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March 31, 2023

News Trading

Romanian print media restructuring is in full swing. A few national daily newspapers folded in the wake of presidential elections late last year. Hurt by crisis, heavily in debt, those papers, some of them quite prestigious, left an empty place on the Romanian media scene. Owned by business people with interests tied to opposition politicians, the said publications ceased to appear as it was thought their mission on the print media market was over. The vacant place remained as such until recently, when a new daily newspaper emerged on the market. It is nonetheless all too early to examine it, and anyway all too little to fill the space of those that perished.

Under such circumstances, newspapers backed by press trusts, tied to televisions and powerful businessmen or relevant international companies dominate the market. The rest. can hardly make ends meet.

Nonetheless, it is televisions that are the spearhead of the local mass media, hence the fierce battle fought by the two news channels, Realitatea TV and Antena 3 – both owned by powerful financiers – during last year’s election campaign. On the other side of the fence, President Traian Basescu, and, more recently, Emil Boc, avowedly fighting against the ‘moguls’ and their televisions. This is ‘no holds barred’ fighting and the outcome is anybody’s guess…

Each television, radio station or newspaper has ills of their own. Overall however, Romanian press remains the watchdog of democracy, with all its goods and ills, as it is likely to be the case elsewhere too.

In their competition for readers and broader circulation, today’s press forgets that people need the most comprehensive news possible and not just bits of information. They relay too heavily on the commercial aspect of information. The blame does not rest entirely with journalists. The bad example was set by large media companies that cracked the Romanian market years ago relying on tabloids and not quality papers approaching serious issues. Local journalists swiftly adapted to the trend, and this is how there are more scandal oriented newspapers and magazines than serious-minded counterparts.

An emphatic approach, catastrophic trends, all aimed at seeking sensationalism at any price. The bulk of news focuses on morbid things, sex, catastrophes and accidents, anomalies and threats more or less real. We are given advice and treated with off-the-cuff astrograms, which results in no horoscope predictions resembling one another. We are assailed by domestic, street, verbal and physical violence, kitsch culture and mediocrity, at best. The majority of news deals with the ‘domestic market’. Ninety per cent of the foreign news is centred on society and political scandals, or global crisis. The press is trading in emotions, pulling viewers’ heart strings is much sought-after. The air disaster wherein late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, along with almost the entire Polish state leadership, lost their lives, marked a peak in trading with television viewers’ emotions. Sad music and – what beats all – talk shows dedicated to the event, guests engaging in heated debates, with the likely purpose of keeping viewer attention awake. Even the impressing entombment ceremony in Krakow Sunday was disturbed by, most of the time unwelcome, comments by television guests, the national channel being no exception. The Katyn tragedy has been rediscovered overnight, the information hodgepodge combined real-time information and accounts about the events 70 years ago.

We are suddenly interested in Poland, now that this tragedy happened. Had the Polish presidential aircraft crashed elsewhere than Smolensk, the issue of the Polish officers killed by Russians at Katyn would have remained just as obscure as it had been in Romania for decades.

Another problem, surrounding the presidential plane, popped up. An inventory was made of presidential aircraft’s lengths of operations, and the conclusion drawn was that Romania stands poorly in this department too. Analysts and former presidents recalled how old the planes were and how many adventures the Boeing 707 presidential plane lived to see, from sheep cargo to being seized for one day in Canada in the ‘90s. Many are in favour of secure presidential flights, others show concern about public spending. The in-depth tackling of the issue was interrupted by the ash cloud over Europe, otherwise it might have continued into the next days.

It is not the interest shown to Poland’s tragedy that’s to blame here, but the fact that this is what prompted our interest in Poland now. This also applies to how concerned we are about other Central and Eastern European states as well, once our fellow countries in the communist camp. We take no interest in what happens abroad. Televisions are quite careful about it. And when some interest arises, it only refers to an attempt on somebody’s life, murders, quite seldom about inter-state agreements or political relations, cultural events so on and so forth. What we learn about them only has to do with the Moscow metro bombing, the earthquake in Chile a.s.o. solely for the purpose of mass-media capitalising on the tear-jerking effect, with the press and televisions, chiefly, turning it into an art form.

Since 1990 onward, written press and televisions have almost entirely been focusing on domestic news and issues in Western Europe or the US. From news to films, everything revolves around them. We haven’t been interested in reform development and daily life in Romania’s neighbouring countries. We may have learned a thing or two had we compared ourselves with Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavian states or the Baltic states. We may have learned reform lags behind here, and so are economy, infrastructure and agriculture. Comparing ourselves with Germany or France would have been way too radical an attempt.

Twenty years after the fall of communism, we notice we are ushered into the new age of information trading. Nicely packed, pulling on heart strings or aimed at tear-jerking, they sell well and win a broad audience. We have rather forgotten what a serious-minded publication means or approaching an issue in realistic and interesting manner. Even if it has hugely evolved, technically speaking, Romanian print media has lowered its quality standards lately. It has however learned how to sell emotions and take advantage of viewers or readers. It may be it has learned all too fast how to make money and has forgotten just as fast how the information should be delivered.

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