The Romanian Academic Society (SAR) together with the Romanian Center for Independent Journalism (CRJ) and the Romanian Agency for Media Monitoring (Active Watch), have launched, on May 22, the Coalition for a Clean Press an initiative for increasing media ownership transparency. The event took place at the Athenee Palace Hilton in Bucharest, and was attended by Alina Mungiu Pippidi (SAR President), Ioana Avădani (Executive Director of CRJ), Liana Ganea (Programs Coordinator at Active Watch) and other civil society representatives, along with journalists and media experts who pledged to support the initiative. Among them were the well-known sports journalist Catalin Tolontan and TV business editor Moise Guran.
The coalition for Clean Media has five main goals, generally aiming at increasing the transparency of the sources of media revenue. The first four of these goals can be implemented immediately. All the information required by the coalition is public, but not always easily accessible. This initiative aims to increase the awareness of the general public about the actors who pay for media content and potential conflicts of interest, such as politicians who are media owners. Thus, initiators of the coalition invite all media trusts to include the following information on their website:
– The structure of media ownership
– List of all advertisers who contribute more than ten percent of the budget publication (the first 20 customers according to size)
– Balance of the previous year with aggregate income and expenses
– Historical debts to the state budget
– The person or company within the publication who can act as a mediator between persons who consider themselves wronged by the company and the publication
Romania’s EU accession in 2007 created a paradoxical media landscape. On one hand, this is a freer media than in the early nineties, as no journalist is serving a prison sentence anymore, to a great extent due to European efforts along the years. On the other, it is a media dominated by domestic capital, where few foreign investors have stakes. The overall model seems to be closer to the Italian model than the Nordic one. Few newspaper readers, violently partisan outlets, precarious finances, low ethics and capture by vested interests characterize the media landscape. Blackmail and influence peddling (shadow profits) and non-transparent profit from advertising is what seems to keep most media going. This model of media capture explains why Romania’s Freedom of the Press or media sustainability index scores is so poor, despite having little government intervention. In July 2010, Bodo Hombach, manager of the German WAZ media company and the last foreign owner of a Romanian quality newspaper abandoned the Romanian market, complaining of market distortion due to local political interests.
The Alliance for Clean Romania, which has in the past waged wars against corruption in Parliament, government and universities is calling on owners and journalists to embark in a self-regulation campaign to change this. The Alliance asks publishers to disclose shareholders, debts and main sponsors and to appoint an Ombudsman at each media outlet that the public and journalists can call on to settle ethical issues. Three main NGOs, constant editors of Reports without Borders, Freedom House and European Commission’s OLAF agency reports on Romanian media have associated to call for such information to be disclosed on all webpages, while tabs or those who join this transparency campaign and those who refuse will be kept on the Alliance’s webpage. The project is only the last of a series of attempts of Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, the leader of the Alliance to come up with approaches to anticorruption which break the collective action dilemma that systemic corruption brings about. By raising the costs of compliant behavior with the norm of corruption, she hopes to initiate what she calls ‘a virtuous circle’.
The Romanian media is plagued by corruption, violent language and partisanship. The Broadcasting Council distributes huge fines but those do not seem to have any effect. There has been huge erosion in public trust in recent years.