Financial Times despre incercarea de suprimare a presei independente din Romania

Marţi, 28 septembrie 2004, 0:00

Fears for press freedom on the rise in Romania
By Christopher Condon in Budapest - Financial Times
Published: September 28 2004 03:00 | Last updated: September 28 2004 03:00

Fifteen years after the fall of the repressive Ceausçescu regime, press freedom is again a concern for some journalists in Romania.

In recent weeks journalists at two of the country's biggest daily newspapers have accused their foreign owners of trying to suppress negative coverage of the Romanian government.

The accusations come at a sensitive time, before parliamentary and presidential elections in November and while the European Union is monitoring press freedom ahead of a decision on Romania's entry into the bloc.

Employees at Evenimentul Zilei and Romania Libera claim their owners, Switzerland's Ringier and Germany's Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) respectively, have buckled under government pressure to smother criticism before the elections. Adrian Nastase, Romania's prime minister, is running for president against Theodor Stolojan, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance.

Both groups of journalists have said their owners have told them to lessen political coverage and tone down their negative reporting of the government.

Journalists at Romania Libera said in a statement that their owners "began in an insistent way to tell us what to write in the newspaper, how to write and who not to criticise".

Romania Libera dedicated its entire front page on September 13 to a statement accusing WAZ of pressing staff to write less about the ruling Social Democrat party and refrain from investigative reporting. WAZ executives denied the allegations, saying they had never interfered with Libera's editorial content since acquiring the paper in 2001.

A week earlier the editorial staff at Evenimentul made similar accusations against Ringier. More than half of Evenimentul's 70-member editorial staff signed a public letter saying Ringier executives had pressed the paper to "sweeten" its coverage of the government.

Thomas Landoldt, general manager of Ringier Romania, rejects the charge, insisting: "We have always guaranteed the staff's editorial independence."

The government has denied allegations of manipulation. The idea that foreign media owners have given in to government pressure is "a demagogic development without any common sense", a statement said.

Evenimentul Zilei and Romania Libera have a combined daily circulation of about 150,000. They are among a small number of national media outlets that regularly investigate accusations of government corruption.

This episode is only the most recent sign of the long-standing tension between government and parts of the media, according to Cristina Guseth, director of the Bucharest office of Freedom House, a rights monitoring group.

Freedom House and other monitoring groups say national state-owned broadcasters are biased towards the government and give little access to opposition politicians.

Journalists at Evenimentul and Libera accuse the government of using state-controlled advertising budgets and selective enforcement of tax laws to influence the media. The government controls a significant minority of advertising spending in Romania, particularly in the print sector, according to Mircea Toma, director of Bucharest's Media Monitoring Agency.

In July Evenimentul published a story claiming that Mr Nastase's government had ordered state institutions to approve all advertising spending with the prime minister's office.

According to Dan Turturica, Evenimentul's editor, advertising revenue from state-controlled sources has fallen from €500,000 ($615,200, £340,280) in 2003, 20 per cent of the paper's total advertising take, to almost nothing this year.

In its most recent annual report on Romania last October, the European Commission drew attention to the government's selective enforcement of tax laws. By letting media companies run up big tax debts, the Commission said the government had made them "dependent on the good will of the Romanian authorities".

The government has also been criticised by a number of human rights groups for not pushing prosecutors to file charges in cases that involve the harassment and beating of journalists.

Mr Landoldt said he believed discontent at Evenimentul stemmed more from Ringier's attempts to make organisational and operational changes since it bought the paper from German media giant Bertelsmann last year.

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