There seems to be a major disconnection of digital audiences from news and public affairs in Romania, including coverage of the Ukraine war. Low trust, in general and for most media brands, has several chronic causes: party propaganda on public money, blocked investigations, smear campaigns against journalists, and difficult access to public interest information.
In an otherwise relatively stable media market, 2022 saw new channel launches from both the Romanian PSB, TVR, and Euronews. Then, in March 2023, Aleph TV, a 24-hour TV news channel founded in 2020, announced its insolvency. Euronews established a Romanian-language channel in a partnership with Politehnica University of Bucharest. TVR relaunched its 24-hour news channel, TVR info, and a cultural channel. Both were closed a decade ago, purportedly to stabilise the organisation’s finances, just two months after TVR Info broadcast detailed coverage of a scandal about the then prime minister from the ruling PSD party, involving plagiarism in his Ph.D. thesis. Romanian public service TV and radio channels consistently appear in the most used weekly brands. Since 2017 their funding has come directly from the state budget and one consequence has been to make it harder for their journalists to cover contentious issues or scrutinise government decisions, with damaging consequences for public debate.
The commercial media brand leaders, offline and online, remained virtually the same. ProTV is the most used and most trusted brand in Romania, for offline and online news consumption. It is owned by CME, operating in six countries in the region. The next media brand, in offline usage, is Antena 1, a Romanian-owned general TV station, followed by Digi24, a 24-hour TV news channel with leading positions both offline and online, also Romanian-owned.
Independent investigative teams complain that public interest subjects are blocked by propaganda money and by difficulties using freedom of information laws. These subjects range from publicly funded residential homes to security legislation and can potentially annoy members of the ruling PNL (right)–PSD (left) coalition. The issue of public money used by politicians and public officials to buy the silence of central and local newsrooms remains unresolved and the situation has deteriorated: at least €10m were spent by the two coalition parties for positive coverage, according to Free Europe Romania (RFE/RL).1 An attempt to remove legal protection for whistle-blowers was stopped by the European Union. Troublesome journalists and newsrooms are attacked. Investigative journalist Emilia Șercan was targeted by two smear campaigns, of which at least one was orchestrated by the PNL, according to a Council of Europe report.2
Yet investors are once again interested in online and TV. Last year, Romania’s first digital-born newsroom, HotNews, was bought by a company whose owner already has some other news sites.3
Advertising is a growing source of media income – with an estimated 20% increase in digital revenues in 2022. Online media now claim more than one in every three euros, from an estimated total advertising market of €640m.4
TVR Info and Euronews as new arrivals have modest market shares but join an already crowded market for TV news channels, with five brands in our permanent list of TV, radio, and print news sources (Digi 24, România TV, Realitatea Plus, Antena 3 CNN, and B1TV). The 24-hour TV news channel Antena 3 announced a partnership with CNN International and changed its name to Antena 3 CNN, to try to increase brand recognition – but to the apparent confusion of supporters and critics.
Romanian news users, in common with those surveyed in neighbouring countries, often cited news about the war in Ukraine as one factor leading them to avoid the news. Nevertheless, with the Ukraine war on their borders, all newsrooms and all journalists have a publicly stated commitment to covering it well and particularly in verification and identifying fake news. Still, on several occasions, interviewees were asked to comment on clips from video games, presented as real war scenes. These mistakes may have further eroded trust in news, in general.
University of Bucharest
We introduced education quotas for the first time in Romania as part of our programme to make data more representative of national populations. As a result, 2023 data will be more accurate but not always directly comparable with previous years. For example, the source chart below shows a significant drop in all sources of news this year. Some of this drop will be related to the fact that there are more people with lower levels of education in our sample now, who typically have lower interest in news.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Only one in three members of the digital public (32%) trusts media in general. With trust again at an all-time low, Romania serves as a case study of how propaganda money, directed towards key newsrooms, and smear campaigns against investigative journalists affect trust in media, media usage, and professional pride, for the entire industry.
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1 C. Andrei, ‘"Coaliția lu' Nicu și Marcel”: Momente cheie ale politicii românești în 2022 și care sunt pericolele noului an’, Europa Liberă România. https://romania.europalibera.org/a/pericolul-anului-2023/32189451.html.
2 Council of Europe, ‘Romanian Journalist Emilia Şercan Victim of Smear Campaign’, Safety of Journalists Platform, 2023. https://fom.coe.int/en/alerte/detail/107637394
3 This text was corrected on 16 June 2023, to eliminate wording in the initial version, that might have suggested that the group that bought HotNews would also own Recorder, a website focused on investigative journalism, largely funded by reader donations. These two media entities have no connection whatsoever.
4 Media Factbook. Romania 2022. https://www.mediafactbook.ro/