Media Forum in Bucharest: Romanians blame ‘corrupt’ media for cover-ups

European media experts meeting in Bucharest have clashed over claims that some TV stations and newspapers are covering-up corruption. Meanwhile fifty thousand demonstrators in the Romanian capital are demanding more political changes after the Prime Minister resigned.

It was a deadly blaze at a Bucharest nightclub that brought demonstrators out. They called for the mayor to be impeached because the club was unsafe, with inadequate fire escapes. Thirty-two young people died. More than one hundred others are badly burned, some in a critical condition. Thousands of their supporters have gathered every night since it happened, spending six or seven hours in peaceful though noisy protests, blowing vuvuzelas, singing and waving Romanian flags.

The tensions in the streets were also present in the South East Europe Media Forum conference in Bucharest, where the scheduled appearance of the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was cancelled.

In the city centre protestors denounced corrupt politicians and their media cronies whilst at the conference hotel delegates discussed the same issue:
Dan Tapalaga of the online news portal clashed angrily with Adrian Ursu of private television channel Realitatea TV. Tapalaga accused the channel of interfering in politics in 2012 when protestors marched on the government buildings following a broadcast. Ursu insisted that broadcasters should play an active part in social issues, not only report them. He left the conference early.

Marina Constantinoiu, co-ordinator of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) in Bucharest, told the conference that 90% of Romania’s former editors are in jail for corruption "and the others have got their bags already packed."

‘Corruption is not just about money. It’s life and death’

After the debate Tapalaga told ECPMF:

Media play a major role in these protests. Owners, tycoons, oligarchs - they work together with politicians and when sad things happen, they try to hide the shit under the carpet. Now people realise corruption is not just about money. It’s life and death. is independent because we take advertising. It’s online, live and interactive. If we do something wrong the audience hits back right away.

This theme also echoed around University Square as large crowds chanted against corrupt politicians, calling for change. Despite the hostility to traditional media, Romanian TV crews, newspaper reporters and photographers covering the protests were given full access. Police stood quietly around the edge of the square, directing traffic away.

Demonstrator Rasvan Vasilsescu told ECPMF: “All our media are part of the problem - controlled by oligarchs, the second and third tier of the communists from the old days before 1989. We prefer to get our information from Facebook. It is the greatest invention in communication since Gutenberg invented the printing press. OK, it’s owned by an American company. But we are free on Facebook, free to post.”

The square is a focal point for protests. It is the site of the stone memorials to the people who were killed in the 1989 popular uprising that led to the fall of Nikolae Ceausescu’s communist regime.

Another monument near University Square remembers George Lazar, a father of the Romanian nation in the nineteenth century. Candles, flowers and tributes to the victims of the fire cover the stone steps and groups of young people sit or stand in quiet reflection away from the rowdy scenes.