University of Bucharest
The Romanian news environment is defined by intense competition for television and online audiences, sustained by understaffed newsrooms that struggle for financial survival.
The media market was hit hard by the economic and financial crises of 2008–9, but started to show signs of recovery in 2016, especially for TV and internet. The advertising budgets per capita, however, are still around 40% lower when compared to the period before the crisis,1 making it hard for Romanian newsrooms to compete.
The TV market is an oligopoly, in which a family media business (the Intact group) and a publicly owned company (Central Media Enterprises, an Eastern European player listed on Nasdaq) share the biggest advertising budgets. Due to its mass-market approach, Central Media Enterprises owns the top brands for news both offline (Pro TV) and online (Știrile ProTV). The smaller news-only TV market is crowded, with five national cable stations that all make the list of top offline news brands: Realitatea TV, Antena 3 (Intact group), Digi 24, România TV, and B1.
The Romanian public broadcaster (TVR) is low down the list of most popular online news brands. Official data show that the consolidated market share for TVR is between 3 and 3.5%. Since 2011, its total debt has exceeded total revenues, and the financial situation deteriorated to the point that the European Broadcasting Union did not allow Romania to take part in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Discussions around possible insolvency culminated with the adoption of a law that scrapped funding from household taxes, replacing this with an increased contribution from the public budget. The 2017 budget allocation for TVR is the equivalent of 60% of the estimated advertising market in 2016.2 This has contributed to a situation where the very idea of public television is often under attack.
Print circulations and advertising budgets continue to fall. The three main players rely less on newspapers and more on lifestyle periodicals: Ringier Romania (Swiss) has a popular newspaper, Libertatea; Adevarul Holding (Romanian) has a mix of reference and popular newspapers (Adevărul and Click, respectively); and Burda Romania (German) has a portfolio of lifestyle titles only. Small circulation figures (80,000 for the most successful mass-market title, in 2016) are the reason print is the only medium for which advertising budgets are decreasing.
Online, the competition is strong. A number of different news brands operate in this space, including digital-borns (such as Hotnews.ro or stiripesurse.ro), digital migrants (such as Gândul, that ceased its print edition in 2011, CanCan, in 2012, or ProSport, in 2013), or online sites that are backed up by legacy media (TV or print). Few newspaper publishers have erected online paywalls to replace the sharp drop in print sales and subscriptions. Independent newsrooms that publish narrative and immersive journalism, fact-checking pieces, and investigations receive support from their readers who make direct donations or redirect part of their income taxes for the foundations and associations independent journalists created to support their work. The audiences’ heavy reliance on online news consumption (87%) and on social media for information tips (69% for Facebook) is part of the independent newsrooms’ business model.
In 2016, maybe more so than in other years, journalism exposed corruption, incompetence, and malpractice in vital areas, such as health, education, and public security. Yet journalists do little to support each other, and are often highly critical of one another in public,3 even if they share similarly precarious working conditions, with personnel turnover high in every newsroom.
Trust in Romanian media is low in international comparison, with evidence of political and economic interference in the news agenda, not least scores of transcripts from prosecutors’ files on politicians and media owners. Newsrooms compete online for readers’ attention and for advertising money with Google and Facebook, with bloggers and influencers (who often do not make clear their financial interests), and with fake news and conspiracy theorists. The individual responsible for the fake news that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump is a Romanian who had plied his trade in his native language first.4
Trust in the Romanian media has declined sharply due to a long list of issues, ranging from corruption and blackmail to insolvency, from fake news to obvious political biases. Some of the most powerful media owners and directors have criminal records and have spent time in jail in recent years.
- Initiative, Media Factbook (2016): www.mediafactbook.ro (accessed Mar. 2017). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- S. Fengler, T. Eberwein, G. Mazzoleni, C. Porlezza, and S. Russ-Mohl (eds), Journalists and Media Accountability: An International Study of News People in the Digital Age, Peter Lang, 2014. ↩
- https://pressone.ro/managerul-site-ului-conspirationist-expunere-com-implicat-in-dezinformarea-din-campania-electorala-americana ↩