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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Romania's murky media battle
By Nick Thorpe
BBC, Bucharest

A newspaper's power lies partly in the results its articles achieve, says Dan Turturica, editor of Evenimentul Zilei, Romania's most outspoken independent daily.

"So if you publish an investigation, as we did, into the privatisation of the national tobacco company, it would be extremely helpful to have a (parliamentary) opposition, because this issue is so important, it would require a parliamentary investigation."

Romanian election posters
Romania has already made great strides towards Western acceptance

The near disappearance of the centre-right coalition which ruled Romania from 1996-2000, has left non-party papers like Evenimentul Zilei extremely exposed.

But its editors have refused to water down their combative style. This frequently brings them into confrontation with Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's ruling Party of Social Democracy (PSD), which has its roots in Romania's pre-1989 Communist Party.

"They don't want us to look at what they are doing with public monies," says Mr Turturica.

"They don't want us to look at how they get sumptuous villas and bank accounts. Where did they get all this money? How come public servants with $200 to $300 (108 to 162) a month salary manage to drive a $100,000 (54,248) Mercedes?"

The problem of corruption in Romania has dogged the current and all previous governments since the revolution in 1989.

Romania's leaders admit there is a serious problem, but criticise papers like Evenimentul Zilei for devoting so much space to it.

They fear such bad publicity is even undermining their own efforts to improve Romania's image abroad - and hence her chances of joining the European Union by the target date of 1 January 2007.

"In one survey, more than three out of four Romanians said they had heard about corruption from the media," says Justice Minister Cristian Diaconescu.

"But only one in five said that they had been in a position to bribe someone."

This discrepancy, he suggests, proves the government's point.

'Climate of violence'

Mr Turturica replies that frequent criticism by politicians of his paper has created a climate of violence against it.

There were 16 physical attacks against journalists in Romania in 2003. Most remain unsolved.

In 2004, we face the lowest point of the Romanian media since the revolution
Cosmin Gusa,
Democratic Party
One of the worst was against Ino Ardelean, Evenimentul Zilei's reporter in the western city of Timisoara, who is still suffering from a beating he received last December.

He had published articles alleging corruption by local officials of the PSD.

The PSD in Bucharest points to the failure of the police investigation to find any political threads, and suggests darkly that Ardelean was attacked by robbers, or by underworld figures with whom he had dealings of his own.

On the issue of corruption, Prime Minister Nastase says the country is afflicted with a disease which can be, and is being, treated - not an epidemic which is out of control.

"We have done a lot, but in a transition period of course people are unhappy about many things which have to be improved," says Mr Nastase.

"In the last months we've updated our anti-corruption law, and a new institution, the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, has been made fully operational. I'm rather optimistic we'll succeed to bring the level of corruption to a lower level."

Blackmail

Another problem for the media is economic pressure.

State-owned companies appear to only place advertisements in pro-government media. According to Mr Turturica, less than 1% of the advertisements in Evenimentul Zilei are from state-owned firms - despite its huge circulation.

And another form of economic pressure, especially on TV stations, is debts to the state.

Most TV stations, even the commercial channels, are pro-government as a result.

One exception, Antenna-1, is also intensely political, in its loyalty to the opposition Romanian Humanist Party.

"In 2004, we face the lowest point of the Romanian media since the revolution," says Cosmin Gusa gloomily.

Mr Gusa was a rising star in the PSD, only to shock former colleagues by switching to the opposition Democratic Party.

"Most of the people now in politics are over 50," he says. "People who already held some authority before the revolution in 1989."

And as part of the old dictatorial system, he believes, there is plenty of information against them, which can easily be leaked to the media.

"The main rule in Romanian politics is never promote someone who cannot be blackmailed," he says.




SEE ALSO:
Romanian reform poll valid
19 Oct 03 |  Europe
Country profile: Romania
14 Jul 04 |  Country profiles


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