ROMANIA: SEEMO Calls on Romanian Politicians to Abstain from Political Interference in Public Broadcaster

ROMANIA, 02/07/2012

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), has been monitoring developments related to Romanian public television (TVR) and has observed a growing politicisation of the management of the public service broadcaster, which has affected journalistic quality and audience share, and has contributed to economic problems.

On June, 26, 2012, deputies from the two chambers of the Romanian parliament elected new members of TVR's Board of Managers. Of a total of 452 deputies, only 240 were present. Seven out of 13 board members were re-elected and a director general will be chosen from among them. Although the Board of Managers has a four-year mandate, since 1995 only one director general has completed the mandate. According to a 1994 law regulating public broadcasting, eight members of the Board must be chosen by parliament, one by the president, one by the government, two by employees, and one must represent a national minority.

Technically, the TVR management should not change when the government or distribution of party seats in parliament are reshuffled, but in practice it does. As a Bucharest-based media expert pointed out, pluralism is understood as party representation rather than the pluralism of views.

The latest Board operated for only two years. In 2010 the parliament voted a new Board, and as soon as the government of Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu was unseated in a no-confidence vote in April 2012, the new parliamentary majority called for new elections of board members.

Political interference in managing the public broadcaster has had diverse consequences:

Between 2004 and 2008, TVR registered a 73 per cent decline in total audience, according to a study by Cristian Ghinea and Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, prepared for the Mediadem project. Its current audience share is estimated at 7 per cent.

Credibility is another challenge: One need only recall the January 2012 antigovernment demonstrations, when over 2,500 demonstrators marched to the public television offices. TVR was accused of biased coverage of the rallies and a failure to cover them as extensively as other channels did. TVR responded with a public statement saying that TV was an institution of "national security concern", according to the Nine O'Clock web portal.

TVR's management of human resources has contributed to overstaffing. According to SEEMO sources, different political parties have employed their associates and members. TVR employs over 3,300 people.

In recent years, mismanagement has contributed to accruing debt. By 2012, according to information from the Ministry of Culture, TVR has accumulated a debt of 117, 6 million Euros.

In May 2012, tax authorities froze TVR's accounts but later unfroze them for a period of six months.  TVR's income comes from license fees, advertising, and from the state budget.

Further, TVR has witnessed different scandals. The latest occurred in June 2012. The police is currently investigating a contract through which TVR allegedly ceded to a private television station some of the rights to broadcast EURO 2012 games. "The Bucharest Municipal Police has announced that it is conducting an investigation into the manner in which TVR directly attributed to DOLCE TV the rights to broadcast European Football Championship EURO 2012 games," Nine O' Clock reported.

In 2004, there was an attempt to change the law regulating the public broadcaster, but the initiative failed. The current law, dating back to 1994, does not comply with all the recommendations of the Council of Europe. Yet, it is not the law but its interpretation that is the problem, according to a Bucharest-based media expert.

SEEMO recalls that in most transition countries the process of establishing independent broadcasters has been slow. Distinguishing between public and party interests has been particularly challenging.

As a first step towards strengthening public trust and credibility in TVR, SEEMO calls on the government of Romania and the parliament to find a mechanism to stop political interference in the running of TVR.

"The upcoming parliamentary elections are a good opportunity for the politicians to establish solid grounds - legal and practical - for TVR to function as a true public broadcaster," said Oliver Vujovic, SEEMO Secretary General.

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