Romania's ruling parties secretly spent millions on press coverage in 2021 and 2022
The Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL), which currently form the ruling coalition in Romania, are becoming the biggest investors in the Romanian press, and the source of all the money they are pouring in is the state budget.
Europa Liberă has been reporting on the phenomenon and just published an analysis of the money that the Romanian political parties spent over the course of 2021 and in the first several months of 2022 on promotional press coverage and propaganda.
According to them, the two ruling parties spend the most significant part of their budgets on promotional press coverage and propaganda. The money used for the purpose of party promotion comes from the state, as a yearly subsidy, the value of which is established by a vote in Parliament. This year, the subsidy for local parties is equal to more than EUR 42 mln.
Their analysis showed that PSD paid various local media companies a total of nearly EUR 8 mln in 2021, with EUR 2.39 mln having been spent during the first five months of the year. In 2022, the sum actually doubled, as EUR 4.55 mln was spent over the course of the first five months of the year.
PNL also spent more money this year, with EUR 2.97 mln covering their propaganda costs so far, compared to last year’s overall sum of EUR 4 mln.
In comparison, the Save Romania Union (USR) spent just over EUR 200,000 from the subsidy money on promotional materials, and none of it went to the press, as the party chooses to promote itself solely through various social media platforms and Google Ads. While the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) apparently did not spend any bit of the subsidy they received in 2022 on promotional materials.
PSD and PNL use most of the subsidy money to pay for contracts with the press, which are kept a secret, as the two parties are reluctant to publicly share information about where the money is going, and the media outlets that are doing business with them are not obliged by the law to openly mark articles that have been paid for as promotional material.
The lack of transparency means it’s hard to know for sure what media outlets are involved with the two major political parties, but Europa Liberă published information they received from PNL relating to payments made in 2021 to the firms under which the following media outlets operate: Realitatea Plus, Antena3, DC News, B1tv.ro, RTV, Cancan, and Gândul.
It is unknown where PSD is channeling its subsidy money as all information in this regard is kept secret, even though there are multiple court rulings stating that all contracts concluded by parties on the basis of public money represent an issue of public interest and should therefore be made accessible. Europa Liberă says that they have sent multiple requests for comment to PSD, but never received a conclusive reply.
The financial security of Romanian media outlets has declined significantly in recent years as the pandemic has strongly impacted the advertising budgets of local companies and a higher share of these budgets went to the internet giants such as Google and Facebook as well as new digital channels. As a result, press independence has also come under threat. During the pandemic, the Government has channeled significant amounts of money to the local media as financial support under the pretext of public information campaigns to promote the pandemic sanitary measures and the vaccination campaign.
As a result, the Romanians' trust in news dropped by 9 percentage points from 2017 to 2021, to 33%. At the same time, only 20% of Romanians believe that the country's media is free from undue political influence, down from 27% in 2017, according to the Reuters Digital News Report 2022.
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