Week 43: The Realitatea phone conversation transcripts controversy

A scandal related to some phone conversation records of Sorin Ovidiu Vîntu, Realitatea-Cațavencu’s owner, and his managers spread throughout most of the 18-26 October week in the Romanian media. Romania has slipped to no. 52 from 50 in the Freedom Press Index, and the public television is planning some savings by cancelling transmissions from some sports events and sublicensing the Olympic Games in 2012.

Some phone conversation transcripts (dubbed as ‘stenograme’ by the Romanian media) between Sorin Ovidiu Vîntu, the owner of the Realitatea-Cațavencu group, and his managers, as well as some politicians, leaked one week ago from a file at the General Attorney, and provoked a scandal related to the political control Vîntu has exercised on his media assets, during the presidential elections campaign in 2009 and afterwards. The records published by Mediafax on Monday, 18 October include even indications about Vîntu and his managers trying to construct a strategy to elect Mircea Geoană as a president.

The political involvement, as well as the obscene language of the discussions, was vividly criticized by some voices. Meanwhile, some parts of the civil society emphasized the fact the records were not directly connected to the charges brought to Vîntu, which is a defendant in a trial related to an investment fund transformed into a Ponzi scheme at the end of the nineties and may represent a breaking of privacy. The General Attorney’s office answered the transcripts were used by law enforcement in order to profile the defendant.

The National Defense Strategy caused a controversy among MP’s because of press campaigns being mentioned in it as a potential danger for national security. The National Defense Strategy had been proposed to the Parliament by the Presidency and included a topic on the media as a means of incorrectly influencing the political process in Romania. Tuesday, 19 October, it was reviewed by the joint defense committees of the two Houses in order to be sent to the plenary for a vote. The populars (PDL), the governing party and a supporter of the president, tried to back up the topic on the press, while the socialists (PSD) and the liberals (PNL) were against it. The 16 votes out of 32 against the topic were interpreted as a rejection by the socialists and liberals, while the populars said there was no majority. The other votes were 15 pro and one abstension.

Romania is on the 52nd place in the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders, wrote HotNews.ro. It is a bottom position for an EU country: scandinavian countries score very high, while Italy is on 49 and Greece and Bulgaria, on 70. Romania has been sleeping on #52 from #50 in 2009, #47 in 2008 and #42 in 2007. The Freedom Press Index can be consulted here.

Romanian glossy women magazines revenues will fall with up to 30% in 2010, according to a DailyBusiness.ro research. Women glossies are the 3rd most important media segment in Romania, after television and newspapers. Various managers from Burda, Sanoma Romania or Apropo Media offered DailyBusiness.ro various estimates, which go from revenues similar to 2009 to the percentage already mentioned. 2011 will be better according to most of the managers quoted. The Romanian glossy market is crowded, with 15-20 titles on the segment, all selling less than 35,000 copies per issue each.

The public television (TVR) gave up some sports broadcasts in order to balance its accounts, wrote Paginademedia.ro. The gymnastic championship, as well as Formula 1 and some rugby events are out of the schedule, while the Olympic Games in 2012 are to be sublicensed and the soccer Champions League will stay on TVR.

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