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CJI: Mass media in 2014, marked by fear

The year 2014 was influenced by the fear caused by the growing crisis in Romanian media, according to the report: “The state of the media in Romania, in 2014: Vulnerabilities and possible solutions”, issued by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CJI), published on Monday, May 3, on World Press Freedom Day.

“If we had to define by one word the state of media in 2014, the most appropriate world would be fear. The fear of the journalists that they might not have a job tomorrow; their fear at the end of the month, when they do not know whether they will receive their salary, their fear of bosses, politicians and authorities. The fear of managers trying to survive on a market that’s crashing fast, where the rules of competition are frequently violated, the fear that advertising might disappear, the fear of state institutions that might appear at any time with abusively prolonged searches. And, why not, the fear of those who had violated the laws that the tools of the state had become active. The guard dog of democracy seems more intimidated than ever before” the CJI report points out.

According to the report, the year 2014 was influenced by the increasing crisis in the Romanian media: “Money in the market is less and less, most of the advertising budgets go to central TV stations. Media businesses were stroke, continuously, by decreases in sales and rating, by distribution issues, by public budget funded advertising granted preferentially and, lately, by different interpretations of Romanian law in the fields of taxes and labour rights.”

On the other hand, according to the report, journalists complain, on their turn, for continuously decreasing wages, the lack of stability and predictability of their jobs, the busy schedule and the increasing number of tasks. “The audience thinks that the media is deeply viced, they complain about the lack of quality content, they frequently condemn excesses of the media, but they are not willing to pay for content and they do not sanction, by changing their consumption habits, the environments they are actually criticising. Moreover, quality journalism does not really have a wide audience”, the report shows.

Moreover, the report points out the continuous attempt by authorities and political factors to pretend that they are the genuine editorial decision makers of editorial teams. “At first sight, there is nothing new. The attempt to control and censor was always an issue. The difference mentioned now by most interviewees is that, in 2004, censorship was brutal, aggressive and obvious, and now, tools are more subtle and generalized”, the CJI report showed. Moreover, CJI mentioned that „the majority of control is made through economical tools and by using the state institutions as repression mechanisms”.

Regarding the electoral year 2014, the CJI report mentions that professional failures have increased in number. On one hand, the language was severely deteriorated, the aggressiveness increased both nationally and locally, but there are still areas where the profession is practiced correctly, as close to professional standards as possible. Yet, all of these seem to be merely exceptions, lost in the countless group of the rest, the report shows.

Due to the low quality of programs, local TV stations have a terribly low audience. “Thus, the public sanctions the lack of an information offer that would be according to its needs.”

The report also mentions that “the passage, on June 17, 2015, to terrestrial digital broadcast, a system that will grant much more broadcast frequencies nonetheless, TV stations will be required to pay in order to access them – will aggravate the situation of local TV stations”.

According to estimations made by the Romanian Association of Audiovisual Communications (ARCA) approximately 170 TV broadcasting authorizations are jeopardized and might disappear once terrestrial digital broadcast is adopted.

“Paradoxically, this might be the chance of local newspapers to regain their position as the lead suppliers of local information. Their role is obvious, as they are frequently the only means of gaining information serving local communities in rural regions or small cities. Central media does not provide information that would suit the needs of these communities. In most cases, news about local topics broadcast by national TV stations are about accidents, crimes or other “sensational” subjects”, the report shows.

CJI shows, as mentioned above, that “most of the control is achieved by economical mechanisms and by using the state institutions as repressive mechanisms.” “Open threats at the life and safety of journalists are quite rare, but the generalized crisis, lack of perspectives, low wages, that are sometimes several months late, turned the struggle into an exhausting one, that does not jeopardize their life, but, at the same time, only grants short time survival”, the same report shows.

The field lacks capital, old business patterns are no longer working, media consumption habits have changed dramatically and they keep on changing,  much to the loss of media brands. On its turn, the journalists’ community is adrift. Traditional professional abilities are changing, they are becoming increasingly complicated, the access to primary information is easier for custimers, the “mass information means” are not a specific tool of journalists any more. By owning a mobile phone and an Internet connection, anyone can become a “content supplier”, without any professional limits represented by accuracy or ethics. The game seems to be at the end and traditional media seems to have lost it, CJI shows. According to CJI, all of these elements describe a major system crisis in the media.

Yet, according to CJI, “as in any situation of crisis, there is the possibility of renewal. In a paradigm that was so severely affected, anyone who will come up with an idea that could generate progress and profit will win over the market and will be able to reform it after placing his offer. We are not witnessing an extinction. If the press finds an adequate economical pattern, investments will return. Journalism does not die, it merely changes”, CJI concludes.

Over one hundred interviews with managers, publishers, journalists working for local and central media were used for this report. The interviews were conducted in 21 cities: Bistrita, Targu Mures, Cluj, Botosani, Iasi, Focsani, Buzau, Galati, Slobozia, Alexandria, Timisoara, Arad, Oradea, Satu Mare, Zalau, Alba Iulia, Brasov, Sibiu, Deva, Bucuresti and Petrosani by the team of the Centre for Independent Journalism during October 2014 – April 2015.

CJI mentioned that the report is not intended as an “accurate and exhaustive quantity analysis”, but a radiography of the issues encountered by the media, as seen from inside.

 

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