Romania: protect press freedom

Bucharest, Romania

Freedom House today expressed concern about violations of press freedom and other restrictions on civil society during the recent election period in Romania. The incoming government should work to reverse the erosion of key elements of civil liberties in the country.

Many Romanian television stations and local newspapers are owned and dominated by local officials and susceptible to government intimidation. As a result, coverage leading up to and during recent parliamentary and presidential elections was heavily biased in favor of the government. The three main television stations TVR 1, Antena 1, and ProTV remain either closely tied to or influenced by the governing Social Democratic Party (PSD). While independent media exist, their reach is limited, leaving large sections of Romania's rural population uninformed.

"Media concentration and government influence of the Romanian press is of serious concern," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Freedom of expression is fundamental to an open and democratic society, and we applaud those courageous public television and radio journalists who, in the face of job loss threats, have resisted censorship and pressures to provide biased coverage in favor of the current ruling party."

Romanian television reporter Alexandru Costache and several colleagues have spoken out in opposition to censorship, bias, and other manipulation of the news at TVR 1.

Freedom of expression among civil society was also repressed during the election period. The nongovernmental Coalition for a Clean Parliament, set up to monitor corruption among political parties and figures and to provide non-partisan voter information, is facing a lawsuit over its activities during the election period.

The coalition distributed lists of compromised candidates, first to their own parties to allow them the opportunity to remove corrupt candidates from their lists, and later to the public. In response, fraudulent flyers with forged coalition logos and signatures were circulated in an effort to derail the initiative and smear candidates deemed uncorrupt. Forged letters were also sent to EU headquarters in Brussels to discredit the coalition's initiative.

Romania's ruling party has since sued the coalition for defamation. Government-influenced media have also portrayed the coalition's members as "criminals" and "civic terrorists."

"The vital role of objective, non-partisan organizations and the independent information they provide is central to ensuring a strong democratic process," said Ms. Windsor. "To truly secure and fulfill Romania's place in a united Europe, politicians, government officials, and other elites must work in partnership with civil society, rather than attempting to control and hide information and government business from the people."