In this article Dilema Veche provide a brief review of the events that have recently affected press freedom in Romania: a legislative proposals according to which televisions should broadcast more “positive news” (with tax benefits); a black lists of journalists who are against the government made by a minister; the National Audiovisual Council (the institution that should regulate the media slips) which does not punish any channel for fake news broadcasts; investigative journalists kicked out or left work due to editorial pressures.
Lately, in Romania, there have been more cases of journalists who have left the newspapers or televisions where they worked, many accusing editorial pressures. Cătălin Prisacariu, a well-known investigative journalist and member of the Romanian Investigative Journalism Center , is one of them. In an interview for Dilema Veche he stated that every time he left a news paper or a TV station it was “due to political and economic reasons”. “In the middle there was censorship, of lesser or greater magnitude - he stated. I am not at all good in masking the frustration of censorship, and I have never been able to stay when something was imposed to me, or when my investigations were not published. The problem is that when you have almost twenty years spent in the press system and you leave every place for these reasons, you realize in which kind of press institutions you worked.”
The murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, whose investigation has led to early elections in Malta, is one of the most tremendous news of media freedom lately. It is all the more shocking, as this mafia-style assassination (the journalist's car being thrown into the air) takes place in a member country of the European Union - a union which, theoretically, once again watches the journalists' rights and safety. The journalist had written about the involvement of the Maltese Prime Minister in the Panama files. Her works focused on investigative reporting into government corruption, nepotism, patronage, allegations of money laundering.
At the beginning of October, the Senate Culture Committee gave a positive opinion on a draft law amending the Agerpres (The Romanian National Press Agency) operating law, whereby the head of the agency could be dismissed by the Romanian Parliament. The project was initiated by the Minister of Culture, Lucian Romaşcanu, and aims at the dismissal of the general director of the Agerpres National Agency, following a possible parliamentary vote against the Agency's annual activity report, but without discussing possible criteria other than the political ones, which would underpin the rejection of that report.
Compared to other countries with precarious democracy, in Romania journalists do not do so badly in terms of freedom of speech. There are minor aggressions, and there is also a vigilant civil society and on ramparts, which immediately draw attention upon them. One of the most active media monitors in Romania, ActiveWatch, publishes annual reports on the state of press freedom and issues press releases shortly after scandals. The real threat to press freedom is financial constraint. For being a journalist in Romania you need to have your “safety nets”. A lot of journalists spoke about that in a recent press conference. One of the conclusions was that many Romanian journalists do not do their job out of fear of being fired.
At the end of August, the Environment Minister Doina Pană said she would like the televisions to broadcast more positive news, adding that this could be financial rewarded. The idea is not new, and the statement is not exactly innocent or benign - the minister suggested the idea of a “pact” between women in the press and women in politics to uphold this law. Several years ago in Romania there was a similar legislative initiative according to which televisions should have broadcasted 50% positive news and 50% negative news. This law had been approved by the Senate, and only due to the pressure of civil society it was rejected by the President. Such a law, says Jean Fracois Julliard, spokesperson for Reporters sans Frontiers, exists only in China.
In today’s Romania the most worrying episode of political interference in media freedom was on February 2017, when the Minister of Internal Affairs Carmen Dan drew up and presented a “blacklist” of journalists and politicians belonging to the opposition, who would have been “involved” in supporting anti-government protests.
One of the best tool for monitoring media skidding in Romania is the “FreeEx Report”, an ActiveWatch project which has been in place since 1999 to deal with both the monitoring of Romanian media and the alarming signals within the institutions and the organizations that should be able to intervene on media system. According to 2017 report, in the last year freedom of expression has been severely affected by radical discourses: there have been numerous intimidation attempts both within the guild and in the political environment.
A journalist who publish on Facebook the address of the leader of the Democratic Socialist Party; another journalist publishing an open letter addressed to the minor daughter of a journalist that criticized the leading party: in Romania journalism the lack professional ethics are daily occurrence, while more and more journalists are switching to political careers.
The 2016 local and parliamentary elections, as well as the mass protests in January-February 2017 have paved the way to massive misinformation and manipulation, propagated by mainstream media and various web-sites. On the other side, civil society protesters has developed a serious public countering to these manipulation, boycotting the products advertised by those TV stations which disseminated fake news.