If you’ve been with me for a long time, you’ll know that as far back as three years ago I was writing about how much I appreciate Romania’s democratic tradition of giving ample time and space for the public to debate the important issues of the day.
Last week, I was watching such a program, a 78-minute interview with Aurelia Cristea, a local politician who is now the (national) Minister of Labor Relations.
It’s a tedious and often boring interview but around the 18-minute mark I heard something that blew my socks off. As such, I decided to cut and subtitle the relevant portion so that all of you could see it for yourselves.
Essentially, the situation in the Romanian media is far worse than I knew. In British terms, what they’re saying here is that almost all Romanian journalists are working on “zero hours” contracts. In American terms, they’re all on a W-9 tax schedule.
Whichever way you want to frame it, it means that most Romanian journalists are not regular employees, have no guarantee of work hours (or income), have no access to unemployment or other social benefits, are not earning money towards their retirement pensions and are treated as indentured servants.
It’s quite difficult to fire regular employees in Romania but these “independent contractors” being without that kind of job security cannot contradict their employers’ editorial line or even criticize it. They have to do what they’re told or else tomorrow they’re out on the street, easily replaced with someone else desperate to work for low pay in this economy.
You’ll note that the two journalists state that their fellow reporters are “too proud” to join any kind of professional organization. This seems to be true, as the Association of Journalists in Romania hasn’t been updated since 2010 (and had just 60 members) and the Romanian Press Club has been inactive for a year (and had just 20 members).
In America, there’s a tradition of reporters being fired for contradicting their bosses and so the situation is far from ideal (which is why the USA remains behind Romania in the index of press freedom) but at least American journalists have their basic employment rights and protections.
Over in Britain though, journalists have a very active union with a recent campaign to “work your proper hours”, exactly the subject brought up by the two Romanian journalists.
With the minister clearly supportive of unions and collective bargaining, maybe it’s time for Romanian journalists to quit asking everyone the same fucking questions and get off their ass and organize to protect themselves so they don’t have to work long hours for miserable pay.