The Second Dirty Secret of Romanian Television

Well we’ve all arrived in a new year and I’ve found myself moving in new directions. On a personal note, I’ve committed myself in earnest to learning the Russian language, which has come in handy as I work on perfecting my technique for monitoring, interpreting and analyzing global media, particularly the world’s television news channels.

Assuming you can speak or at least understand all of the major European languages (roughly consisting of Slavic, Germanic and Romance tongues) and have the internet capacity and computer power to watch 10+ television channels, you will instantly discover something very strange: Romania is vastly overrepresented.

If you live in Romania (as I do) and speak the language, you’re likely to overlook this fact because it’s considered normal around these parts. But as you begin to explore the media of other countries in Europe, the magnitude of this oddity becomes readily apparent.

For example, France, a wealthy “western” country with a population of over 66 million has (as far as I can tell) just three 24-hour TV news channels: TV5 Monde, BFMTV and state-run France 24. Likewise Great Britain, with a population of about 63 million, has (as far as I can tell) just two 24-hour TV news channels, SkyNews and the state-run BBC.

It’s not much different even in Eastern Europe, with countries like Ukraine (population 45 million) having just two channels, Kanal 5 and 24 Ukraina. Poland (population 38 million) has at most four channels, state-run TVP Info, Polsat News, TVN 24 and TVN CNBC (business news only and off the air overnight, showing only ticker information).

Who is the fairest of them all?
Who is the fairest of them all?

Meanwhile little Romania (population 20 million), officially the second-poorest country in the EU has at least five 24-hour news channels (Realitatea, Romania TV, Antena 3, B1TV and Digi 24), possibly more if you count Transilvania L!ve (currently “on vacation”), OTV (online only at the moment), The Money Channel (business news) and state-run TVR News (which uses EuroNews feeds translated into Romanian for half of their content – was formerly TVR Info and a real 24 hour news channel and may become one again). In Europe, only Russia (with 5 channels that I’ve found, two of which barely qualify) has a comparable number of 24-hour TV news channels and worldwide only the indomitable United States surpasses Romania.

Of course even the tiniest and poorest countries have periodic news broadcasts on television, as well as newspapers, online news sites and news over the radio. But Romania is clearly #2 in the world (behind America) for the sheer volume of 24-hour news channels on television. Some 500 million citizens of the European Union are getting by with about 21 full-time news channels while Romania has at least 5 and as many as 9 channels.

I really don’t know why this is, as I’ve already shown that Romanian news channels lose money for their owners and are never profitable. I also have no way of accurately comparing the number of print newspapers that exist in Romania versus other countries but there is no doubt that there is a staggering number of them in this country. Walk by any news kiosk in Romania and you’ll easily find 10 plus newspapers not including domestic papers in other languages (such as Hungarian, German or English) or the international press.

Even here in little old Unicorn City there are so many local newspapers (and/or news sites online) that I can’t even remember them all, including City News, Stiri de Cluj, Ziar de Cluj, Monitorul Cluj, Faclia, Ziua de Cluj and Gazeta de Cluj, as well as the local editions of big newspapers (Clujeanul, Adevarul Cluj edition, etc). That’s at least nine (non-sports related) newspapers to add to god knows how many news sites (like News Cluj) and blogs, plus of course the “big” national newspapers themselves (EVZ, Adevarul, RL, Gandul, JN, etc) and the 5-9 television news channels plus of course the nightly news broadcasts (ProTV, Prima, Antena 1, TVR, etc) and we can’t forget the sports-only newspapers and TV channels and add to that the “gossip” and light news papers such as Clic! and Cancan, plus their various related TV channels (including the brand-new AntenaStars, competing with Euforia!, programming on Acasa and Prima as well as Cancan’s own video programming not to mention weaker competitors like Look TV).

Long story short: there is one hell of a lot of news in Romania.

What makes this doubly interesting is that while there is a ton of “news” (in whatever form) coming out of Romania, produced and created by Romanians in the Romanian language, there is almost no original entertainment programming. In other words, for every 100 shows that Romanians create, 99 are news (or news-related) and only one is something else (like a soap opera or comedy show). And even most of the non-news programming, including popular shows like Surprize, Surprize and Cronica Carcotasilor are just “rebooted” formats from Italian television. Of course, it is far easier and cheaper to have three or four people sit around a table and discuss the events of the day than write scripts and have actors memorize lines. Still though there are surprisingly few “reality shows” in Romania aside from “reboots” from American, British or Dutch shows, and scarcely any comedies (whether scripted sit-coms or stand-up type material). I’m also unaware of any police procedurals at all (like Law and Order or CSI), adaptations from famous Romanian books, sci-fi or thriller shows or even general dramatic entertainment aside from one or two soaps (telenovele).

Furthermore, when monitoring all of Europe’s television media, it becomes abundantly clear that Romanian news (of whatever type or flavor) is predominately focused on Romania itself. I’ve spent the past month watching television news (predominantly) from Spain, Britain, Czech Republic, Holland, France, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine and Russia and on none of those channels (as far as I’ve been able to ascertain) is there such an emphasis on domestic issues, celebrities and current events. The only other two countries that I’m aware of with such a high level of fixation on domestic happenings at the expense of the rest of the world are the United States (unsurprisingly) and India (which, to be fair, does have a billion residents and several ongoing civil wars and thus plenty of local news to cover).

However this glut of news came about in Romania, it goes a long way to explaining why Romanian politicians, ministers, police chiefs, business owners and other powerful people in this country are so insulated and relatively unaffected by what the outside world has to say or thinks. Here in Romania every issue is debated almost entirely from the context of what Romanians think or have to say on the issue, and the rest of the planet can go to hell, even if it’s the EU commission president Barroso, Viviane Reding (EU official in charge of monitoring Romania’s MCV reports) or even the IMF. If you follow Romanian news, you’d think the IMF owes Romania hundreds of millions of euros instead of it being the other way around!

To put it plainly, unless you’re a Romanian who speaks Romanian, nothing you say or do really means a damn and only Romanian cultural contexts (such as an irrational hatred/fear of Russia and love for the USA) are taken into account when making policy decisions. By whatever means or process, the multilingual Romanians who embrace a wider worldview have been largely pushed out of the debate and do not play any significant role in shaping this country’s views.

For a long, long time I always thought that the name “Romania” for this country was an egregious error as people in this country have almost no cultural or historical connection to the Ancient Romans beyond the language but now I’m starting to see that I’ve been wrong.

It’s clear to me that most people in this country think that the sun rises and sets on the Romanian Empire and all those “foreigners”, whether Chinese tourists or the Hungarian natives of Miercurea Ciuc, are just ignorant barbarians, their needs, culture, language and investment in this country reduced to being occasionally interesting items of interest, far less important and significant than what God’s favorite people, the Romanians, have to say or think on any given matter.


16 thoughts on “The Second Dirty Secret of Romanian Television

  1. Sam,
    I will not repeat here all historical facts that make us Romanians to hate Russia.
    I just remind you that Russia under Putin did not change in their habit to bully their neighbors.
    When they will change perhaps Romanian’s sentiments toward Russia will change.
    Just think about how Putin succeeded to make the western countries again Russia’s enemies
    in Russian people’s mind.


  2. So, “[…]an irrational hatred/fear of Russia[…]”, you say?

    I like your basically open-minded approach towards the subject above, but I just can’t believe you are so naive to neglect the social impact of the Russian culture, especially in its Stalinist shape, on the locals, It is a nation-wide psychic trauma just as intense as the 45 year long waiting for the providential savior from across the ocean (“O să vină americanii!”) and we still have to deal with that every single day.

    Being a guy who remembers very well what it meant to wait in line for hours for one rationalized loaf o bread and how expired Korean shrimp filled all the food shops during the eighties, not to mention preparing my homework in the light of a candle, I am more pleased with our orientation towards the western world and would less likely embrace a connection to Putin’s Russia. I am not sure if you can understand this, if you haven’t lived in a totalitarian regime and take your freedoms for granted. Not playing the blame game, just saying…



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