As of December 31, 1998

Deep divisions in the governing coalition over policies and reforms stalled economic restructuring and led the government to the edge of crisis at year's end. Leftist-nationalist opposition parties boycotted Prime Minister Radu Vasile's cabinet, provoking calls for early elections. The political disunity was reflected in growing social unrest, unemployment, inflation, and crime.

In this environment, political and economic interests pervaded even the relatively independent private media. The lack of access to government documents and proceedings encouraged skewed coverage of events and reporting of unverified facts. On the other hand, well-documented investigative reporting on corruption and crime became the object of constant attacks. The penal code still contains articles punishing libel and defamation of public officials with up to three years' imprisonment.

The conviction and prison sentences of three journalists in criminal libel cases in May and July had a chilling effect on the country's press. In May, a city court in Bistritsa found Cornel Sabou, chief editor of the private news agency Trans Press, guilty of slander and sentenced him to 10 months in prison. The suit had been filed in 1996 by Mariana Iancu, a judge in Baia Mare, based on an article Sabou had published in the local daily Ziua Nord-Vest, reporting that Iancu had profited financially from some of her judicial rulings.

In July, a city court in Iasi sentenced Ovidiu Scutelnicu and Dragos Stingu, reporters for the independent daily Monitorul, to one-year prison terms each for defaming a local police official and his wife, a judge. In early January 1999, a Bucharest court reversed the decision, and suspended the reporters' sentences.

Numerous private radio and television stations provide an alternative to the heavily regulated Romanian National Radio and Television, offering independent coverage of news and public affairs.

Attacks on the Press in Romania in 1998

07/23/98Ovidiu Scutelnicu, MonitorulLegal Action
07/23/98Dragos Stingu, MonitorulLegal Action

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