Romania is a country where, apart from some very famous TV stations and some very well known online platforms, no media entity is thriving. The media owners who can barely pay the salaries to their employees and collaborators can’t say they make profit from their entrepreneurial initiative and many journalists strive to make ends meet month after month.
In this context, media entities can’t survive this huge crisis generated by COVID-19 pandemic without help. The small and medium businesses are closed, some of them for good, and there is little money left for advertising, if any. What to do?
This is why, apparently, Romanian Government thought about “sponsoring” the Romanian mass-media with USD 44 Million (200 million Romanian currency). The justification is that by helping Romanian mass-media survive the crisis, the freedom of the journalism is defended. Is it?
Will the Government’s money keep the independence and the freedom of the Romanian press?
The effect of the Romanian Government’s initiative is already visible: two famous talk-show hosters from the same TV station were fired just after their TV station applied for the money offered by the government. Both of the journalists happened to oppose the government during their shows, but it might be just a coincidence. On the other hand, right after their leaving, the remaining journalists seemed to have changed their speech and it is something visible. Anyway, it’s just the first case of its kind, but it seems that journalists, in general, are eager to serve their clients, in this case the mighty Romanian Government, and to avoid criticizing them.
Besides, by using the discretionary powers given at the instating of the emergency situation, the Romanian Government ordered the closing of the online news platforms who don’t comply with “mainstream media opinion about COVID-19 pandemic”. Thus, some so-called or real “fake news” platforms were closed, one of them for “indirectly encouraging people to protest against the abuses of the authorities”.
Can the Romanian press keep its freedom while being paid?
You have two chances of survival as a journalist in Romania in the context of the crisis: first, accepting money from the Government, situation in which you are less inclined to oppose your payer, or second, click-baiting users to your website, situation in which the quality of your writing becomes lower and lower.
What about those journalists and publications which refuses both options? What chances do they have in keeping their editorial independece?
Sometimes, when the money from the Government is too good to be refused, especially in this economic crisis situation, journalists are tempted to accept it. In these cases, the quality and the impartiality of the journalism suffer. A lot.