Romania

Russian Television in Moldova: Winning Hearts and Minds

With blistering attacks on the west and extolling coverage of Russia’s head honchos, Russian TV channels are making inroads in Moldova’s media market.
 
In a 2011 film, the Marvel Comics character Captain America has a mission to stop the mastermind villain Red Skull from using an artifact called the Tesseract as a source of energy to dominate the world. Red Skull is a character depicted as the archenemy of Captain America, the patriotic super-soldier in the eponymous movie serial. Captain America is armed with a shield that is almost unbreakable. He uses it to fight his foes; and he always wins.
 
Substitute Captain America with the Russian president Vladimir Putin and Red Skull with a western country and you get a sliver of the Russian television diet in Moldova, an eastern European nation with a population of 3.5 million, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine.
 

Big Brother Building in Romania Phase Two

The companies chosen to build the EU-funded data collection system for Romania’s intelligence agency are hardly the cleanest.
 
In late May 2017, the Romanian Information Service (SRI), Romania’s intelligence agency, selected the companies that will run the controversial SII Analytics project, which IT and surveillance experts described as a Big Brother-like data hoarding system. The winner of the contract is a consortium with Siveco Romania in the driver’s seat, Nova Tech Integrated Solutions as partner, and Romsoft International and BAE Systems as subcontractors, according to information from the SRI.
 

EU Helps Romanian Intelligence Agency to Officially Become Big Brother

Thanks to a generous EU grant, Romania’s controversial intelligence agency is mingling stocks of databases from the country’s public institutions to monitor people. That could hurt many, but in particular those critical to the authorities and their friends.
 
Imagine this: you go online in your office and with a mere click you find out that some journalists that you don't like have not paid their tax on income they have generated as freelancers. Next minute you can informally alert the tax office; or, worse, blackmail these journalists and ask them to kill a story on a sensitive topic that can affect you and your friends up in the state administration or elsewhere.
 
That could happen in Romania in no more than a couple of years as the Romanian Information Service (SRI), the nation’s intelligence agency, is building a system that will allow them to hoard data from all key state authorities and public institutions in the country.
 
Ironically, all this is being funded with European Union (EU) money. The SRI is using a hefty €31.5m (US$ 35.2m) from the EU to run this project, called SII Analytics. By 2018, the system should be ready to fly.

Catalin Tolontan: How a Romanian Sports Reporter Turned Into a Bold and Audacious Muckraker

For Romanian-born Catalin Tolontan, the principle that has guided his journalistic work for the past 15 years has been to not  fear those about whom he is writing.
 
Nonetheless, when carrying out investigations, he doesn’t believe in individual courage, but rather in team tenacity. Mr Tolontan is one of the best-known sports journalists in Romania. He heads the Gazeta Sporturilor daily, and his investigations are published in the newspaper’s print and online editions as well as on his blog Tolo.ro. They have so far had a major impact in Romania, attracting the ire of both politicians and authorities.
 
One of Mr Tolontan’s latest investigations was a story about how hospitals illegally dilute disinfectants in Romania that he began to work on in spring 2016. The investigation led to the resignation of the country’s health minister. Known as the Hexi Pharma file, the case prompted the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) as well as the General Prosecutor’s Office to launch two lawsuits.
 

Paul Radu: Journalists Must Uncover the Media’s Masters

Interview with Paul Radu of Romania
Romanian-born investigative journalist Paul Radu manages the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and is co-creator of the Investigative Dashboard concept and of the RISE Project, a new platform for investigative reporters and hackers in Romania.
Mr Radu has been awarded several fellowships, including the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship in 2001, the Milena Jesenska Press Fellowship in 2002 and the 2008 Knight International Journalism fellowship with the International Center for Journalists. In 2009-2010, he was a Stanford Knight Journalism Fellowship.
Mr Radu has also received numerous awards for his investigative work, including the Knight International Journalism Award in 2004, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting in 2011 and the 2015 European Press Prize.
He wrote about the theft of US$1bn from three Moldovan banks back in 2014, disputes over a number of murky deals involving purchase of forests in Romania, and the wealth of Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of president Vladimir Putin. Now, Mr Radu is working on several cross-border investigations into money laundering.
 
Q: How did you become interested in covering corruption?
Paul Radu: When digging deep into wrongdoing, investigative reporters will inevitably come across corruption. The fabric of wrongdoing is made of corruption acts, so I realized this is what I need to investigate to inform the public.
 

Sky News Report on Illegal Arms Trafficking in Romania: A Massive Journalistic Blunder?

Newly released information from the investigation in the case of Sky News report on illegal arms trafficking in Romania points to a massive journalistic flub. The “arms dealers” in the Sky News report were a TV employee and two hunters.
 
The Romanian Directorate for Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) made the first arrest in the case of illegal arms trafficking in Romania exposed by Britain’s TV news channel Sky News. He is Attila Szaba Pantics, one of the people who appeared in the Sky News’ video as a gun dealer. He is accused of “spreading false information.”
 
The other two Romanians who appeared in the Sky News report, Aurelian Mihai Szanto and Levente Pantics, are also under investigation. DIICOT’s officials also want to extend their accusations to the British journalists from Sky News who produced the report, according to the Romanian news agency Agerpres.
 

Sky News Investigative Report Turns out to Be Bogus

In a report aired last Sunday, British broadcaster Sky News claimed that "gun dealers in Romania are willing to sell illegal weapons to anyone, including terrorists." It turns out that the "gun dealers" who appeared on camera are a group of ordinary Romanians who were paid by journalists to pretend they were weapon sellers.
 
A recent investigation in Romania carried out by British journalists with the Sky News TV channel was deemed as fake by local authorities, according to the Romanian Directorate for Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).
 
Following searches in the counties Bistrita Nasaud and Targu Mures, the Romanian antiterrorism inspectors found that the Sky’s report into gun dealers who illegally sell weapons in Romania was a setup devised by the Sky News journalists. The so-called gun dealers were paid to pretend on camera that they were selling guns, according to Euractiv.ro.
 

The Romanian Public Television on the Brink of Insolvency

The Romanian public service broadcaster has undergone scores of crises in the past two and a half decades. But now, talk about its insolvency is starting to get serious. The decision-makers’ obsession with the politics involved rather than the reality is likely to provide the last nail in Romanian public media’s coffin.
 
Managed by an interim board of directors and with debts of almost €160m (US$216.5m) at the end of 2014, the Romanian public television Televiziunea Romana (TVR) is closer to collapse than ever.
 

Public Service Media in Europe: Exit Through the Back Door?

Recent turbulence at the Polish public broadcaster was seen by some observers as another political football game. Public broadcasting will survive any market or policy changes, however tumultuous they are, they say. But Minna Aslama argues that public TV has fallen out of political favor in many countries now. Even well-established broadcasters in western countries are likely to be dramatically downsized.

Poland has been featured in global news in the past weeks. A controversial law was passed that allowed the replacement of the directors of Polish public TV and radio with political appointees.

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) notes that this may well be the first step by the Polish government in curbing all free media and commercial outlets. CIMA also reminds us that just a few years before Poland, Hungarians witnessed a severe media crackdown.
 

Internet Providers in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union: Non-Transparent, Dubious, Politically Linked

The Internet has become the new heaven for unheard voices, new forms of commerce and limitless communication across eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But who owns the companies providing this service? Many of these owners are unknown, others are linked with politics and some are dubious characters embroiled in criminal investigations.
 
A decade ago, the internet was the realm solely of the progressive, technically savvy, often nerdy youth in many countries of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But today, people who in the 2000s didn’t even have a computer regularly browse through their favorite news sites, email and buy their groceries online. 
 
Since 2000, internet usage in the Czech Republic has skyrocketed from less than 10% to nearly 80% of the population in 2014, according to data from World Bank. In less advanced economies such as Bulgaria, it has jumped as well to some 56% in 2014 from a mere 5% in 2000. Even in some slowly growing markets such as Armenia, over 46% of the people used the service in 2014, a gigantic leap from a mere 1.3% in 2000. 
 
But who is behind the telecom groups that provide this service?

How a Corrupt Minister in Romania Brought Media, Journalists and Bloggers to Clobber a Journalistic Investigation

For four years, two journalists investigating a suspected money laundering and influence peddling case at a Romanian ministry faced numerous obstacles. But they didn’t expect to grapple with so many obstructions from their own peers. A spate of emails between people involved in the case shows why journalists turned against journalists.

“Two bloggers cost €1,200, VAT included. Some of those big bloggers.”  This is what an online media advisor in Romania replied when asked whether she could place a piece written by Elena Udrea, a former tourism and regional development minister in Romania, on a popular blog.

It happened in 2011 at a time when sports journalists Catalin Tolontan and Mirela Neag were sweating over unearthing evidence of suspected graft among officials in the ministry in an investigation that became known as the Bute Gala case. The two were following tips that a ring of public officials were siphoning off public cash by illegally awarding funds to companies involved in the organization of a major boxing event in Bucharest. The event was named after Lucian Bute, a 35-year old renowned pugilist born in Romania.
 

The Key Media Owners in Romania Have All Fell Foul of Law

They started television stations two decades ago and acted as the “merchants of hope” as they were selling glittering realities Romanians were craving for. More than 20 years later, television in Romania is an affair blemished by scandals, pressures and unlawfulness.

Organizations such as Freedom House or Reporters Without Borders continue to rate Romania high on the scale of media freedom. This is not necessarily inaccurate if one looks for example at access to information and freedom of speech. And yes, in theory, any honest journalist can enjoy full professional freedom if they write on their blog or on a few alternative platforms. They might also enjoy freedom in mainstream media, but only until they intersect with the interests of media owners. That is the true limit of Romanian media freedom.