Radu Meza, Andreea Mogos, Constantin Trofin and Hanna Orsolya Vincze
The Romanian media landscape is dominated by television, with news consumption being led by several large news televisions. Some of the largest online news outlets are also news portals associated with televisions. Based on data compiled for the 2020 Digital News Report (Newman & et al., 2021) and data from the Joint Industry Committee for Print and Internet – BRAT, our sample included the following media outlets: PRO TV, stirileprotv.ro, Europa FM, Antena 1, observatornews.ro, Antena 3 CNN, hotnews.ro, Adevărul, Click, Libertatea, evz.ro, Digi24, Digi24.ro, România TV, Kanal D, B1 TV, Realitatea Plus, TVR 1, Radio România Actualități, Radio Zu.
The Romanian Audiovisual Law requires that audiovisual media service providers disclose their shareholder structure, and this information has been made available on the site of the National Audiovisual Council (CNA) in 2022, after being taken down in 2019 citing GDPR concerns. Direct owners are mentioned on the websites or imprints of all outlets in our sample, while beneficiary owners mostly require secondary public sources, especially for print or online outlets, which do not hold audiovisual licenses. Among the owners of these outlets, we find both large international actors like Ringier, Dogan Media, or CME Media Enterprises, Romanian companies, as well as companies established abroad by Romanian nationals.
In terms of actual control over executive decisions, in at least one case (B1 TV), there have been reports of contested control over executive decisions (Obae, 2023). Some media outlets in our sample have foundations as their owners which carry the names of founders, without these persons appearing as shareholders, like Romanian businessman and politician Dan Voiculescu. Other outlets are owned by newly established companies, further limiting transparency (on the limited transparency of ownership see also the Media Pluralism Monitor, Toma et al., 2022, and the European Commission Rule of Law Report, European Commission, 2022). In terms of non-media ownership, almost half of the owners in our sample have non-media economic activities, from financial services to wired telecommunications and real estate. It is notable that several companies list their main economic activity as public relations and communication, media representation, market research and public opinion polling. Even though analysts dispute whether the practice of financing information and communication campaigns from public money, sometimes with the declared aim of helping the media in times of crisis should be regarded as subsidies (Toma et al., 2022), observers recurrently note that there are media outlets receiving large amounts of undisclosed government spending: “Diverting public funds to the media, in a non-transparent manner, is a widespread political practice, distorting both the market and the watchdog function of the media” (RSF, 2023; see also US Department of State, 2022). Media expenses, including political advertising but also materials not marked as paid advertising amount for the largest category in the expenditures of political parties – over 20 million euros in 2022 (Pârvu, 2023), but such data is only available to varying levels of detail for the parties, not the media outlets, a major risk to transparency (European Commission, 2022).
Several cases of editorial influence were reported by individuals to the media, but they are most of the time alleged, not proven. However, the political influence on the editorial content may extend beyond the newsroom. In 2022, Emilia Șercan is the most notable example of journalist intimidation, facing threats, invasion of privacy, and kompromat, becoming the target of various coercive tactics, orchestrated by media organisations with questionable ethical standards and under the influence of individuals with criminal records, including a fugitive politician with a previous criminal conviction in Romania (ActiveWatch, 2023).
The absence of self-regulation, enforcement mechanisms, and protective legislation undermines editorial and newsroom independence, professionalism, and public-interest orientation (Toma et al., 2022). The media sector in Romania is governed by general laws and regulations, such as the Law on Audiovisual Services, which provides a framework for broadcasting and electronic media, but Romania does not have specific media newsroom councils or editorial statutes at the national level. Media owners are not among the members of councils, and they have neither voting rights nor editorial responsibilities, because media councils do not exist in the Romanian media system. There is no information available about PEP in Romanian official documents and registers. However, there are some initiatives and organisations that play a role in addressing issues related to press freedom, media practices and journalists’ rights, such as the Romanian Press Club (Clubul Român de Presă) and the Romanian Union of Journalists – SRJ MediaSind (Sindicatul Român al Jurnaliştilor MediaSind – SRJ MediaSind).
Television dominates as the primary news source (with 80% of survey respondents indicating TV as the most accessed source of news), 5% above the EU average, according to the 2022 Media & News Eurobarometer Survey. TV (most used by all age groups) is followed by online news platforms (53%), radio (37%), social media and blogs (29%), YouTube and other platforms (24%), print news (15%), podcasts (9%) and messaging apps (5%) (EP Flash Eurobarometer, 2022).
According to the National Regulatory Authority in Communications – ANCOM 2022 Report, in 2022, the total number of subscribers to TV retransmission services is 7.85 million (84% CATV, 15% DTH, 1%IPTV). The penetration rate per 100 homes is 105%.
The TV distribution market is dominated by RCS&RDS (69,1%), followed by Vodafone (10.7%), Orange (Telekom fix) (9.8%) and Orange (6.2%). The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) of market concentration is 5.041, indicating high concentration.
Romania ranks 10th globally (2nd in Europe) in fixed broadband internet speed (174 Mbps median /170 Mbps average) and 44th in Mobile internet speed (49.03 Mbps median / 41 Mbps average) due to infrastructure differences between rural and urban areas. Internet services are affordable.
According to the National Regulatory Authority in Communications – ANCOM 2022 Report, RCS&RDS dominates the ISP fixed internet market with 66.9% of connections, followed by Vodafone (11.6%), Orange (Telekom fix) (11.6%) and Orange (7.9%). The mobile internet market share distribution is significantly different with Orange leading (36.7%), followed by Vodafone (24%), RCS&RDS(23.6%), Telekom mobile (12.6%) and Orange (Telekom fix) (3%). The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) of market concentration is 4995 (fixed) and 2815 (mobile) indicating high concentration on both markets.
The 2022 Digital News Report shows that 61% of Romanians mostly read online text, while 11% mostly watch online videos. The same report indicates a surprising 20% accessing news via e-mail/newsletters. A significant number of newsletters have started being published by independent news sources (PressOne, MisReport) or independent journalists on platforms such as Substack.
The radio market is diverse, but radio broadcasting is analogue. According to the National Authority for Communications (ANCOM) 2022 Report, the 2020 national strategy for digital audio broadcasting implementation was not yet approved.
The circulation numbers of major paid print publications have dropped by roughly 25% to 60% between Q4 2019 and Q4 2022, according to Transmedia Audit Bureau Data on major print news publications.
Media & News Eurobarometer Survey (2022) shows that when accessing news online (multiple answers), Romanians indicate the website of the news source (42%), social media (42%), news apps/alerts (27%), direct messaging apps (20%), news aggregators (18%), and newsletters (15%). There is no reliable data available on the news apps used since various apps are preinstalled with mobile devices operating systems. Google News shows up in the top rankings of both Google Plays Store and Apple App store.
According to the Digital News Report 2022, 39% of Romanian respondents share news via social media, messaging apps and email. The same source lists the top social media and messaging apps (Newman et al., 2022) with Facebook in a clearly dominant position for news-related use.
Furthermore, with around 500 million monthly visits, Google is the most accessed website and search engine in Romania (with google.com and google.ro), followed by YouTube and Facebook (in the websites ranking) and Bing and DuckDuckGo (in the search engines ranking), respectively. Google holds 97% of the Romanian search market.
The Digital News Report 2022 data shows that, although decreasing by 10% in the past 5 years, TV news (74%) ranks above social media (63%) as a news source. However, the trend points towards social media becoming the dominant news source in the future.
The dominant distributor on the ISP and Cable TV market (RCS&RDS) owns 12 TV licenses and 39 radio licenses (according to the National Audiovisual Council): Digi24 news television and online news website (included in the sample) and DigiFM Radio Network (not included in the sample) are part of the RCS&RDS ownership structure. The Romanian “must-carry” list for 2023 includes 52 TV channels. According to the National Regulatory Authority in Communications – ANCOM 2022 Report, there are only isolated cases of net-neutrality infringement – disputed zero-rating offers in the case of mobile internet service providers and access problems due to technical/configuration errors.
Facebook dominates public news sharing practices in Romania. In terms of curatorial practices, Facebook lists AFP – Coverage and Funky Citizens/Factual.ro as third-party independent fact-checking partners, according to Meta for Media (https://www.facebook.com/formedia/mjp/programs/third-party-fact-checking/partner-map).
Google News ranks among the top apps, but Digital News Report survey results do not indicate any relevant aggregator app. Google News Showcase is a global content licensing program through which Google pays participating publishers to curate content. Google News Showcase was launched in June 2022 in Romania with 16 partner publications: Adevarul.ro, Agerpres.ro, Descopera.ro, Digi24.ro, Edupedu.ro, G4Media.ro, Gandul.ro, HotNews.ro, iDevice.ro, Mobilissimo.ro, News.ro, Newsweek.ro, Profit.ro, StartupCafe.ro, StirileProTV.ro, Wall-Street.ro, Digi Sport, PaginadeMedia.ro, ZiarulFinanciar, Libertatea.ro. News agencies Agerpres and Mediafax are also present in Google News Showcase in 2023.
All relevant intermediaries in Romania either provide no information or disclose general criteria on pages that cannot be reached from the content area. Though some intermediaries inform that paid content might get prioritised, they do not promise to disclose the existence of commercial agreements behind this content.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press in Romania. Freedom of the press also presupposes the freedom to set up publications. According to the Constitution, it is provided that a criminal law may impose on the media the obligation to make public the source of the funding.
In Romania, no press law was adopted, and the constitutional provisions on the freedom of the press, including the freedom to set up publications, their ownership and funding, were detailed by several laws, either by laws of a special nature (audiovisual field as well as public television and radio – Law 504/2002) or by general laws, those applicable to any type of business. The latter are specific to the printed press.
Audiovisual Law No. 504/2002 contains concrete provisions on the definition of participants in the audiovisual market, the regime of ownership, its transparency, the shareholding structure, anti-concentration provisions, licenses and their public record keeping, the prohibition of censorship, the recognition of editorial independence. Dominant position in terms of forming public opinion is not allowed, for this purpose it has been regulated that a market participant should not exceed a market share of 30%. The shareholding structure is public and accessible, being displayed on the National Audiovisual Council’s website. There have been controversies in the past over the publication of the shareholding list, which has not always been public and up-to-date, even though there was a legal provision to that effect, but now the list is updated and published.
Law 504/2002 also regulates the establishment, organisation and duties of the regulatory body in the audiovisual field, the National Audiovisual Council, an independent body under parliamentary control.
AVMSD has been transposed in Romania, currently its provisions being incorporated in Law 504/2002 that concerns the audiovisual market.
The public television and radio services are well regulated, have a specific law regarding their organisation and functioning, the financing being provided in an overwhelming proportion from the state budget and, to a lesser extent, from funds attracted from the advertising market. Public television and public radio are editorially independent autonomous services operating under parliamentary control.
Both the audiovisual regulatory body and the public radio and television services have a leadership appointed by the public authorities, parliament, government, president and, although the nominees do not necessarily belong to a political party, decisions can sometimes be influenced politically, depending on the different majorities or coalitions that are formed at the political level.
The funding regime is not always public in the audiovisual field, with transparency provisions only with regards to public funds.
Print media is less well regulated. It is organised and operates on the basis of the general business law, Companies Law no. 31/1990, Trade Register Law no. 265/2022, Competition Law no. 21/1996 and Civil Code. The shareholding structure can be known, but only indirectly, by means of a paid request for the communication of extracts from the business register.
Funding is also not transparent in the field of print media, only public funds can be traced, but only indirectly, through requests addressed to public authorities according to the Public Information Law no. 544/2001, or following the revenue and expenditure budgets of public authorities and not from companies holding printed publications.
The editorial responsibility belongs to each journalist and there are no content regulations or supervisory bodies, the only legal requirements being to respect public order and morals, and in case of violation, only civil sanctions can be applied, and only by a court of law.
As for digital platforms and the video sharing on platforms, regulations also exist in Law 504/2002, which also contains the transposition of the AVMSD, but these are minimal. They include the requirement to draw up an updated record of the providers of video-sharing platforms established or considered to be established on the territory of Romania. The body responsible for drawing up and publishing the list is the National Audiovisual Council. The law establishes a general obligation of platforms to protect minors and the general public from programmes and user-generated videos containing incitement to violence or hatred based on different grounds of discrimination, from user-generated videos and from commercial communications with content the dissemination of which constitutes public incitement to commit criminal offences.
There are no regulated direct sanctions against platforms or users that can be applied, in the sense of fines, but the NAC may still require platform providers, by a reasoned decision, to remove illegal content or restrict access to it, or to disable the user’s account. Service providers that provide storage space for video-sharing platforms may be required to remove, disable or restrict access to a video-sharing platforms. Registry operators which allocate domain names to video-sharing platforms may be required to remove the domain name of the respective video-sharing platform. There are no other local regulations specific to digital content, and the DSA or DMA, which is directly applicable, is too recent to produce effects.
The Romanian news market is diverse in terms of brands and ownership. However, lack of transparency and public accountability regarding funding mechanisms as well as lack of strong professional associations that could exert control through self-regulatory mechanisms leaves room for questionable practices.
The audiovisual is controlled through legislation enforced by the National Audiovisual Council. Telecommunications are controlled by the National Authority for Administration and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM) which also sanctions net neutrality infringements and contributes to a digital strategy for broadcasting that has yet to be formalised in a legal framework.
The ISP and CATV markets are highly concentrated with the same company (RCS & RDS) claiming the top position. Furthermore, the telecom company owns major TV and online news brand Digi24 as well as a national radio network and several other media.
Facebook/Meta is the most prominent digital intermediary for news distribution/consumption. Alphabet, through Google News Showcase, runs a content licensing program since 2022. News distribution through e-mail/newsletters and direct messaging apps is increasing in prominence. There are no regulated direct sanctions against platforms or users that can be applied, but platforms can be required to remove content deemed illegal by a National Audiovisual Council reasoned decision.
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