altogether.

Romania's President Klaus Iohannis after his re-election on 10 November 2019.
Romania's President Klaus Iohannis after his re-election on 10 November 2019.
TV debates are an integral part of the election campaign in many countries. However, in the run-up to the runoff vote in the presidential election in November 2019 the Romanians almost had to go without. The incumbent Klaus Iohannis declared that his political opponent, former head of government Viorica Dancila, had "brazenly attacked the rule of law" during her term of office and that he therefore did not want to engage in any discussion with her. The public and the media were outraged to see the TV debate cancelled, so much so that in the end Iohannis had a one-man question and answer session organised in a bid to appease the public.

Millions of viewers followed the live event on the Internet and on television. Iohannis had handpicked the eight journalists who were allowed to ask questions. The daily newspaper Libertatea was among those media outlets that were allowed to cover the Q&A session but was not allowed to pose questions itself. The newspaper commented that the whole incident was "an insult to the journalistic profession", and a discussion flared up about whether journalists in Romania were allowing politicians to boss them around.

The political reporting of a certain section of the media in particular is frequently influenced by party interests. This is hardly surprising given that Romanian entrepreneurs with excellent connections to politics or even with a parliamentary mandate founded various television channels and newspapers in the 1990s to increase their wealth and political influence. In the meantime the majority of these media entrepreneurs either have been or currently are under investigation for embezzlement, corruption or tax fraud.

Whenever elections are imminent, the political influence on media outlets becomes all the more intense. The media then become a "space for confrontation between government and opposition parties", as the Romanian media monitoring agency ActiveWatch observed in May 2019. This means that those in power at all levels of the political system decide which journalists are provided with what information. And also which publications are awarded the vital advertising contracts of state institutions. The political confrontation has long since spread to social networks: not only have political parties had false news spread, some television broadcasters have also tried to do politics in this way.

Many newspapers that used to reach millions of readers after 1989 have seen their circulation plummet in recent years, in part because they have lost much of their credibility among the people. Only thanks to their free online platforms do they still play a role at all in the media landscape. During the coronavirus crisis numerous publications temporarily discontinued their print editions due to the massive slump in advertising revenues. Presumably some publishers will decide to discontinue the print editions altogether even after the crisis.

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders):
Rank 48 (2020)

Last updated: April 2020
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