A deeply entangled plot
As entrepreneurs are brought down by criminal charges, so are high-ranking politicians in the far-reaching DNA raids. The media industry in Romania concurrently loses its quality and financial sustainability, along with the public’s trust; although it is still considered the lifeline of information in the country, and different camps keep fighting for control of it.
In a March 2015 opinion piece in the New York Times, the US organisation Democracy Institute dubbed this “a legal reign of terror” – including going after tycoons who had fallen out with Romania’s political leadership or whose publications had been critical of the government. But Razvan Martin, p
rogramme coordinator with Romanian-based ActiveWatch, a media monitoring organisation, tells the ECPMF that the DNA’s actions are justified and long overdue: "The DNA are prosecuting media tycoons because the media industry is extremely corrupt. Most owners are businessmen or politicians who use media for their personal interests."
It is remarkable that the justice [system] is finally bringing to light the corrupt mechanisms of media funding and functioning. Such practices were known among media professionals, but unknown to the public, as few insiders dared to openly speak about them.”
Martin also says that “corrupt media owners or managers” targeted by the DNA are striking back by “running campaigns against the justice system, portraying themselves as victims.” ActiveWatch has been following the corruption situation in Romanian media for more than 15 years, and publishes reports on the state of press freedom annually.
The latest of such reports stresses that the politicisation of Romanian media was particularly apparent in the 2014-15 election cycle. Broadcasts expressed “open partisanship” and spread “disinformation”, while media owners used outlets to put pressure on the justice system. At the same time, the justice system was exposing “corrupt connections” of many media owners (and also some journalists) with business and political interests, and even organised crime.
A separate Centre for Media Transparency (CMT) report, entitled The men who bit the (watch) dogs, explains that the “somewhat chaotic scenery” regarding the media in Romania reflects overall patterns of post-communist development. Politics, business, journalism and justice are entangled in complex and even symbiotic ways: Leaders in each of the fields – many with a communist past and beneficiaries from the transition into capitalism – move from one field to another while keeping their hands in the multiple different pots.
Journalists in Romania, says the CMT report, find themselves caught between their role as “advocates of justice and anti-corruption and at times protectors of secrets” – between hard-hitting, award-winning journalism and “sophisticated” propaganda.
Ownership, media freedom and financial crisis
To further complicate matters, the global economic recession has hit Romanian media hard. Journalists are losing their livelihoods, the industry is mired in debt, and funding sources buoying it are obscure and sometimes illegal, as recent prosecution has indicated.