Inside Romanian Media Ethics

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The Center for International Media Ethics (Credit: CIME's website, screenshot detail)

The Center for International Media Ethics (CIME) blogged Jan. 5 about media ethics in Romania.

According to CIME, “the only Romanian existing press law is the one created in 1974, long before the old regime [of communism] collapsed.”

Even though the Convention of Media Organizations did establish a code of ethics for Romanian journalists in Oct. 2009,  Romania’s press club rejected the code because “they already have their own,” CIME reported. As a result, ” there is no Code of Ethics applying widely, or at least for the majority of media actors. ”

But, “some media organizations sometimes issue public condemnations for certain media companies and journalists.”

By way of example, CIME noted Madalina Manole’s July 14, 2010 suicide and “when 18 Romanian media organization started collaborating against the Romanian Supreme Defense Council (CSAT)’s National Defense Strategy.”

According to CIME, the Center for Independent Journalism called journalists’ coverage of the suicide of Manole — a “well-known Romanian singer” — “aggressive, irresponsible and not ethical.”

One notable case led to an editor-in-chief being “demoted” after publishing a fake interview with Manole “published hours after Manole’s death.”  The editor-in-chief, Marina Badulescu, reportedly pulled together snippets from Manole’s blog and “her previous statements.”

CIME’s marketing assistant Csilla Szabó explained in an e-mail to StinkyJournalism that the group has “just started to extend its operation to Eastern Europe.”  While CIME isn’t “expert yet on local media ethics issues,” she wrote that they hope to learn at its Jan. 15 CIME forum in Budapest.  The conference is set to be “a platform for regional discussion about media ethics.”

iMediaEthics has written to  a representative of the Center of Media Organizations for more information and will update with any response.

In a Nov. 2010 “media landscape” report on Romania by Alexandru-Brãdut Ulmanu, the European Journalism Centre stated that according to 2007 data (“the most recent available statistics from the National Institute of Statistics”), about 650 publishers of newspaper and magazines were established in Romania.

The EJC noted that the largest “federation of trade unions,” MediaSing, has about 7,500 journalist members and that “there is an estimated 30,000 journalists in Romania, and most are unaffiliated.”

While Romania hosts “several journalists’ associations” according to EJC, “none of them is representative for the whole profession.” The Association of Journalists in Romania, however, is “one of the most visible at the moment” with roughly 70 members.

Other organizations include the Romanian Press Club — which is “controlled by the owners or managers of important media outlets,” and the Convention of Media Organizations, which is backed by the Center for Independent Journalism and ActiveWatch.

According to the EJC, Romanian media is protected through the Constitution, which “guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits any form of censorship.” Reporters without Borders ranked Romania 52nd out of 178 on its annual press freedom index last year.

See the EJC’s full “media landscape” report on Romania here.

iMediaEthics wrote to University of Bucharest journalism professor Alexandru-Bradut Ulmanu asking about media ethics issues in Romania.  He wrote that “one of the most important became ever more evident last year” when journalists “published extensive excerpts” of phone transcripts between “media mogul” Sorin Ovidiu Vintu and “managers or prominent journalists in his media group.”

Vintu owns Realitatea Media.

According to Ulmanu, “in most of them, Vintu is telling his people that they are not free, and that they should work to serve his interests.  Most of the journalists and media managers involved in the conversations have an obedient attitude and seem to totally adopt their owner’s philosophy.”

Ulmanu directed StinkyJournalism to his colleague Iulian Comanescu’s presentation on the transcripts, dubbed “the Realitatea Transcripts.”  (See here). In Ulmanu’s opinion, the transcripts indicate “several important ethics flaws in Romanian journalism” namely bias, unfair reporting, and a lack of acting as a gatekeeper.

He explained that some of the media ethics issues are “more nuanced.”  For example, during the publication of other leaked transcripts, some media outlets published irrelevant, “delicate” comments, including personal comments about children, relationships and so on.  “Journalists published those discussions although they did not have any relevance for the story,” Ulmanu wrote.

He also criticized the lack of an overriding ethics code in Romania.

“Journalistic credibility has indeed been undermined by other facts as well. One of the most important is the very absence of an ethics code recognized and observed by the entire journalistic profession. The most important ethics codes, one adopted by an umbrella organization called the Convention of Media Organizations, and another by the Romanian Press Club, are far from being consistently enforced in Romanian newsrooms. In spite of efforts from various organizations, Romanian journalists do not have solid self regulation practices and documents.” according to Ulmanu.

UPDATE:  1/13/2011 10:33 AM EST:  Corrected typos and changed “Vintu runs Realitatea Media” to “Vintu owns Realitatea Media.”  Thanks to Alexandru-Bradut Ulmanu for pointing out the typos and error. Also added a quote from Ulmanu.

UPDATE: 1/19/2011 11:07 AM EST:  Ioana Avadani of the CJI responded to iMediaEthics’s e-mail inquiry.  Avadani explained that the Code of the Convention of Media Organizations was a unified code “adopted in 2009.”

“It brought together the best written and most suitable provisions in 5 major codes used in Romania — including the one of the Romanian Press Club.  So, it is no longer ‘The Code of the Convention’ — but a ‘consolidate version’ (if you want).

“This is why it was bizarre for the club to reject its adoption, as it is in no major way different from theirs. In my humble opinion, it’s only a matter of ownership — not only over the text but mostly of its further administration.”

She noted that “to the best of my knowledge,” the Association of the Local Publishers and the Association of the Professional Journalists in Cluj did adopt the code.

“In the meanwhile, the situation in the media went from bad to worse and in 2010 we witnessed an avalanche of draft laws meant to regulate the media — some of them absurd, some of them downright unconstitutional, some of them very close to what happened in Hungary.

“Fortunately (and we were part of the Fate’s hand, via advocacy work), none was adopted. As a result, there is a mounting pressure within the media community to counteract these interventions — and the only acceptable action is self-regulation. Therefore we are seeking a new round of dialog within the Club, to see where we can find a compromise line. “

She added that there isn’t an English-language version of the code, however, the Romanian version is available here.


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