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Romania29 April 2004

Caught between Old Habits and Democratic Strides : Romanian Press at a Crossroads

Even as the European Union (EU) prepares to welcome ten new Member States which have managed to achieve their democratic transition, Romania-scheduled to join the EU in 2007-is struggling to meet the criteria for membership. Having made press freedom a core issue in the negotiations, the European Commission and the Parliament recently issued severe warnings to the Romanian government.

Alarmed by a sudden increase in the number of assaults on investigative journalists in the provinces and by the growing problems confronting the press, Reporters Without Borders dispatched a delegation to Romania where, from 24 March to 1 April 2004, they gathered testimony from numerous journalists and met with local and national authorities.

In its investigative report entitled "Caught between Old Habits and Democratic Strides: Romanian Press at a Crossroads" the organisation reveals that-fourteen years after the collapse of Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime-the status of press freedom in that country is still unsatisfactory.

Reporters Without Borders exposes a very alarming situation in the provinces, where the media’s independence is being hindered by the conflicts of interest of their owners, who are trying to protect their economic and political interests. The few remaining investigative journalists are truly facing a dangerous situation. Four among them, who were inquiring into corruption cases involving local politicians and businessmen, were brutally assaulted in 2003.

Nationally, the organisation reports attempts to manipulate information within the state-owned media, especially on the national radio, and deplores the lack of pluralism in the audiovisual sector. The authorities, very anxious to preserve their reputation, both domestically and internationally, do not appreciate criticism from the press. In this context, Romanian journalists submit to a very strong self-censorship on the most sensitive topics, such as corruption, international adoption issues, or the status of Romania’s bid for membership in the EU.

Reporters Without Borders has sent recommendations not only to the European, national and local authorities, but also to the press, urging Romania to conform without delay to the European standards respecting press freedom, so that it may prevent this year-a crucial one in Romania’s race for EU membership and involving a heavy electoral schedule-from becoming a high-risk period for the country’s most critical journalists.

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