The local media lacks independence and physical attacks on journalists investigating corruption by provincial officials or businessmen have increased. Journalists at national level systematically censor themselves and no longer dare to touch on sensitive topics. Lack of diversity in broadcasting is also worrying.
The European Union (EU), which Romania hopes to join in 2007, regularly criticises the corruption eating away at the country, especially at the top. Three ministers sacked by prime minister Adrian Nastase in October 2003 were accused of corruption and "barons" of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) who hold political and economic sway in the provinces are regularly exposed as corrupt.
The authorities, who are keen to show determination to fight corruption both to the EU and to preserve their image in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2004, do not take kindly to media criticism.
Provincial journalists are caught in a conflict between their proprietors’ private interests and public roles and are victims of censorship and harassment. Four were badly beaten after investigating corruption by PSD officials and businessmen. No enquiry into the incidents had been completed by the end of the year. Lack of TV and radio news diversity and of independence in the state-run media are the main obstacles to press freedom at national level.
Defamation laws also push journalists to self-censorship. In May, the government proposed to parliament the decriminalisation of "insults" and defamation, making these offences punishable by fines of between 50 and 3,000 euros (the average monthly salary of a journalist is 200 euros). But publishing false or biased news that harms the "honour of the country" would be punishable by between one and five years in prison.
Until the revised criminal code is approved, many journalists were being prosecuted under current laws that provide for between one and four years for "insults" and defamation, notably of civil servants, state representatives and national symbols.
New information about a journalist who vanished before 2003
A body found on 20 March 2003 near the western town of Timisoara was identified by local forensic scientists on 4 June as that of 62-year-old investigative journalist Iosif Costinas, of the daily paper Timisoara, who disappeared on 8 June the previous year. Police said Costinas, whose body bore no trace of violence, had killed himself with an overdose.
Flavius Donca, head of the paper’s political desk, said the journalist was very critical of the government and was writing a book about the underworld in Timisoara. He had investigated sensitive issues, including mystery killings during the 1989 revolt against the communist regime and the current presence of members of the old communist secret police, the Securitate, in top positions.
Four journalists physically attacked
Carmen Cosman, of the daily Romania Libera, and Marius Mitrache, of the daily Evenimentul Zilei, were punched and kicked by two thugs in the street a few metres from the police station in the west-central town of Petrosani on 25 July 2003 as they were leaving on a reporting job. They were bruised on the face and body and Cosman was hit very hard on the back of the head. Les journalists had exposed several instances of corruption among local officials, involving the managers of the Jiu Valley mining company. By the end of the year, police investigations had produced no leads.
Ino Ardelean, correspondent of Evenimentul Zilei in Timisoara, who reports on local politics and corruption, was beaten unconscious by thugs as he was on his way home on 3 December. He was hospitalised with head injuries and his jaw was broken in two places. He had regularly attacked the involvement of local politicians, especially of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), in illegal dealings. His most recent article, a few days before the attack, was about an PSD official and local headmaster who forced his pupils to work for him without pay.
Thugs beat Zoltan Szondy, of the Hungarian-language daily Harghita Nepe, with an iron bar on 26 December in the stairwell of the building where he lived in the central town of Miercurea Ciuc. He was hospitalised with serious head and arm injuries. He had investigated the activities of local businessman Csibi Istvan and had already been physically attacked in September.
Harassment and obstruction
Gabriela Mladin, of the TV station RCS in the southwestern town of Targu Jiu, resigned on 20 March after her live broadcast about corruption involving a local Social Democratic Party (PSD) member was cut off, supposedly for technical reasons.
The state-run TV station TVR only broadcast film of PSD MPs and none from the opposition during a 31 March parliamentary debate on a motion of censure against the government which its sponsors entitled "The mafia is suffocating Romania."
Rodica Culcer, Cosmin Prelipceanu and Nadina Forga, of the privately-owned radio station Europa FM, resigned on 4 April, accusing the management of yielding to PSD pressure to censor news programmes, notably a report on corruption involving a firm owned by the brother of Marian Oprisan, the PSD head of the Vrancea county council (eastern Romania), as well as an interview with prime minister Adrian Nastase.
Tourism minister Dan Matei-Agathon, who is also vice-president of the PSD, threatened, in a 3 May phone call to Sanziana Ionescu, of the daily Adevarul, to cancel advertising in the paper by his ministry if any more criticism of him was published.