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News 20 Jan 12

Concern Over Attacks on Reporters in Romania

Media groups voice growing alarm over the number of journalists who have been assaulted by either police or protesters in the recent street protests.

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest

While towns and cities across Romania are gripped by the biggest street protests in over a decade, the situation of the journalists covering the protests is worrying, media organizations and experts say. 

“Numerous reporters were physically assaulted by protesters and policemen while covering peaceful anti-government protests that degenerated into violence in Bucharest… It appeared that journalists were deliberately made targets,” a press release from the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation, SEEMO, said.

The Romanian media organization ActiveWatch cites at least seven journalists who were beaten up or illegally detained by police. Others were victims of the protesters' violence.

The total number of journalists assaulted either by protesters or the police is not yet known.

“We are asking for the public identification of, and penalties against, policemen who have attacked journalists. They have a duty to respect and protect journalists who are working in the field,” ActiveWatch said.

But while some media groups put the spotlight on excessive police actions, other experts complain of journalists acting unprofessionally.

“For an average TV viewer is often difficult to understand the real situation on the street as some journalists are biased and politically motivated in their reports. Of course, the media has to be critical of the government but the use of words such as “tyranny” or “dictatorship” is not welcome in such a context,” sociologist Vasile Dincu said.

Some journalists say it has been difficult to explain the complex and conflictual situation, with older people complaining about pensions and prices, students and professionals protesting about corruption and, finally, ecological activists fighting a mining project believed to be favoured by the President and the ruling party.

“In a time of protest it is difficult to explain the situation as most of the journalists are young and don't have experience or training in conflict reporting and volatile situations,” media expert Brindusa Armanca notes.

Around 7,000 people took to the streets of Bucharest on Thursday in the largest protest in a week, demanding the resignation of President Traian Basescu and the government.

They gathered in response to calls from the opposition coalition of Social Democrats and Liberals.

The spark behind the recent rallies was a proposed health law that would have brought major changes to the health system.

Initially started mid-last week as a show of support for a junior minister who quit in protest over the controversial healthcare legislation, the protests soon broadened into an attack on Basescu and the government’s austerity measures. In response, the government scrapped the unpopular bill on Friday.

Last weekend clashes erupted between demonstrators and riot police, the worst that Romania had seen in a decade.

Some 60 people were reportedly injured and over 113 arrested as demonstrators clashed with riot police, hurling stones and petrol bombs.

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