Media freedom report points out information blackout on key events, press corruption cases

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Journalism is still used for intimidation, blackmail and influence peddling, while state authorities attempt to prevent access to information on crucial events in Romania’s recent history, according to the FreeEx January 2015 – April 2016 report by ActiveWatch, released to Agerpres.

ActiveWatch, a non-governmental organization promoting free communication for public interest, asserts that structural problems of Romanian press were still visible in 2015, as the Judiciary has revealed the political domination on media through “corrupt financing mechanism, by controlling the public agenda with the help of the most powerful press institution, the use of press for blackmail, or its involvement in top-level corruption acts.”

The FreeEx report mentions that Romania has climbed three positions, to 49th, in Reporters Without Borders’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

In the period covered by ActiveWatch’s study, new corruption cases in the press have been exposed, involving media owners and managers, and also journalists. A daily newspaper has been offered as a bribe to a politician charged of corruption in an indictment by the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA); several media owners have been arrested for corruption and tax avoidance; the journalist profession is still used abusively for intimidation, blackmail or influence peddling, the authors assert; DNA cases proved that top politicians dictated the editorial content of important press institutions.

The report mentions several types of censorship: economic, in the financing of news desks; explicit threats or intimidation; and authorities’ attempt to block the journalists’ access to vital information, or the publishing of critics. Whistle-blowers have been harassed by public institutions and companies.

Information blackout is practiced on key events in Romania’s recent history, such as the 1989 revolution, the 1990 miners’ riot, or the Colectiv Club fire in 2015.

Media faces “an avalanche of insolvencies,” as 2016 – an election year – generated a competition among politicians to support televisions hit by the financial crisis and by the legal problems of their owners. A special case is TVR, the public television, for which insolvency is more often circulated as a solution, while the change of its legal status is still of no political interest.

The report also criticizes the official broadcast media watchdog – the National Audiovisual Council – who “kept self-discrediting itself in the public space because of its poor functioning, of timidity in penalizing infringements, and of internal conflicts between its members.”

On the legislative level, the freedom of expression is jeopardized by attempts to criminalize libel and to promote the so-called ‘Big Brother’ laws on communication surveillance.

The FreeEx report is published annually since 2000, based on the team’s own independent investigations, on media monitoring, and on official or other independent reports.