Case studies on corruption involving journalists: Romania

The case studies reports produced within Work Package 6: Media and corruption have been published. The case studies on corruption involving journalists aim to contextualize the key findings of the previous report on how the media covers corruption. More precisely, these detailed analyses sought to discover what is behind the specific representations emerging from content analysis, how and why a particular story has become news, and what is the role of the journalist as well has his/her relation to the context. These studies were conducted in five countries: Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Romania, and Slovakia.

The typology used in analyzing these case studies identified four general roles that journalists can play in covering corruption:
1. Enforcer/initiator (positive role): the journalist identifies the topic, investigates it in-depth, follows up and makes a solid contribution in exposing corruption.

2. Reporter/facilitator (positive role): the reporter covers stories broken by other media or reports in a professional manner on corruption. While not taking the initiative in investigating it, the reporter is still playing a positive role contributing to the exposure of corruption.

3. Actively corrupted/collaborator (negative role): the reporter is part of a corruption act or network and uses the reporting to offer protection to his/her fellows, while aggressively (and sometimes falsely) exposing his/her foes. In some other cases, the journalist is only sympathetic to one party and only reports this party’s point of view.

4. Inactive/Lazy (negative role): the reporter is uninterested in covering corruption at all, keeping the public oblivious of the phenomenon, thus violating the professional obligation of correctly and timely informing the public.

The case studies report on Romania is available here

Among the highlights of the case studies report on Romania:

1. The high trust rates in the media started to erode once political polarization became very visible and as the media outlets and their vectors (mainly talk shows hosts) became not only tools in reflecting certain political views, but active combatants in the political struggle.

2. The perception of political instrumentalization of the media is so widespread within the public that people usually say that a journalist works “for” an owner or a political figure controlling a medium rather than “with” the given medium. In addition, a common perception is that journalists have to follow the orders they are given by their owners (not necessarily by their editors, which is often the case).

3. Journalistic professional standards exist on paper but are not consistently implemented or observed. There is no efficient and genuine self-regulation mechanism at national scale. Moreover, the very idea of deontological conduct is a matter of derision in some media.

4. Recent studies among journalists, editors and media managers indicated a high degree of selfcensorship. Moreover, journalists showed signs of what can be called pre-emptive obedience: there is no more need to enforce censorship since it comes naturally to them as they try to guess what is expected from them. The journalistic community is dominated by fear – not of physical harm or retaliation against them but of losing their jobs.

5. Journalistic investigations are relatively rare because they are both expensive to conduct and may entail negative consequences on the media outlet and its reporters. Few media afford to create and maintain investigative teams. Consequently, most of the investigative efforts rely on grant-based projects or on specialized groups of independent journalists.

6. Pack journalism is quite a frequent occurrence in Romania: most media cover the same stories, because the source is usually public. It is the result of a practice present in Romanian newsrooms whereby the editors apply sanctions (usually fines, salary cut-offs) to those reporters who “missed” stories, even if those stories were exclusive materials of a competing publication/channel. The economic crisis decimated the editorial staff resulting in fewer journalists left to cover as many beats as before.

7. Despite the fact that journalism is par excellence a public interest job, some Romanian journalists and media owners abuse this statute and use their editorial influence in order to promote their own interest. Romania has seen cases of journalists and media accused, prosecuted and sentenced for blackmailing.

8. While analysing the relationship between media and corruption and the role that journalism and journalists can play in fighting corruption in Romania, alleged or confirmed connections with the secret services stood out as the common feature in various cases. They took many forms: either the topic was of national interest, or the people involved were in high-ranking positions and thus able to affect national security or the journalists were accused of letting themselves be manipulated by the secret services.

The executive summary for the case studies is available here

The full case studies from the other countries are available here

The conclusion on the case studies is available here

The ANTICORRP project is financed through the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme and it aims to investigate and explain the factors that promote or halt the development of effective and impartial anticorruption policies.

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