According to official data provided by the Romanian Permanent Electoral Authority, Romanian political parties spent about 111.7 million lei (some 22.56 million euros) between January and September this year on “mass media and propaganda”.
As per the figures, the two main Romanian political parties, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Liberal Party (PNL), used more than half of their state-allocated funds for “press and propaganda.”
The biggest spender of the two political parties was the PSD, which spent close to 67 percent of its allocated budget on media and public relations. The PNL was not far behind, spending more than 58 percent of its state budget on media.
Other political parties in the running have, so far, spent far less. The People’s Movement Party (PMP) spent barely 18 percent of its allowance on media, while the Save Romanian Union Party (USR) and Freedom Unity and Solidarity Party (PLUS) spent even less.
Cristi Pantazi, media expert and co-owner of the independent news portal G4Media.ro, says it is common for Romanian political parties to spend big on media and public relations every year.
“It is an attempt by the big parties to ensure the goodwill of the press or at least the non-combat of the media at critical moments,” he said.
According to Pantazi, the tactic can be very effective- particularly given “how little public criticism there is on how President Iohannis and the PNL government managed the coronavirus pandemic”.
Romanian political parties receive state subsidies for spending based on their most recent performance in parliamentary and local elections, decided on a proportion of 75 percent and 25 percent respectively. In 2020, they received total subsidies amounting to just over 51 million euros.
Big spending on media and public relations, then, is cause for concern for many pundits.
“It distorts the Romania media landscape by directing money to the press, especially outside the electoral cycles,” Pantazi said. The G4Media.ro news portal is one of the few media outlets that refused financial aid from authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some 700 Romanian media outlets, including television stations, newspapers, local and central news sites were on the list for government financial aid during the pandemic. The risk of dependence on political advertising contracts has also heightened concerns over independence and misleading reporting.
Romania was ranked 48 out of 180 countries in the 2020 Reporters Without Borders (RWB) press freedom assessment, below Papua New Guinea, South Africa and Italy.