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They saw revolution on TV, now is the TV revolution. French TV laws too garlicky for Romanians, who are looking for TV guidance.

French TV laws too garlicky for Romanians, who are looking for TV guidance.

Romanian TV is slouching toward the Promised Land through a series of dim green lights. The monopolized Televiziunea Romana has diversified its programming to an extent unimaginable two years ago. The voices for an independent station are gathering strength in various quarters. And, without a precedent to call their own, the parliament is hammering out new legal parameters for the media.

Last December, however, politics obscured any progress that might have been eked out. Dumitru Iuga, the head of the Free Union of Television and Radio Workers, went on a hunger strike, demanding the dismissal of TV president Razvan Theodorescu, general director Emanuel Valeriu and news department chief Victor Ionescu, for their pro-government bias. The situation reached its peak on December 16th, when a televised protest showed throngs of demonstrators chanting Iuga's name.

Fortunately, a bargain was struck. Iuga stopped his strike, and Theodorescu suspended Ionescu, Valeriu and the entire Board of Directors at the TV station until the new Audio Visual Law comes into effect. This deal paved the way for what many Romanians longed for: Christmas programming.

And Christmas programming there was galore. The yuletide of '89 made TV history with Ceausescu's corpse, but one year later, the holiday fare consisted mostly of children singing carols against pastoral backdrops. If Romanians had feared a second calamity, they instead got a quiet celebration.

A great deal now depends what form the Audio Visual Law will take. In an interview conducted with Video Age last December, Theodorescu expressed doubts about the parliament's proposed version. "It is too close to the French law," he said. In turn, he had penned a version himself. Despite his reconciliation with the union, Theodorescu asserted that technicians should not be represented in the TV's administration.

What the parliament will make of these proposals (and any others that come their way) is a matter of speculation. "The parliament takes these things," said Michael Munteanu, a Romanian exile living in New York and U.S. distributor of the newspaper Romania Libera, "and when they come out the other end, they bear no resemblance to their original forces: Ion Ratiu, a Romanian-born millionaire, and SOTI, a society for an independent television."

For his part, Ratiu appears confident that the realization of his station is inevitable. "When the law is passed, [President Ion] Iliescu will no longer be able to stop me," he said. Ratiu added that his initial outlay would run about 25 million.

Not having any millionaires at their disposal, SOTI must shop for backers. They have not approached Ratiu in this regard, because the millionaire is the parliamentary leader of the National Peasant Party. Nevertheless, amicable relations exist between the two forces.

SOTI is made up largely of members of the opposition, such as Vartan Arachelian and Stelian Tanase. According to Arachelian, SOTI is not laying heavy bets on the new law. Instead, they are working to bring more TV staff into the union.

The parliament will also have to establish some rule of competence, which may not be easy. For 25 years, only one station has existed, and therefore comparisons of competence have not been readily available. Charges of incompetence are routinely leveled against worthy but politically sensitive projects. In addition, the equipment at Televiziunea Romana has not been updated since the late 60's, thus making professional workmanship difficult.

Eugene Pretorian, a Romanian entrepreneur living in the U.S., is interested in giving the TV stations just such an upgrade. "When I visited the station in 1990, I had the pleasure of telling them that Tektronics had donated equipment to Romanian TV. In the spring, they sent high-level measurement equipment to Bucharest -- wafer monitors, vector scopes, and pattern generators.

"In the summer, the station began a program of updating the entire system," he continued. "The idea is to make television financially independent. In order to do this, they must bring in the international market, and so they must offer the same level of quality that other nations do."

The entrepreneur noted that TV stations under communism were centralized. "Everything is in one place -- from concept to finished product." Bringing the station up to international standards will require about 45 million.

David Lindsay is a free lance journalist, who travelled to Romania last winter.
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Author:Lindsay, David (English writer)
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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