|Deep divisions in the governing coalition over policies and reforms stalled
economic restructuring and led the government to the edge of crisis at year's
end. Leftist-nationalist opposition parties boycotted Prime Minister Radu
Vasile's cabinet, provoking calls for early elections. The political disunity
was reflected in growing social unrest, unemployment, inflation, and crime.
In this environment, political and economic interests pervaded even the
relatively independent private media. The lack of access to government documents
and proceedings encouraged skewed coverage of events and reporting of unverified
facts. On the other hand, well-documented investigative reporting on corruption
and crime became the object of constant attacks. The penal code still contains
articles punishing libel and defamation of public officials with up to three
The conviction and prison sentences of three journalists in criminal libel
cases in May and July had a chilling effect on the country's press. In May,
a city court in Bistritsa found Cornel Sabou, chief editor of the private
news agency Trans Press, guilty of slander and sentenced him to 10 months
in prison. The suit had been filed in 1996 by Mariana Iancu, a judge in Baia
Mare, based on an article Sabou had published in the local daily Ziua
Nord-Vest, reporting that Iancu had profited financially from some of
her judicial rulings.
In July, a city court in Iasi sentenced Ovidiu Scutelnicu and Dragos Stingu,
reporters for the independent daily Monitorul, to one-year prison
terms each for defaming a local police official and his wife, a judge. In
early January 1999, a Bucharest court reversed the decision, and suspended
the reporters' sentences.
Numerous private radio and television stations provide an alternative to
the heavily regulated Romanian National Radio and Television, offering
independent coverage of news and public affairs.