Policy brief

Money for pandemic advertising

In 2020, the media market was fed with funds from the Government, to promote the anti-Covid campaign. The period in which almost 200 million lei (40 mil EUR) were promised overlaps over the electoral period, i.e. over the local elections of September 27 and the parliamentary elections at the beginning of December. Campaign allocations and implementation procedures have been publicly criticized, while some of the providers have not received all their money so far. Although the figures (reach) seem to show performance, the criticisms brought in terms of allocation criteria, the presence on the list of beneficiaries with significant amounts of money of highly politicized suppliers, as well as its implementation in a year with local and parliamentary elections, show that it has a clientelistic and electoral character. Although the need for an information campaign is obvious and absolutely necessary given the situation in 2020, at the same time funding significant amounts of television or websites that have promoted in the same time fake news is immoral and strengthens the electoral nature of the allocation of funds. The government and the National Liberal Party have partially secured their visibility in 2020 by publicly funding the media. It is obvious that such a beneficiary, who receives significant funds from the Government, becomes vulnerable from the perspective of journalistic independence. Moreover, such funds have provided for electoral advantages of a political competitor, in spite of international standards on fair competition.

  • The government did not pay all the promised funds. From commitments of 181 million lei (as listed in December 2020), by the end of May 2021 only over 141 million were transferred to beneficiaries. According to the data obtained by EFOR through FOIA in July, the Government settled in 2020 the amount of 87 million lei, and in 2021 another 53 million lei. See here the full situation in editable format
  • A number of 79 suppliers received up to this moment less than 50% of the money promised through commitments. It is difficult to determine whether the state has not honored its payments or the providers have not performed those services. What is certain is that in June 2021, some suppliers (including large media companies) stated that they did not receive their money from the Government.
  • The Agency for the Digitalization of Romania, responsible for verifying the activity of the suppliers, did not identify any case of deviation from the law.
  • The first 10 suppliers collected 50% of the money promised by the Government. Most of the money went to national televisions, but also to several online portals.
  • On the list of suppliers were found some entities that promoted at the same time with the messages distributed by the government conspiracy or information in conflict with official data.
  • Entities with clear links with certain political parties received money; to be noted that the issue of politicization is more general and is not strictly related only to this program. We found suppliers who are close to different parties, who promote topics from their agenda, companies that donated to political parties or that received money from party subsidies in 2020 or companies owned or run by politicians. It should be noted, however, that the parties on this list are varied.
  • In terms of transparency and public communication, the program could have been be improved by publishing reports that reflect its impact and effectiveness. Although we appreciate that SGG and ADR responded to our requests in a timely manner and provided us with the requested information, given the scale of the program, financial data and those related to implementation indicators could be centralized more efficiently and more visibly. Last but not least, certain sanctions may be imposed on entities that have at the same time promoted harmful campaigns for the purpose of the program, through misinformation; in other words, monitoring could also be qualitative, not just quantitative.

At the same time, advertising or event organization services have not completely disappeared from the local level either. Municipalities, county councils or municipal companies in Bucharest and in the country used public money to promote themselves electorally. It is obvious that the municipalities did not organized as many events as they would have staged in a normal year – and electoral on top of that. 

However, the contracts made by the municipal companies in Bucharest, but also by some municipalities (see Mangalia) or county councils (see Ialomița) in the country point to the electoral potential of the money spent. The lack of transparency of the Municipal Advertising and Display Company, which received several contracts in Bucharest, the details of which it refuses to make public, raises questions about spending public money in the middle of the election year, but also with a pandemic. And the activity of the Sector 1 Municipality in Bucharest (distribution of the mayor’s office magazine on the first day of the campaign) illustrates the spending of advertising funds with an obvious electoral character. Some of the mayoral candidates used public resources for themselves and the party to increase voter visibility. Of course, the behavior is not new and we can see that it is repetitive in the election years.

One of the major problems, however, remains the lack of intervention on the abuse of public resources, especially when it is obvious. Although in 2020 some of the electoral commissions acted regarding the abuse of public resources, we believe that such actions must be controlled and sanctioned by the Permanent Electoral Authority when it comes to funding political parties and election campaigns in a timely manner. The Court of Auditors’ audits may also indicate unjustified expenditure and impose appropriate sanctions.

 

Read the report (Romanian only).

Commitments and payments, based on FOIA and other public information

 

Event organized within a project funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), implemented by the Expert Forum in partnership with CEELI Institute (Czech Republic) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

Photo source: freepik.com


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