I leave next week for Romania, my second trip in about a year. I'll be working with managers of local/regional radio stations--all part of the old national or state radio broadcasting service in Romania. This was the government voice that controlled the citizens in the days of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
Even now, Radio Romania is not completely free of government influence--and you can understand why. If you're raised in a country where the media system is controlled by the government, it's difficult to give it complete freedom even when you're part of a newly elected, emerging government that strives to be democratic. Who in U.S. government wouldn't want to have a say in news coverage or news agendas--if they could get away with it under the laws of the country and past traditions.
Thank goodness for the First Amendment and its ability to create a wall of separation between government and media.
Freedom House (freedomhouse.org) reported in the 2006 Press Freedom report:
"The constitution protects freedom of the press, and the government is increasingly respectful of these rights. The Parliament adopted a new criminal code in June, under which libel is no longer a felony and slander is still considered a criminal offense but is no longer punishable with imprisonment. However, the new code has yet to be enacted. In October, the justice minister proposed further amendments to completely decriminalize slander."
"The number of media outlets and news sources increased in 2005, and media are becoming more active and self-sufficient. But media still face significant economic pressure thanks to ownership concentration, lack of revenue, and a limited advertising market. Most media rely on government-funded advertising. In May, in consultation with media groups, the government adopted reforms to make advertising allocation more transparent, a move intended to prevent officials from distributing advertising to favored media outlets. Concentration and lack of transparency of media ownership remain serious concerns. "
Romania is regarded by Freedom House as FREE...though both the political rights and civil rights scores are 2. The lowest possible score is 7, a Not Free society. The U.S. and Western Europe rank one in both categories. While many things still must be done, Romania has made substantial progress. As recently as 1995-1996, the scores were 4 and 3; from the 1970s until 1990, Romania typically scored 7 in both categories.
More about Romania from the road...