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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 October, 2004, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Row flares over Romanian press freedom
Romanian press graphic

Alleged attempts to influence the work of journalists in a number of independent Romanian newspapers have prompted a scorching row over press freedom and media ownership.

The centrist daily Cotidianul said this week that the country's media was currently facing its biggest crisis since the collapse of communism in 1989.

The issue came to a head after staff at two papers, Evenimentul Zilei and Romania Libera, protested at what they said was undue interference by their Western owners in editorial content.

On Tuesday, the senior editor of Evenimentul Zilei, Cornel Nistorescu, resigned from his post, giving no further details.

The paper's owner, the Swiss group Ringier, strongly denied influencing editorial policy. In a statement, it said Mr Nistorescu's departure was on amicable terms, adding that there had been disagreements over how to modernise the newspaper.

Evenimentul Zilei's new editor Ion Cristoiu told Romanian TV this week: "The press groups Ringier and WAZ [Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung which owns newspaper Romania Libera], understand that Romanian readers have had enough of politics, and want to have another type of press in the future."

Lifestyles, not politics

Last month, another paper, Adevarul, ran a searing editorial "Press Under Pressure", criticising both Ringier and WAZ.

It said the owners had instructed staff to cut political news, focus more on lifestyle stories and avoid subjects like corruption that may anger the government.

Even the 'sophisticated' European owners are not shy of barging into a newspaper with fists and boots
Adevarul

"We, the journalists, have lived for a long time with the idea that the West is a better master, that it will not trample us the way Romanian magnates do, when they buy a paper or establish a television station for their own personal use," the paper said.

"But we see now that even the 'sophisticated' European owners are not shy of barging into a newspaper with fists and boots, in some cases."

TV debate

In a TV debate on Friday night, the chief editor of Adevarul, Cristian Tudor Popescu, and political analyst Emil Hurezeanu accused foreign newspaper owners of pressuring journalists not to criticise the Romanian government.

"I do not know whether Ringier and WAZ act in this way because they think they can improve their newspapers' profitability, or because they have a special relationship with the ruling party," Mr Popescu said. "We cannot exclude this second possibility, as elections are getting nearer."

No story has been stopped from being published or been censored
WAZ representative Klaus Overbeck

Mr Hurezeanu said foreign investors who come to Romania "generally want to have friendly relations with the Romanian state authorities" but this tendency clashed with the expectations of newspapers critical of government.

"Such conflicts also existed in Hungary, Bulgaria, and in most East European countries, where shareholders with a different culture and view on publishing came into a cultural conflict with journalists' expectations."

EU report

When Romania Libera used its whole front page in September to protest at what it said was editorial interference by WAZ, the following day the German owners ran a firm denial, also on the front page.

"In the three years the paper has belonged to the German group, no story has been stopped from being published or been censored," WAZ representative Klaus Overbeck said.

Next Wednesday, 6 October, the European Commission publishes a key report on Romania's fitness to join the EU in 2007, and parts of the report are expected to concern the media.

The EU ambassador to Bucharest, Jonathan Scheele, has said Romania's press freedom record would be an important factor in the political criteria the country must meet to join the EU in 2007 as planned.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Romania's murky media battle
19 Aug 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Romania
01 Sep 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Romania
01 Sep 04  |  Country profiles


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