The Guardian : Romania’s media haunted by communism and dominated by capitalism

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Study illustrates the difficulty of developing press freedom in eastern Europe. Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta; charged with with fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

It has been fascinating to watch the development of the media in the post-communist regimes of eastern Europe. The study, dealing with newspapers, TV and radio, concentrates on media ownership and follows three broad stages of development: 1990-1999, and a “quasi absence of foreign investment”; 2000-2010, years of ownership opacity, with foreign investors acting as “front operators” for Romanian businessmen; 2011 onwards, a period of disruption with several leading owners facing criminal investigation for a variety of offences.

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The report comes at a time of internal chaos, with two media tycoons sent to jail, another one facing various criminal charges and the prime minister, Victor Ponta, having been indicted on charges of tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements.

In several instances, steps forward towards the foundation of press freedom have been matched by steps backward, especially, of course, in those countries ruled by Soviet-style (and Russian-sponsored) despots.

Even in countries that have sought to embrace western-style democracy, it has been evident that western-style freedom of expression has been somewhat fragile.

One of the reasons, arguably the overriding reason, is the fact that in most of central and eastern Europe, monarchic dictatorship was replaced by communist dictatorship, so democracy had never previously been allowed to blossom.

Two academics who have examined the media landscape in eastern Europe, Paolo Mancini and Jan Zielonka, argue that democratic institutions and media institutions in the region “emerged simultaneously and interdependently, in a period of rapid and often chaotic reform.”

It means that the kind of democracy evident in the west, underpinned by the rule of law, political pluralism and freedom of speech, did not exist prior to the collapse of communism and is still in its early stages in several states.

One such country is Romania, the subject of a study by Manuela Preoteasa and Andrei Schwartz, which has been published by a new thinktank, the Centre for Media Transparency.

Their report, “The men who bit the (watch) dogs”, comes at a time of internal chaos, with two media tycoons sent to jail, another one facing various criminal charges and the prime minister, Victor Ponta, having been indicted on charges of tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements.

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