Romanian Media Hit By Layoffs Amid Press Freedom Concerns


Romanian media hit by layoffs amid press freedom concerns

Bucharest, (APP - UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 8th Dec, 2023) Restructuring plans at two influential Romanian media outlets are raising concerns about a downturn in press freedom in the country.

Swiss media company Ringier -- which owns Romania's Libertatea daily and the Gazeta Sporturilor (GSP) publication -- earlier this week announced plans to cut jobs at Libertatea, citing the increasing shift to online media.

Three employees including top journalists Catalin Tolontan and Iulia Rosu were fired, and journalists at the paper said a total of 15 employees -- or 20 percent of Libertatea's workforce -- could be affected.

Contacted by AFP, Ringier spokesperson Johanna Walser rejected the claims, stressing that "there will be no mass dismissal".

"There was no official communication to the team of Libertatea that 20 percent of Libertatea's journalists will be laid off," she said in a statement sent to AFP.

Ahead of four elections scheduled for 2024 in Romania, the dismantling of "one of the most powerful mainstream newsrooms" in the country was of great concern, Cristina Lupu, Executive Director at the Center for Independent Journalism, told AFP.

"The signal to all the other journalists is very clear: it's not good to speak out against your employer's interests because you may pay with your job," Lupu added.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), an international media organisation, expressed alarm on X over the recent "shock dismissal of journalists and editors" in Romania.

In October, Ringier forced out the editor-in-chief at Gazeta Sporturilor and in November shut down its almost 100-year-old print edition.

Journalists of the affected dailies claim to have been pressured by management into submitting any articles on online betting companies -- who are powerful in the Balkans and are a major source of ad revenues -- for vetting ahead of publication.

In Thursday's statement, Ringier rejected accusations of interfering in journalists' work, saying that there "is no external influence on our editorial offices, neither from the shareholder company Ringier nor from the betting industry."

"These accusations have been and continue to be made without any proof."

Interviewed by AFP, Iulia Rosu said that she was astonished to learn of her dismissal since she was part of the digital team, adding that hopes for an "independent press" in Romania were dim.

"This has gone too far. It's not normal for gambling companies to have such power," Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said in October.

Romania's centre-right opposition party USR said the restructuring specifically affected two newspapers known for in-depth investigations into "those in power and the big advertisers in the gambling industry".