As 2016 drew to a close, Romanians elected a new government. A month later, that government came under serious pressure after issuing an emergency decree about corruption.

It was not a crackdown; it was the opposite. The government wanted to ease up on the fight against graft.

What followed were the largest demonstrations the country had seen since 1989 and the fall of the communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu.

The Romanian news organisations have been accused of taking sides on this story.

Corruption stretches across the entirety of Romanian society.

Mirela Neag, investigative reporter, Gazeta Sportului

Outlets considered close to the government and the ruling Social Democratic Party were targeted by the protesters, who call them part of the corruption problem.

Many of those news outlets have a conflict of interest, since their owners have either been jailed by, or are being investigated by, the National Anticorruption Directorate - known by its Romanian acronym, DNA.

"Corruption stretches across the entirety of Romanian society," says  Mirela Neag, investigative reporter at Gazeta Sportului.

Part of the media is of course biased; they're not objective when they deal with important topics related to corruption because they always have something or someone they need to defend."

Some of the journalists who did not side with the government during the protests were singled out by Carmen Dan, Romania's interior minister. At a press conference, Dan read out the names of reporters who she said instigated the protests.

Meanwhile, TV outlets aligned with the government tried to discredit the protest movement, which then directed its anger at them.

"People took the streets because they wanted the anti-corruption fight to continue and because they wanted the government to let justice do its job," says editor Cristian Pantazi of HotNews.ro.

Another area of contention is the coverage of the DNA, which is tasked with monitoring and prosecuting cases of graft.

In a country where so many are suspicious of state-run bodies, it is an anomaly.

Polls say 60 percent of Romanians trust the DNA; just 30 percent have faith in their media outlets, some of which give the DNA a rough ride - especially organisations whose bosses the agency has investigated or sent to prison.

"All of a sudden this institution, the DNA, entered our sphere of attention,"  says Andreea Cretulescu, a presenter for Romania TV.

"Over the past decade, we have seen a parallel state which runs independent of democratic and constitutional norms. There is no presumption of innocence here. That is why many of my colleagues call the DNA 'the media production house' - it provides the media with so many images of people in handcuffs, guilty or not guilty, who have had their political careers destroyed." 

Founded in 2003, the agency has gained ground in the anti-corruption fight, as well as international praise for its work prosecuting high-level politicians and business owners. And that's a story that many media outlets, given who's bankrolling them, are not at to liberty to cover properly.

The Listening Post's Paolo Ganino reports from Bucharest on Romania's media and a tale of corruption that runs deep.

Contributors:
Andreea Cretulescu, presenter, Romania TV
Mirela Neag, investigative reporter, Gazeta Sportului
Cristian Pantazi, editor, HotNews.ro
Razvan Martin, media freedom advocate, ActiveWatch

Source: Al Jazeera News