University of Bucharest
A troubled political environment has generated high levels of debate online and sustained public interest in the news. But strong polarisation in newsrooms has led to continued scepticism, frustration, and low trust in the media from audiences.
While 2016 had been characterised by little or no coverage of an almost non-existent electoral debate,1 2017 saw a radical shift in politics and a 180-degree turn in media coverage. The first PSD-ALDE2 coalition government, which proposed some decriminalisation of corruption in public offices, an apparent attempt to save political leaders from criminal charges, caught the attention of the media.3 The public response was huge, with national street demonstrations in support of democracy and the rule of law.
After this, newsrooms managed to stimulate and sustain widespread public discussion about the proposed laws, and also about the judiciary, the economy, poverty, and public investment. The coalition government changed prime minister three times between January 2017 and January 2018, which further encouraged the appetite for public debate. Polarisation of newsrooms increased further, as did the public’s demands, via social media, for accountability. The focus was not only on what journalists covered, but also how they did it.
Affordable mobile internet is increasingly used in Romanian households, and two-thirds (66%) are now consuming news on smartphones, a 10 percentage point increase on last year. According to Media Initiative,4 mobile telecommunications services are now the biggest spending advertisers, next to medical brands. Internet access reached the status of a quasi-public utility, and is now more accessible than running water and sewerage.
The leader in the news market, on TV and online, is still ProTV, part of Central European Media Enterprises, a public company which is listed on the NASDAQ and the Prague Stock Exchange. Another public company, Digi Communications, is consolidating its position, with its TV news channel, Digi 24, its news radio, Digi FM (a new entry on the offline brands list), as well as its online presence. Antena 1 and Antena 3, part of a family media business, Intact Group, are following closely behind, while targeting a different sector of the audience.
Most TV channels have seen a decline in usage (between 2 and 5%), and CNN is no longer a brand in the top 20, indicating a change in consumption habits for TV news and talk shows. This is not however the case for entertainment or sports (this was the year that Simona Halep became the world’s number one women’s tennis player). Kanal D, the third largest Romanian TV station, in rating and market share,5 only ranks 11th in offline news.
Public television (TVR) is maintaining a historical low in terms of market share though it retains some historic trust. Its improved financial situation, which came thanks to an infusion of public money, after discussions of possible insolvency, did not help it improve its weekly reach (33%), which remains amongst the lowest for European public broadcasters.
Most mainstream online news brands’ figures rose slightly and news portals like Yahoo! News (28%) and Ziare.com (28%) – a local aggregator that also produces its own content – also performed strongly. This shows the appetite among the Romanian public for multiple sources of news, as well as the lack of loyalty to specific brands. The average consumer in our survey says they use almost six of the top ten sources each week, including TV, radio, local newspapers, and news sites.
Online and social media distribution has opened up new opportunities for small independent news organisations doing investigative or narrative journalism, but the same applies to partisan sites and even hate speech.
Independent journalistic initiatives like the Rise Project, investigative journalists working as part of the Panama and Paradise Papers, Recorder.ro, Decât o revistă, Teleleu, and reference mainstream newsrooms like ProTV, Digi24, and Hotnews.ro covered themes such as hidden corruption money, poverty, and administrative incompetence.
Social consumption of news is still dominated by Facebook and YouTube, though there is an increasing trend, as elsewhere, to use WhatsApp and Messenger for finding and sharing news.
Intense discussions on public issues, from politics, to justice, public health and education, public investments, and the polarisation of newsrooms led to increased levels of scepticism and frustration. A financial daily (Ziarul Financiar) which charges for online content, and has one of the only corrections and retractions page on the Romanian online news scene, enjoys one of the highest level of trust.
- https://ro.ejo-online.eu/economia-mass-media/campania-electorala-fost-caracterizata-de-neputinta-si-strategie ↩
- PSD = the Social Democrat Party; ALDE = the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Party. ↩
- https://en.ejo.ch/media-politics/another-question-journalisms-role-in-romanian-protests ↩
- Initiative, Media Factbook, 2017: www.mediafactbook.ro (accessed Mar. 2018). ↩
- The Romanian Association for Audience Measurement, Feb. 2018: http://arma.org.ro/en/audiences (accessed Mar. 2018). ↩