Odd silence on Romanian front

Media reports on ex-envoy’s hit-and-run case extensively but is quiet on implications

04 April 2919

The media in Romania had reported extensively throughout last week on the conclusions of the Singapore Coroner’s Court regarding the two hit-and-run accidents committed by Dr Silviu Ionescu, the country’s former envoy.

But there was no attempt to analyse the legal consequences of this case, and no debate about the damage Dr Ionescu’s conduct may have caused to Romania’s international reputation.

And not one of the country’s politicians or diplomats offered any comments.

All of Romania’s five national TV channels included in their evening news bulletins a report on the Singapore Coroner’s findings on Wednesday.

However, the reports were brief and factual, either accompanied by just a still photograph of the envoy, or a video clip showing Dr Ionescu emerging from a preliminary hearing at Romania’s public prosecutor’s office.

The printed media did better. Adevarul (‘The Truth’) – one of Romania’s top daily newspapers – published on Wednesday a large article retelling the story of the car accident in Singapore, with the aid of a detailed map showing the place of the incident, the location where Dr Ionescu’s car was subsequently found, pictures of the Romanian Embassy, and an extensive chronology of the events since last December.

But the article started with Dr Ionescu’s sarcastic comments about the Coroner’s proceedings and his self-serving justifications: ‘Everything was a circus; the deceased person was not even subjected to an autopsy’ was how Adevarul titled its coverage, quoting Dr Ionescu’s words.

The newspaper also mentioned, without comment, Dr Ionescu’s claim that had he submitted himself to Singapore’s justice system, he would ‘have gone mad’.

Ziarul Financiar, a respected financial daily, took a different tack.

In a Friday article entitled Conclusive Proof Of Former Diplomat Silviu Ionescu’s Guilt, the newspaper quoted at length from the Coroner’s findings, which the daily termed as both ‘crushing’ and ‘stinging’. The article also explicitly referred to Dr Ionescu’s ‘lies’ and his ‘lack of basic human decency’, although both quotes were sourced to Singapore rather than to the newspaper’s own journalists.

Meanwhile, the HotNews news agency, one of a number of such outlets in the country, carried a response from Romania’s public prosecutor’s office.

‘Silviu Ionescu presented himself to a hearing in Romania,’ an unidentified spokesman for the prosecutor’s office was quoted as saying, ‘but we did not consider it necessary to send someone to the investigations in Singapore, because we are dealing with only a single suspect.’

The spokesman then added that ‘once we receive the conclusions of the Singapore investigation, Romanian prosecutors will decide the future course of Silviu Ionescu’s case: either freeing him from any penal investigations, or sending his case to trial’.

The media’s coverage therefore gave the impression that Dr Ionescu’s ultimate fate remains wide open. And, by invariably placing Dr Ionescu’s assertions on the same level of importance as the findings of Singapore’s judicial system, the media implied that the ‘truth’ in this case remains difficult to ascertain.

Not one Romanian media outlet considered it necessary to send a correspondent to Singapore in order to investigate the issue; all the reports were culled from freely available news stories.

And not one newspaper or Internet blog ran an article analysing the implications of this episode on the reputation of Romania’s diplomatic service. The question of whether Dr Ionescu – who was suspended from his post – still draws a salary from the Romanian taxpayer is not one which exercises the country’s journalists.

The patchy coverage of this affair is complemented by a total silence from the Romanian authorities.

Mr. Teodor Baconschi, the Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, last referred in public to this matter in an interview on Jan 20; the website of his ministry contains no other significant reactions on the topic. And, although Dr Ionescu’s curriculum vitae was removed from the website, the former diplomat’s declaration of personal wealth and financial dealings (required from any public servant in Romania) continues to be available.

This general silence is unusual, for the Romanian media is acutely sensitive to any dent in the country’s international reputation, and the Romanian authorities are often subjected to intense criticism. Two years ago, when a Romanian national who was awaiting trial for a crime in Poland accidentally died in that country’s custody without receiving any attention from Romanian diplomats, the furore which ensued led to the resignation of the Romanian foreign minister.

But on this occasion, when the conduct of Romania’s diplomats is yet again called into question, there is no public debate.

It is hard to believe that, had Dr Ionescu perpetrated his offences in Europe rather than in Asia, the matter would have been dealt with just a few public communiques.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, a car belonging to the Mexican embassy in Romania hit a local vehicle in the centre of Bucharest, the capital, gravely wounding one person. The accident took place at precisely the same spot where, in 2004, a US Embassy employee was involved in a car crash which killed a Romanian. At that time, the American government refused to lift its diplomat’s immunity, tried him in the US, and subsequently acquitted him of any responsibility. That case prompted a public uproar in Romania.

The Mexican diplomat allegedly involved in last Sunday’s crash was identified, but the Romanian police said that it has to wait for clarifications on the status of his diplomatic immunity before investigations can proceed. Not one Romanian newspaper made any reference to the parallels between these accidents and the tragedy in Singapore.

This weekend, the Romanian media was preoccupied with another diplomatic story: news that a boyfriend of the President’s daughter has just secured a good position at the country’s embassy in France, without having to compete for the post.

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