Update: This text was originally published in 2016, and it discusses a licence fee as the main source of funding for the Romanian public broadcaster (TVR). Since 2017, the broadcaster is funded directly from the state budget.  The root causes of why TVR has become broke and obsolete remain, and the arguments we made in 2016 regarding the institutional design, oversight and performance of the broadcaster still stand. Read our article on the licence fee and funding models in other countries.


Why has TVR become broke and obsolete? To answer this question, one must understand the institutional causes that prevent TVR from fulfilling its mission as a public broadcaster that informs a broad audience and has the requisite editorial independence, according to the law (Art. 1 of Law 41/1994). The crisis at TVR goes far beyond a lack of funds. The institutional design is deficient in key areas. First is the lack of stipulations ensuring the appropriate distance between the executive team and politicians, which would have enabled the management to shield the editorial team from political interference and to develop credible plans for them. Two additional, equally important, factors stem from this: the financial issue and the editorial and ratings performance. It is counterproductive to approach this issue as a crisis generated by the lack of morality of the politicians who interfere, of the TVR journalists who cater to various politicians or of the politically appointed general managers seeking a cushy appointment.

There are no clear specifications or limits concerning the parliamentary control of TVR, contrary to general recommendations in this field. Due to the lack of performance and evaluation criteria, dismissals are arbitrary, and control is exercised only from the political level, and as a result it is ineffective, as far as financial matters are concerned. The executive board can be dismissed by the very ones appointing them at any time, so it cannot act as a buffer between politics and journalistic activity, as it has scarcely any power in the face of political pressure. The board also lacks authority in front of the TVR journalists, who perceive the politicians as the real authority and cannot rely much on a politically appointed management likely to be removed sooner rather than later.

We believe that the best solution, which is necessary although not sufficient, comes mainly from understanding the institutional design according to which the public television operates, so as to provide the conditions seen as essential to ensure managerial quality and independence:

  • A guarantee that managers can serve the full duration of their term, as long as performance criteria are met, and a reduction of the risks of (arbitrary, political) dismissals
  • A better separation and clarity of management and editorial tasks, and better specification of the control structures, including a clearly laid out and delimited parliamentary control mechanism
  • Ensuring funding reliability, with multi-annual allocations and an automatic fee adjustment


Here are the three factors we examine to answer the question of why TVR has become broke and obsolete:

  1. The law governing the functioning of the public television (Law 41/1994): the detrimental effects of the institutional design put in place through this law, leading to bad management from both a financial and editorial perspective, as well as to low ratings (factors B and C, respectively).
  2. The financial situation of TVR: what the analysis of the activity reports of TVR, corroborated with the audit reports and the public reports of the Romanian Court of Accounts shows.
  3. The real role public media should play in democratic societies (compared to what is happening in other European countries). We look at ratings, the commitment to providing quality information to the entire community and to promoting social cohesion, as recommended by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.


A. The law governing the functioning of the public television 

The law according to which the public television is organized and operates (Law 41/1994) is flawed, leading to a mechanism of parliamentary control that lacks specificity and therefore leads to arbitrary decision-making. One consequence is that the TVR management is in a precarious situationand cannot act as a guarantor of the editorial independence the law requires. The other consequence is that financial control is ineffective.

1. A vicious institutionalized circle

  1. If the parliament rejects the annual report of SRTV (the Romanian Television Society), this automatically leads to the TVR board’s dismissal. Yet the law does not require that a motivation be issued, and it does not stipulate any conditions or standards regarding the rejection of the report.
  2. Therefore, although the term of the board members and president is 4 years, the board is actually often changed beforeits term runs out. Only one of the presidents appointed since 1989 (out of a total of 12) was able to serve the full length of their term. The average term length was two years and one month before 2010, but after that, it dropped to one year and eight months. These figures do not take into account nine interim terms (out of a total of twenty), which means the real fragmentation is even more extreme. Even in countries with similar public television systems, terms tend to be much longer, reaching up to eleven years and four months in Germany and eight years and nine months in Norway.
  3. The autonomy of the board members from the ones appointing them is further limited by the fact that the law says that any member of the board may be dismissed on the grounds of “improper” activity, without any further explanation of what that means.
  4. Moreover, the financing pattern generates uncertainty and precarity: although it is financed by a licence fee and not by a direct grant (which would imply a potential complete control from the government), TVR lacks the capacity to negotiate the fee, which is not automatically indexed, but which can be decided upon annually through governmental decision (the fee has remained unchanged since 2003).

2. The uncertain legal status of SRTV

The Romanian Court of Accounts, in a 2012 report, draws attention to the fact that, because of the unclear legal status of SRTV, income from the TV fee is not subject to the same regulation as public taxes. Moreover, the Court of Accounts also states, in a 2006 report, that SRTVsigned away a building to the Cluj-Napoca Local Council, through a real estate exchange contract, causing a 1,625.91 thousand lei loss to the national budget. This despite the fact that according to article 37 of Law 41/1994, TVR has no ownership rights over the property and assets (buildings, areas and lands) it uses, which belong to the state.


B. The financial situation of TVR

1. The evolution of the financial situation

Based on the data obtained from TVR activity reports, audit reports and reports from the Court of Accounts:

  1. TVR has been running at a loss for 10 years: since 2006 costs have constantly surpassed income;
  2. The total accumulated debt had reached almost 700 million lei in 2014;
  3. During the economic recession years of 2011-2012, TVR recorded a loss of over 150 million lei;
  4. The TV fee has not been indexed for 13 years, but between 2004 and 2011 the subsidies from the state budget went up;

2. The collection of the TV licence fee

The licence fee accounted for 59% of the TVR income in 2014, state subsidies amounted to 33% and advertising contributed only 5%. There are problems with both the collection procedure and the collected amount:

  1. In its 2012 Report, the Court of Accounts mentioned the inadequacy of the legal framework, leading  to certain contracts for collecting the TV fee that are not profitable for SRTV(like the one with Electrica SA) because they involve big commissions. The Court of Accounts also mentioned that following its privatization, Electrica is no longer obligated to ensure the fee collection.
  2. The fact that the fee amount has not been revised for 13 yearsplayed a part in the worsening the financial problems of the public television, as the management of TVR has emphasized on several occasions. This is the result of the existing legal framework, which leaves room for arbitrary decision-making. In compliance with the law, the amount and the procedure for the tax collection are settled through Government Decisions, and there are not any stipulations to regulate how often and under what circumstances changes can be made to either. In other words, the fee is decided in an arbitrary manner, according to the will of the government.

3. The bankruptcy option

According to the current form of Law 41/1994, SRTV cannot declare bankruptcy, because there are no stipulations on this in the law. There are discussions between the Government and the Parliamentto extend the powers of the board.

4. Problems with the annual reports, discrepancies and minimal transparency

Although the annual reports of TVR are the main tool for parliamentary and public control, and though the law stipulates that they must become public, only a part of them are available in full and with correct data. There are multiple inconsistencies in the data reported by TVR and many question marks over their review by the Parliament, whose members seem to use the reports more like a lever for political control of the management or even for settling scores with their political opponents. More information and examples in the detailed analysis.


C. The role of public media 

1. Decline in audience

According to a study of the European Broadcasting Union, over ten years, from 2001 to 2010, the main news shows of the public broadcasters in several countries across Europe have experienced a decline in audience share. The highest rate of decline was recorded mostly in Eastern and Central Europe, where the shares decreased by 14.2%, while the best performance among the public televisions was reached in the Nordic countries.

Against this backdrop, TVR has the lowest audience shares across Europe, as measured in each respective country. The most recent data, extracted from the European Audio Visual Observatory for 2014, place the Romanian Television (with all its channels) at 5.5% (daily share), behind the Macedonian (6.7%), Greek (7.2%), Bulgarian (7.9%) and Turkish broadcasters (9.7%). Within Romania, the TVR channels ranked 6th in 2014 in terms of the audience share measured across an entire day, but also for prime time (07:00-11:00 PM), the time slot when the TV stations usually place their best shows. This means that TVR has a low performance overall and, in addition, lacks flagship shows, which could attract a greater audience. Moreover, an analysis of the public television market share over a 10-year period indicates that there was an accelerated drop from 29.1% in 2004, to 7.1% in 2008 and to 5.5% in 2014.

The rankings are led by two Nordic countries: Denmark – where the public television has a market share of 68.5% – and Iceland (58.5%), followed by Great Britain (47.9%).

2. Low performance evaluations: TVR is rated less highly than the majority of the European public televisions, on indicators of trust, as well as diversity of the shows, quality and substance or level of interest produced among the regular audience. When it comes to, for example, providing reliable information or resisting government influence, TVR has similar ratings to the public service broadcasters in countries like Serbia or Bulgaria, but much lower than the ones from Western-European countries like Germany or Great Britain.

Experts say that TVR programs are more diverse than the ones of the private stations, but are rather dull for the general public. Experts from other states say that politics or public policy are approached more thoroughly by the public television compared to other stations. On this, the Romanian public service media rank similarly to those in Poland, Slovakia or Hungary but significantly lower than in western states.

Although the expert assessment is that TVR relies less on sensationalism and shows more interest in the culture of the ethnic minorities than other stations, on most of the other indicators, the Romanian Public Television is, in their opinion, mediocre or of lower quality compared to the public TV stations across Europe.



The lack of regulations aiming to protect the public broadcaster from political pressure and influence is an obstacle to its independence and hampers its ability to fulfill its mission. This is confirmed by several comparative studies on public television channels in Europe and worldwide, where TVR ranks at the bottom of the list.

Unsurprisingly, the frequent changes in TVR’s management follow soon after changes in the structure of the government, a pattern that makes it harder for the board to be held accountable and to put in place a long-term vision and strategy to ensure capable institutional and financial management.  (BBC operates on the basis of a charter that is revised every 10 years, after a thorough report from the government, which ensures the independence of BBC, lays out the responsibilities of the executive board and of the trust, and establishes the objectives regarding the public interest).

Moreover, the deteriorating financial situation of SRTV over the past few years has been used to make superficial arguments in favor of rejecting the annual reports submitted by the broadcaster and dismiss the management. This has moved the focus of the discussion on the problems of TVR mainly towards funding and has meant that much of the responsibility for the broadcaster’s problems – and the ensuing penalties – are laid at the door of the management.

Lawmakers lack the motivation to take on board the proposals put forward by the SRTV management, as well as other institutions, that could help improve the under-developed legal framework, which is a root cause of the poor management of the public broadcaster.