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Romania7 December 2004

Concern about threats to press independence on eve of presidential runoff

Romania’s print media were freer and more critical of the ruling party candidate while the state radio and television allegedly censored and manipulated coverage, Reporters Without Borders and the Romanian Media Monitoring Agency (MMA) concluded today after monitoring media coverage of the presidential election campaign from 21 October to 28 November.

The two organisations issued their findings five days before a runoff scheduled for 12 December.

"Balance between the political currents was respected in the print media, but the number of TV reports of a political nature fell sharply during the campaign, and this marked lack of debate about the election is worrying since TV is the main news source for 73 per cent of Romanians," the two organisations said.

"We are also worried about reports of censorship and manipulation of the news on the national radio and television, and we stress that the role of public media is not to be the government’s mouthpiece but to provide the public with complete, impartial and independent information on subjects of general interest," they said.

The first weeks of the campaign were marked by a fall in the number of references to the main candidates in radio and TV news bulletins, and by a significant fall in the number of reports of a political nature on TV. Broadcasting executives blamed this on the harshness and ambiguities of the electoral law, which pushed journalist into adopting a degree of self-censorship, they said.

The monitoring found a balance in the number of appearances by leaders of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and those of the centre-right opposition Justice and Truth Alliance (DA) on prime-time TV news bulletins. The balance was due to the electoral law’s imposition of very strict criteria on the allocation of airtime.

However, the content of the reports was biased in favour of the ruling party on state television. The PSD’s presidential candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, was the candidate most often associated with acts deemed positive in TV news programmes from 21 October to 3 November (in a total of 10 appearances), while Bucharest mayor Traian Basescu, the opposition candidate, was the candidate most often associated with acts deemed negative (in 5 appearances). The situation was similar on prime-time radio news bulletins during this period.

The print media gave more space to the candidates and were more critical. There were more reports about Nastase than other candidates, but he was also more criticised, with 41 per cent of references being of a negative nature.

After the opposition called for the elections to be annulled, the state television station TVR1 on 30 November turned its news bulletin into an open campaign against Basescu. Fifteen of a total 16 reports were about the annulment call, but only one presented Basescu’s viewpoint, while all the other personalities who were asked to express their view (journalists, analysts and politicians) were opposed.

Alexandru Costache of TVR1’s news department revealed the political pressure, censorship and disinformation prevailing within the organisation. "It is as if we were attached by an umbilical cord to the PSD and to Adrian Nastase in particular," he said in an open letter. Similar charges were made against the state-owned radio corporation, Radio Romania.

There were also several regrettable incidents involving the media during the campaign. In the course of several hours on 6 November, three political and governmental personalities tried to intimidate Sebastian ancea, a journalist with the local daily Ziarul de Vrancea, while he was covering the PSD-PUR campaign in Focsani (north-east of Bucharest).

About half of all the copies of the satirical weekly Academia Catavencu disappeared from news stands early on the mornings of 24 and 25 November. Deputy editor Liviu Mihaiu said PSD people were seen visiting news stands throughout the country, buying up all they copies they could find. He said the issue had an investigative report that was damaging for Nastase. PSD spokesman Titus Corlatean denied the allegations.

The complete report of this monitoring is available in Romanian on the MMA website: www.mma.ro




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