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Romania - World Report 2009

50 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index

-  Area: 238.391 sq. km.
-  Population: 22,246,862
-  Language: Romanian
-  Head of state: Traian Basescu, since 2004

Poised between old reflexes and democratic progress, Romania is struggling to provide the media with a democratic environment in line with promises made when it joined the European Union. Though badly needed, reforms relating to media rights were carried out without consultation with the main players in this sector, considerably reducing the scope for investigation and editorial freedoms. The legacy of the former communist era has not yet completely disappeared from among some circles of the ruling class that persist in viewing the press as a means of transmitting official information.

An amendment to the broadcast law adopted by the Senate on 25 June 2008 was designed to get TV and radio to put out equal amounts of positive and negative news. This grotesque reform plan that was overturned on appeal by the Constitutional Court provides an indication of the anachronistic concept of the media that a section of the political class continues to hold. It takes a dim view of the lifting of restraints on the national press and of the activism of non-governmental organisations that are seeking to take advantage of the new freedoms ensured by EU membership.

The government, which is keen to keep its grip on the traditionally more influential broadcast media, took steps at the end of the year to regulate the digital terrestrial market. Resorting to emergency edicts, it applied new directives giving it complete scope in awarding licences and digital frequencies for future television stations. The government has thus become the chief “guardian” of the entire broadcast market, without any real counterbalance.

Even more disturbing is the fact that draft reform of criminal and civil law adopted by the same government in March 2009 challenges the very basis of investigative journalism. This would ban publication or broadcast of the contents of phone-tapping or the use of written correspondence or any other personal document mentioning the home or telephone number of people quoted in an article without their prior agreement. The reform, within the framework of an emergency procedure, without consultation with media players, poses a serious threat to editorial freedom and the capacity to investigate legal cases, and political or financial scandals.

Romanian civil society is campaigning for a halt to the multiplicity of reforms that would plunge the country back onto a path incompatible with EU standards. The depth of the objections and a campaign by top media figures could succeed in facing down the authoritarian ambitions of the former Soviet era.

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