Two Romanian expatriates are trying to help cool passions that linger after the revolution by teaching Western journalism to reporters who never had to distinguish fact from fiction.
Under Nicolae Ceausescu, Communist authorities replaced the journalism department at Bucharest University with an indoctrination course for party officials, to make sure that the propaganda machine ran smoothly.
The result, even after the dictator was overthrown and executed in December, is a polarized press that often inflames the public.
What passes for news is a one-sided mix of opinion sprinkled with a few facts. Pro-government and opposition papers are equally guilty.
Government spokesmen claim that the opposition shames Romania. The independent daily Romania Libera began a recent response: “So we don’t want the good of the country?”
A new five-part journalism course being given at the League of Human Rights headquarters in Bucharest is the brainchild of expatriate Gabriel Nicolescou, an architect who founded the Romanian Freedom Forum in Chicago and publishes a Romanian-English monthly called Democratic Romania.
His partner, 28-year-old Michael Maldarescu, finances the course from profits generated by his new telephone news line in Chicago, Inside Romania.
Irish journalist Sean Hillen, one of the several foreign teachers, said his 140 students “still have trouble distinguishing between fact and opinion.”
“It’s difficult to get them to understand that their opinions are irrelevant to objective reporting,” he said, “but they are enthusiastic about journalism and learning about the world outside.”
His students, some of whom worked in the state-controlled media under Ceausescu, recognize the problems.
“Events in Romania caused the reporting to be out of passion and journalists took sides,” said Mariana Trifian, 27. “The course will help eliminate that. I feel now that I will be able to control myself. . . . It would be better for the people to read objective reporting.”
Hennelise Koch, 26, said readers raised on the old journalism are part of the problem. She said they “need to be taught to read an objective newspaper and not be looking for political allegiances.”
Maldarescu said the course, “tries to teach potential journalists here what Western journalism is all about . . . so they see why it is that, if you took any article that appeared in a Romanian paper and tried to publish it in the West, it just wouldn’t work.”
Hillen said students are taught everything from layout to writing leads and headlines, and how to conduct interviews for various media.
A recent class posed this problem:
“If you had a six-hour deadline to write an article about adoption and you knew absolutely nothing about the subject, what would you do?”
The lecturer was Catherine Adams, a reporter for Independent Radio Network and United Press International.
Maldarescu said the course is accredited by the Romanian government and he is working on a plan for making it an associate of arts degree program recognized by U.S. universities.
He said he hopes that the school and his telephone news line, “will enable a flow of information from here to there and the other way around so that Romanians begin to understand a little better the concept of a free market and society, and we begin to understand the situation in Romania.”