CNN and Newsweek entangled in pay political scandal

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The Romanian media market is engulfed in a political scandal that has to be paid to play, including newsrooms selling the CNN and News week.

CNN’s Romanian affiliate, Antena 3 CNN, has a TV broadcasting license that prohibits taking money from political parties outside the established election campaign periods. Yet that is reportedly exactly what the biggest names in the Romanian news media have been doing through their websites, which are unregulated.

Investigative reports based on insider evidence have revealed that money is transferred to media companies through intermediaries by the political parties they are supposed to hold to account.

“It’s a big problem for the credibility of the media industry, because it’s become difficult to distinguish between what’s bought up and what’s organic journalism,” said Septimius Pârvu, of the think tank Expert Forum, which has filed a lawsuit on Romanian political spending, The Daily Beast told. “I get the feeling that the parties have started to impose their own agenda on the media and that the money they pay ensures that negative news is not reported. It has a bad influence on the media market.”

Two weeks ago, the electoral regulator, which controls how much political parties can spend within and outside election periods, proposed a limit on party funds going to news organizations and greater transparency around the recipients of the money.

Romania’s two main political parties, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL), which have joined forces in government, have increased spending on “press and propaganda” to the tune of about $ 40 million in 2022, twice as much as they spent in 2021, according to an analysis by the local edition of the US government-backed Radio Free Europe (RFE).

Recorder.ro independent investigative journalists, meanwhile, published confidential contracts between political parties and intermediary companies that distributed millions of dollars in state subsidies to the news media.

The details of how much each news organization has received, including Antena 3 CNN and News week, had been kept secret until Recorder.ro first acquired leaked contracts between the parties and their suppliers of media attention in September. RFE also obtained data from party insiders.

The leaked data is incomplete but gives an idea of ​​the size of the transactions.

For example, between 2019 and the first half of 2022, Antena 3 CNN received approximately €3.1 million from Vertigo Events, a company that distributes the PSD press payments. During the period, Antena 3 CNN was the top receiver of six TV news channels.

news week, which was previously owned by the parent company of The Daily Beast, received $3,000 a month from the same company, the leaks claimed. Recorder.ro said that “suggested a protection tax or loyalty fee,” something the media organizations deny.

The Romanian edition of News week was launched in 2018 through a franchise agreement of undisclosed value, with local company News International SA.

From the other top party, the PNL, News week had received €5,000 per month between January and July 2021, and also between October and December, according to data obtained by RFE, which mentioned a contract expiring in April 2022 for News week. During the same period, the PNL Antena 3 paid CNN the bulk of $75,000 per month, the data shows. This contract was bundled with a smaller local news website, DC News, according to the report. A spokeswoman for PNL confirmed that the party had provided this information to RFE.

Between April and September 2021, Antena 3 CNN received monthly payments of €83,000 from the business company working with the PSD, according to the data leaked to Recorder.ro.

“Journalists must monitor and hold politicians to account. If they stop doing this and move to the side of politics, society will lose a control mechanism,” the explosive documentary said.

“The pact that most of the Romanian news media has made with political parties is sealed with millions of euros every year and the money is paid by us. [the citizens]. In short, political parties take taxpayers’ money and send it to press agencies, who become obedient,” according to the Recorder film.

Pârvu, a governance and politics scientist at Expert Forum, told The Daily Beast that both: News week and Antena 3 CNN published articles attacking Recorder.ro journalists who dared to question the secret financial schemes.

“The amounts involved are a problem and the lack of transparency is a problem because it is public money after all,” he said.

Pârvu’s think tank has sued the electoral regulator to challenge their refusal to explain the legal basis of its proposals for increased state allocations to political parties’ budgets, and the process is underway, he said.

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The Council of Europe, an international organization dedicated to the enforcement of human rights, also drew attention to the threat to press freedom in Romania. “[T]The use of public funds by political parties to fund media and influence their content based on secret contracts is of great importance. It may undermine the principle of free media and the proper functioning of democratic institutions,” the CoE warned in its report.

None of this seems to bother one of the biggest TV news stations in the US, CNN, which announced a deeper partnership with Antena 3 on September 26, weeks after the reports first appeared.

“By improving its subsidiary’s editorial capabilities, CNN will also gain more reciprocal access to Antena 3’s content at a time when CNN is reporting extensively on Central and Eastern Europe and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine,” the network said in a statement. a press release.

“From the very beginning of CNN, our strong relationships with affiliate partners have increased its editorial footprint and improved the way news is reported by both CNN and our affiliates,” said Rani Raad. “After months of collaboration and hard work from CNN and Antena 3, the new look Antena 3 will build on News Hour’s success with CNN and bring another high-quality news product to the Romanian market.”

The collaboration between the two news brands had been live for 11 years before the new deal, according to CNN.

Mihai Gâdea, the director and prime-time host of Antena 3, added, according to the release, that the association “comes at an important time. This development is an important milestone not only for Antena 3, but also for Romania and our country’s media industry as we prepare to deliver news that meets the very highest standards of journalism.”

Whether these standards would also include taking millions of undisclosed dollars from the political parties you would have to cover was not made clear in the press release.

“The commercial entity Antena 3 SA executes advertising contracts on behalf of Antena 3 with both professional agencies and direct clients. No advertising relationship would have any impact on Antena 3’s editorial output. The election promotion contracts were concluded strictly within the regulatory timeframes and executed with the bodies designated by the majority of the parties or candidates,” said Cristiana Ruseni, legal counsel for Antena 3 CNN, in an email to The Daily Beast.

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Răzvan Chiruţă, the former editor-in-chief of the Romanian News week until January 2022, after an October showing of the documentary Recorder.ro, an audience told that the money leads to “self-censorship” because “publications want to get money next time too” at a time when the profitability of advertising alongside news content is declining.

As editor-in-chief: “I recognize very well what appeared on Recorder.ro. I confirm it,” said Chiruţă about the documentary Recorder.ro. “What this [political] buying lots is self-censorship.”

He added: “News week ended up taking money from [political] parties because of management errors and after a while out of desperation, to be able to finance his activity.”

Sabin Orcan, director and co-owner of News week Both Romania and the ex-boss of Chiruţă told The Daily Beast that “News week Romania currently has no contracts with political parties. Any information that proves otherwise is a lie. News week In the past, for example in election years, Romania had contracts with political parties. Contracts made legal, declared to the tax authorities and the competent electoral authority.”

Orcan declined to answer questions about intermediary agencies allegedly contracting news media outlets on behalf of political parties, adding that “the competitor publication that launched this claim, recorder.ro, is being funded by the family of an ex-Communist ambassador who was close. to the former political police [in communist times] and the KGB.”

When asked whether he also claimed on that basis that the RFE reporting on the matter was wrong, he replied “yes”.

In some cases, political parties became bigger clients of media organizations than multinational corporate advertisers like Renault, the French automaker, or Coca-Cola, who usually top the ad spend rankings in Romania. Neither the political parties, the media companies or the intermediary companies that distributed the money want to disclose the exact numbers and invoke trade secrecy.

A PNL spokeswoman referred The Daily Beast to the party’s response to RFE: “The purpose of the contracts is to promote the PNL’s messages exclusively in the online medium, as follows: the messages of the main PNL communicators cover, cover the content distributed in press releases and social media posts and promote the activities of the party and its members.” The PSD did not return any requests for comment.