THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE IN ROMANIA III: Who owns the media?
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Translation: Fairpress

Author: Septimius Parvu

In the previous two articles we started talking about the media landscape in Romania in the past three years; here the story continues further.

Who owns the media?

The owners of the media companies (TV, radio, print or online) can be verified in the Registry of Commerce. Also, the National Audiovisual Council publishes the ownership of TV and radio companies. Still, working with the Registry of Commerce is difficult and expensive. One of the experts we consulted stated that the only ownership restrictions are applied to AV media. The National Audiovisual Council oversees the transparency of ownership (data are made public). The Competition Council evaluates the take-overs. For other media, there is no obligation to transparency of ownership. Moreover, some media ownership is hiding in off-shore companies. Still, overall, the ownership of the media is rather transparent.

Most of the important media companies are tied to political parties or are involved in criminal activity including blackmail, tax evasion, corruption etc. The owners of some of these companies are important political donors, such as Dan Voiculescu, a media tycoon sentenced for corruption. Grivco, one of the companies owned by Voiculescu is champion in political donations, as it directed 727.000 RON to the Conservative Party. Antena 1 and Antena 3, part of the media empire, donated 63.745 RON to PSD+PC in 2008 (According to the Official Gazette).

In 2016, the management of Antena Group, belonging to Voiculescu’s family has been sentenced to jail for blackmail. The administrator of another media group, RDS-RCS has been blackmailed to be exposed with compromising information if the TV channels part of Antena Group are not broadcast by RDS. Camelia Voiculescu has been sentenced for accessory to blackmail. A criminal investigation was also started against RDS-RCS for bribery regarding a contract for football broadcasting rights.

Sebastian Ghiță, former PSD deputy and owner of Realitatea TV and later Romania TV has been indicted for blackmail against Theodor Berna, the owner of Tehnologica Radion, one of the most important construction companies. Ghiță, currently fugitive in Serbia, threatened him to broadcast compromising news about his company. Although he is not the owner in official documents, he controls the TV station in practice. Ghiță is also a political donor, to the Democrat Liberal Party in 2009.

Dan Andronic, the editor in chief of Evenimentul Zilei is also under investigation for false statements and involvement in the illegal financing of the 2009 electoral campaing, as well as for complicity to illegal restitution of the Băneasa Farm. Dan Adamescu (deceased), owner of Romania Libera has been indicted for bribing judges. Adrian Sârbu, owner of Mediafax was indicted for tax evasion suming un 14 mln. EUR. Some of these tycoons have used the media channels in organize systematic campaings against the justice system. Romania TV systematically published video tapes involving prosecutors and other high level public characters.

The media environment is strongly politicised and the editorial policies are frequently influenced by the owners of the companies. The local media is fragile and dependent on the capacities of the

owners; local media also depends on the advertising contracts from public funds. Official data shows that the companies in Bucharest are also rather successful in getting money for the public institutions and consultancy. Antena 3 received several such contracts and it is not the only one.

One of the interviewed experts stated that with the threshold of direct purchase up, most advertising contracts are directly allocated. All the consulted experts consider that the evolution of market indicators is negative and marked this indicator accordingly.

Money in media

Although most of the big players in the media market have seen bigger profits than in 2015, the landscape includes both companies that had profit and players that continue to lose money. PRO TV, the leading commercial TV station had the biggest profit, more than 37 mln. EUR. When it comes to the news stations, Antena 3 had a profit of 747,100 EUR, while Romania TV went from -2,892,000 in 2015 to 358,700 EUR in 2016. Realitatea TV still registers losses as in 2015.

In 2016 and 2017 the media publicity market grew and seems to be part of a continuous trend. The digital has grown in 2016 and dominates Romania together with TV; the radio market has registered just a slight increase, while the outdoor is stagnating.  On the other side, the print is in continuous decline; the market decreased with 10%. The media market is estimated in 2016 to 366 mln. EUR, while the TV publicity is estimated at 240 mln EUR. On the other side, the investments in print are being lowered, with 10%, to 14 mln EUR, as more and more newspapers are getting closed down. Major media agencies ended the year in profit.

Press agencies are no longer an important sources of information, as social media is becoming a more and more important source of information. Alternative independent portals such as pressone.ro, republica.ro or recorder.ro have grown in influence in Romania. Mediafax (one of the most important press agencies) has been strongly affected by the tax evasion indictments and in 2016 the management of the editorial office left the company. News.ro was launched in 2016. In 2018, the head editorial team of Hotnews left the newspaper and started G4media.ro, while another group of journalists from Romania Libera started Newsweek.

The print industry is the most affected one. The printed media is almost inexistent in the rural areas both due to lack of interest, but also to very weak distribution networks. At the national level, the champion publications in terms of audience, both in online and print are tabloid newspapers. Click has 483.000 readers in printed format, while Libertatea has 349.000 users. At the beginning of 2017, the most printed edition was recorded by Kaufland magazine, with 4.790.377 gross copies weekly. The trend of closing printed editions and transferring them to online continues.

Low interest of citizens is one of the main causes. According to a recent study[1], 81% of the respondents do not read a printed magazine regularly, while 72% do not read a printed newspaper, mostly due to lack of time or to online alternatives; most people trust TV, even though it is also the main source of fake news.

[1] Obiceiurile de informare și consumul de presă scrisă al românilor, July 2017, IRES, published in Sinteza Magazine

Connected articles: THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE IN ROMANIA: Clientelism-free media policy is rather far away; THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE IN ROMANIA II: Basic rights and media freedoms – are they really there?

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