The election of Emil Constantinescu as president and the multi-party Democratic Convention in November 1996 held good prospects for press freedom and independent media in Romania. Along with a promise to speed up privatization and reforms, Constantinescu's centrist, pro-Western administration pledged changes in the penal code and broadcasting law, which criminalize defamation of public officials and prohibit the spread of false information allegedly aimed at harming state interests. Officials in the previous administration of Ion Iliescu had used the vague language of these restrictive articles to prosecute journalists investigating corruption and scrutinizing public officials.
Fewer Romanian journalists were convicted under Article 206, which penalizes calumny, as Romanian courts doled out fines rather than jail terms. Articles 205 and 239 of the criminal code make insulting a public official a crime, although there were fewer such cases last year. Article 207 lays the burden of proof in such cases on journalists. They cannot use the standard of good faith nor the public interest for their defense as afforded to journalists in most Western democracies.
In December, Marius Avram, a reporter for the newspaper Stirea, was convicted of calumny against Georghe Funar, the mayor of Cluj. Avram was ordered to pay damages of 100,000 lei (about US$800).
By year's end, Constantinescu had failed to keep his promise to amend the penal code. This fact, as well as Avram's conviction, sparked several public protests in Cluj in early December. More than 50 journalists from local media issued protests and set up a fund to cover Avram's fine – an unprecedented act of solidarity for Romania's journalistic community.
Romania has more than 50 private television stations and about 110 private radio stations, in addition to cable television, which offers viewers access to foreign broadcasts. Most of these stations are regional, while for a large number of rural areas, the only source of information remains the state-owned Romanian Radio and Television Company, which is heavily regulated. Public radio and television continue to rely heavily on state subsidies, which leaves them vulnerable to political pressures.
The 1996 Law on Television and Radio established the National Audio-Visual Council, the agency charged with distributing broadcast licenses and regulating the airwaves. The law has been criticized for failing to guarantee the council's independence from political interests.
Private newspapers have mushroomed. Nevertheless, the print media must contend with high printing costs, the decline in state subsidies, and the lack of advertising revenue. Distribution of newspapers and journals suffers from the lack of efficient private networks to replace the old state-run system. Currently, the state newspaper distributor Rodipet is the only company capable of national distribution. Compared to other countries in the region, however, Romania has made significant strides in achieving pluralistic and diversified media.
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