THE ROMANIAN NATIONAL TELEVISION AS PART OF THE COMMUNIST PROPAGANDA APPARATUS DURING THE 1970s
Silvia-Cristina BAUMGARTEN [a]
Analele Universității din București. Științe Politice [Annals of the University of Bucharest. Political Science series]
Vol. XXIII, Issue 1, pp. 117-135
[a] School of Doctoral Studies in History, University of Bucharest, Romania
To legitimize its actions and to control the population, the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) worked constantly to impose its vision, with the propaganda apparatus acting intensely during both the period of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, as well as during the reign of his successor, Nicolae Ceaușescu. From its establishment in 1956, the Romanian National Television (TVR) had been one of the instruments through which the voice of the communist authorities had been heard, both literally and figuratively. In this study I investigate the evolution of TVR as a propaganda tool of the communist regime during the 1970s, with a focus on the evolution of the propaganda programmes and on the main requirements of the Party. For this purpose, I used sources from the Romanian National Archives and the Archives of the Romanian Broadcasting Society, and I analysed the measures that PCR took in relation to TVR so that the latter meets the ideological expectations of the communist regime.
Keywords: Romania, communism, Romanian Communist Party (PCR), Romanian National Television (TVR), propaganda, ideology, media studies
Like in other communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, the period following the Second World War has been marked in Romania by the obsession of the communist authorities to build the “new man” – the individuals who would form a homogenous society meant to think and act in accordance with the wishes of the communist authorities. Established in 1956, the Romanian National Television (TVR) was tasked to take an active part in this educational process, with programs expected to have a high ideological content. Towards the end of the next decade and following its expansion, TVR acquired an increasingly significant role in the political and educational activities coordinated by the Romanian Communist Party (PCR). With its ability to establish direct and simultaneous contact with millions of viewers who relied on it for information and entertainment, television offered a convenient propaganda tool. Through television, different aspects of the political and socio-economic life as envisioned and framed by the communist authorities could be introduced to the population, who was thus permanently exposed to the propaganda. Initially, there was a single channel – TVR, but this became TVR 1 when a second channel (TVR2) was launched in 1968. TVR1 was designed as a generalist channel aiming to broadcast the main political, economic, cultural, educational, and artistic programs. TVR2 broadcasted mainly cultural, musical, and artistic programs ([SRR Archives RR 322-8]). As a generalist channel, TVR1 served from the very beginning as a major instrument of the communist propaganda, while TVR2 contained more neutral programs.
In this study, which continues previous work on the topic (Baumgarten 2020) and is based on my doctoral research, I explore how the relation between PCR and TVR developed during the 1970s, as this appears in archival documents and currently available literature on the topic. For the moment, I did not have access to the media sources preserved in the Archives of the Romanian Television. Therefore, I analysed documents from the period under scrutiny, but not the shows themselves. The decade is particularly relevant in the history of PCR and of the Romanian communist regime from the viewpoint of propaganda.
During the 10th Congress of PCR (6–12 August 1969), its leadership emphasized that, along with radio and written press, television had to play an important role in the socialist education of the masses, especially in shaping the public opinion. It then praised for the progress the press made in expanding the thematic areas, even though it also emphasized that there was still a lot to do to eliminate superficiality and formalism. At the same time, radio and television were criticized for the lack of genre variety, as well as for the poor quality of the programs. The Party wished the television to become a “captive forum for debating the economic, political, social and ethical issues that concern our society, a leading scene of the most valuable national and universal art and culture, a mass tool for the multilateral improvement of man, for the formation of the socialist consciousness of all the citizens of our homeland” ([PCR] 1969, 73, my translation). The propaganda broadcasted on television was thus intended to persuade viewers to adopt an attitude in line with the expectations of the Party in relation to political events in the country and abroad. This attitude could be expressed as appreciation and acquisition of communist values, as well as through measures aimed at combating external influences or ways of thinking that were considered retrograde by the communists. In the late 1960s, PCR exercised control over television through the Party’s core office, but it was not a tool strong enough to generate real censorship and control (Preutu 2014, 707).
The atheist-scientific education was a priority of the period, with its promoters including the Party and the youth organizations, the trade unions, as well as educational and cultural institutions, and the media. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the communist authorities had initiated actions of “scientific education and combating mysticism and obscurantism in the consciousness of the masses, organizing substantial anti-religious campaigns. In the atheist books, the Christians were often attacked. The Evangelicals were especially targeted because, while they were not numerous, they were the most active, as they continued to maintain contact with the Western religious organizations. The communists took measures to systematically denigrate the believers, even harassing students from Evangelical families in schools and high schools. Belonging to a religious group caused concern among the communist authorities and often resulted in retaliation (Tismăneanu, Dobrincu & Vasile 2007, esp. 470–471).
The press had to regularly publish articles on scientific topics, informing the public and diverting them from the Christian faith. Also, the radio and television broadcasts were meant to actively contribute to the atheistic education of citizens. On TVR, the show Invitație la ora 20 [Invitation for 8 P.M.] aimed to answer questions on scientific topics proposed by viewers, but the communist authorities wanted an even greater involvement in fighting religion. Cronica ideilor [The chronicle of ideas] was another show that debated topics such as the social function of religion, traditions of Romanian atheist philosophy, the relationship between idealistic philosophy and religion or between dialectical materialism and knowledge. History was also used for the so-called fight against mysticism. As part of this process, the show Istoria civilizațiilor [The history of civilizations] debated issues such as the origins of rituals and religion, the relationship between religion and science, religion and morality, and between science and human progress. One of the main scientific programs was Teleenciclopedia [Tele-encyclopaedia], a much-loved show that aimed to popularize knowledge on contemporary scientific evolution and the universe. Particular attention was paid to children and young people, who had to be trained to reject the outdated ideas about religion. The programs dedicated to children such as Taine dezlegate [Unleashed mysteries], La porțile cunoașterii [At the gates of knowledge] or Studioul pionierilor [The pioneers’ studio] started to present the emergence and development of life on Earth, the causes of various natural phenomena and the role of science in the evolution of humanity. Such themes that were meant to combat superstitions or religious beliefs had also been adopted in shows for young adults such as Club XX, Liceum or Alma Mater. The theatre did not escape either, as the directors of the show Teatru TV [TV theatre] were expected to select plays that satirized mysticism and idealism ([ANR Archives CC PA-5/1969]).
Following the 10th Congress of the Romanian Communist Party, television had to become capable to mobilize the population towards the adoption of values and attitudes in line with the Marxist-Leninist ideology. TVR had to debate the communist policies and to be a genuine ideological tool, but without losing the attractiveness and the variety of its programs. The thematic areas that the television programs had to approach were diverse, the producers of the shows being required to promote discussions on social problems of both the Romanian society and the larger contemporary world, problems related to the professional activity of Romanian citizens and their free time, as well as issues related to the improvement of state and society. The risk of carrying out template-type propaganda programs was very high, given the issues that the presenters of the shows had to address to meet the Party’s requirements. The authorities expected TVR not only to introduce the issues, but also to debate them to insure a significant impact on the larger public. Propaganda was to be present not only in ideological or current affairs programs, but also in the cultural-artistic field, where the main goal was to promote the Marxist-Leninist ideology. At that time, there were still discussions about combating the influence of bourgeois ideology on culture, art, and philosophy, as well as diminishing the patterns taken from the Western world ([SRR Archives RR 322-8]). Although the directions established at the Congress were not necessarily favourable to foreign programs, TVR was still in its more liberal phase and continued to broadcast numerous foreign productions, which were often in the top preferences of the Romanian public.
At the beginning of the 1970s, TVR had a permanent collaboration with television companies of other states. However, after 1974, this trend slowed down, leaving TVR slightly isolated. Even if the TV shows from the beginning of this decade often attracted criticism from the authorities because the propaganda message did not always manage to be packed attractively enough, the Romanian public increasingly appreciated the shows, especially the entertainment ones. However, new directives appeared in 1971: after returning from a trip to the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, North Vietnam and Mongolia, Nicolae Ceaușescu gave the famous speech known in the Romanian historiography as The July Theses (Ceaușescu 1971).
After a few years in which communism really seemed to have a human face due to the liberalization that the Romanian regime went through, July 1971 happened within a complex context of international relations. First, in August 1968 Nicolae Ceaușescu vehemently positioned himself against the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which brought him into an even more tense relation with Moscow than before. In fact, Romania was not among the states that were invited to take part in the invasion, precisely because of the distrust that the Soviets had towards the Romanian communist leader. While internally the speech condemning the invasion brought popularity to Ceaușescu, the moment significant complicated the relations with Moscow. Second, in August 1969 Romania was visited by Richard Nixon, the then US President (1969-1974). This was the first visit by a US President behind the Iron Curtain. Because of these two moments in which Ceaușescu asserted his independence from Moscow, Romanian-Soviet relations were quite tense. The elaboration of The July Theses was based on both the so-called Asian model and a consequence of pressure from Moscow. To make it clear to the Soviet Union that Romania would not experience what Hungary experienced in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, Ceaușescu had to return to the ideological roots of the communist regime. Subsequently, the small cultural revolution that began with the launch of The July Theses laid the foundations for the cult of the dictator’s personality (Cătănuș 2005, 15-16).
On the 6th of July 1971, at the forum of the Romanian Communist Party’s Executive Committee, the communist leader gave a 17-point speech that would have a significant impact in the following years. During the meeting that took place three days later, it was decided that the Party would launch a massive propaganda campaign. It was also decided to reorganize the State Committee for Culture and Art, which was supposed to prepare an inventory of topics to be addressed in their works by artists, writers and theatre or movie directors. The editorial plans for 1971-1972 were changed, and schools were required to carry out ideological education from that moment on (Burakowski 2011, 184). The July Theses referred to the activities of party organizations, mass organizations, state bodies, propaganda institutions, ideological and cultural-artistic ones. The party had to be the one to lead all the steps for the improvement of the politico-educational activity.
The new agenda of PCR called for an intensification of atheist propaganda and the organization of mass actions to combat mysticism, as well as to improve the implementation of political education. With respect to the television, it also called for broadcasts to appeal more to the larger public, and especially to workers and peasants, whose representation in TV shows had to be allocated considerable broadcast space. The July Theses required a much more rigorous selection of the artistic productions and a special emphasis on films, plays and national musical performances, especially the newly made ones, so that they correspond to the communist ideological requirements. Emphasis was placed on the idea that foreign works of art had to come mainly from socialist countries. According to this new agenda, TVR had to eliminate all the productions that could transmit to the viewers “harmful mentalities,” i.e. which promoted violence or the bourgeois lifestyle. The satire shows had to adopt only themes that were agreed by the Party and could criticize the negative aspects of society only from a communist perspective. Both TV and radio were required to stimulate the production of patriotic songs and to broadcast them, organizing creation and interpretation shows or competitions. This requirement foreshadowed one of the biggest propaganda tools in the cultural-artistic field – Cântarea României [Romania’s Chanting] – i.e. a national artistic festival, which was launched in 1976.
The liberalization period ended in March 1971 with the last edition of Cerbul de Aur [The Golden Stag] international festival organized yearly in the mountain city of Brașov. At a meeting of the Central Committee of PCR that took place on the 17th of January 1972, the possibility to organize a new edition of the festival was discussed, but Nicolae Ceaușescu’s thought that the international festival was too grandiose and agreed with a new edition only if it could be done without spending foreign currency. The Party asked the artists to sing at the Golden Stag Festival without being paid ([ANR Archives CC C-1/1972]), a decision that was obviously impossible. For example, up to that moment, the festival had been a venue for internationally renowned artists such as Bobby Solo and Rita Pavone in 1968 (Oțeanu 1968, 6), Gigliola Cinquetti in 1969 and Connie Francis in 1970 (Oțeanu 1970, 3). Each of the artists who gave recitals outside the competition was rewarded with a sum in foreign currency. For Western artists, the honorarium could amount to 3,000 USD, while their colleagues from socialist countries received between 1,500 and 3,000 rubles. In addition to the actual recitals, the stars also filmed some special sequences that had to be broadcasted by TVR (Matei 2013, 161). However, not only the amounts paid to the singers in foreign currency, but also the high production costs determined the decision to interrupt the festival. A space was thus created for the new national festival Cîntarea României. This time it was meant not to promote artists, but first and foremost the cult of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s personality, in a way that can be described by the same word he used to describe the Golden Stag Festival: “megalomania”.
Although after the launch of The July Theses the perspective seemed gloomy for all cultural institutions, including for TVR, the reality of the next period was a little different. The effect of the Theses was felt in the activity of television only later, especially after 1974. The situation was similar in other institutions with a cultural profile, although in the PCR’s Plenary that took place between the 3rd and the 5th of November 1971 the Theses were widely discussed (Cioroianu 2005, 457). At the beginning, the measures adopted by Nicolae Ceaușescu were only at a declarative level, at least in the case of the TVR, which, arguing for the need to cover the increase in broadcasting hours, continued to include Western film productions in its program. A similar situation was also present in the written press. For example, the Cinema magazine, which on its cover usually featured actors from both Romania and abroad, in December 1973 began using the dictator’s image on its cover. The following year, three more editions of the magazine featured the dictator’s image on the magazine’s cover. Ceaușescu had to be a central figure, regardless of the medium.
During the extended meeting of the Party’s Executive Committee on the 15th of July 1971, the Council of Culture and Socialist Education was created. This was headed by Dumitru Popescu known as “Dumnezeu” [God], who also led the State Committee for Culture and Art. Nicolae Ceaușescu chose him to implement the changes required by The July Theses. To streamline the decision-making process, Popescu’s two functions eventually merged. Throughout the communist regime, Dumitru Popescu remained one of Ceaușescu's closest collaborators (Burakowski 2011, 185). A former editor of Scînteia [The Spark] newspaper, he often wrote the speeches of the communist leader and also orchestrated the birth of the cult of Ceaușescu’s personality. Dumitru Popescu’s activity played an essential role during the regime’s last stage of “communist nationalism,” as he was one of the main ideologues of the Romanian Communist Party (Tismăneanu et al. 2007, esp. 503). In 1971, he also became president of the Romanian Radiotelevision. One of the peculiarities of his activity was the censorship of animals in cartoons. Film critic Viorica Bucur, who had been responsible of the Gala desenului animat [The Cartoon Gala] show of TVR for 15 years, recalled that Dumitru Popescu could not stand images with children and animals (Bucur 2011). He watched the shows before they went on air, which often resulted in remaking or even cancelling shows that did not receive his approval. Gradually, Dumitru Popescu assumed the role of chief propagandist of the regime, his influence being felt in all cultural fields and especially in TVR, where he maintained his position for no less than six years and was responsible primarily with censorship. At the Plenary Session of the Central Committee in November 1971, Popescu stated that
“In the past period, the exceptional significance of the so-called July Theses of Comrade Nicolae Ceaușescu was even clearer in its true dimensions. He rose with the spiritual force we know against the automatic course of social life in a fundamental realm: the revolutionary transformation of man's consciousness and thought" (Ungureanu & Eremia 2016, 82-83, my translation).
Censorship manifested itself in all cultural fields, including television. The fear of influential people such as Popescu made the program makers resort to self-censorship, as they preferred to not bother the Party instead of being forced to remake their materials or being sanctioned by the commission responsible for censorship.
During the National Conference of the PCR which took place between the 19th and the 21st of July 1972, the role of the television as a propaganda tool was reacknowledged, its activity being subordinated to the tasks set by the Plenary of the Central Committee of the previous year. On that occasion it was stated that one of the most important tasks was to transmit to people the scientific conception of life and dialectical materialism. Television was to contribute to the formation of a “man with multilateral knowledge, able to understand, interpret, and use just the objective laws of social development at every stage of society’s evolution, to act firmly for the revolutionary transformation of the world” ([PCR] 1972, 66-67, my translation). The liberalization trends were finally over.
The communist authorities continued to pay significant attention to television, with TVR’s technical development being also on the agenda of the Central Committee’s Secretariat of the Party. For instance, at one of the Committee’s meetings in January 1972, one of the main topics was finding a technical solution for the transmission of the television signal throughout the country. Because a part of the technical equipment had to be replaced, Nicolae Ceaușescu proposed the establishment of a section at Electronica factory in which the necessary machinery would be produced, to avoid importing them. At the same time, an increase in taxes was discussed, in the context of the second channel which required additional costs. The communist leader then asked the members of the Secretariat how the subscription situation was in other countries, both socialist and capitalist. According to data from that time ([ANR Archives CC C-1/1972]), taxes were paid in most of the European countries, while in the Soviet Union viewers did not pay a monthly subscription, the tax being included in the selling price of the TV set. The idea of raising the tax was eventually abandoned. In short, the communist authorities were constantly concerned with both the content of the shows and the technical equipment needed to extend the number of hours and the territorial coverage of the television signal.
Following the 11th Congress of the Romanian Communist Party held in November 1974, TVR had to take new measures to improve the ideological content of its shows, especially those dedicated to children and youth, as well as of those with cultural-educational objectives. A month later a new patriotic education show was launched. Targeting children, the show was meant to present historical moments closely related to communist history and a communist vision of history, within a series of 50-60 episodes. Documentary materials were sprinkled with legends, plays or lyrics. The pre-schoolers did not escape the attention of the Party either. The television dedicated them a new production that presented aspects of the history and geography of Romania, in a way that was suitable for their age. This was broadcasted twice a week during the morning show Lumea copiilor [Children’s World], which was later replaced with Micul ecran pentru cei mici [The Small Screen for the Little Ones], where history topics were also prominent. History was used to legitimize the party’s activity and its excessive presence in such shows signalled the emergence of nationalism-communism, the last stage of the regime in Romania.
To meet the standards required during the Congress, the show Cravatele roșii [Red Ties], which was dedicated to pioneers, became much more complex, with sections on technical education, children’s theatre and technical creation competitions. To help them in their school and professional orientation the show also included the slot Noi vom munci în anul 2000 [We will work in 2000]. The shows for children were dominated by historical themes that had a communist treatment, but youth programs were also following the trend. For instance, for youth, a contest show dedicated primarily to celebrating the centenary of Romania’s independence was launched. Emisiunea enciclopedică pentru tineret [The Encyclopaedic Show for Youth] also brought to the fore topics related to the history and geography of the country, as well as the evolution of the Romanian state after the 11th Congress. Young people were also offered a new program titled Să muncim și să trăim în chip comunist [Let’s work and live in a communist way] ([SRR Archives RR 324-20]), as well as a show that criticized the manifestations of young people from villages and towns who did not fit the communist morality. If programs for children still had the potential to appeal to their viewers, youth shows tackled such cumbersome topics that they failed to appeal to attract their intended audience. In fact, according to monthly barometers, youth preferred foreign films and series (Ibid.).
Based on the decision of the 1972 National Conference of the Party, a new Program of the Romanian Communist Party was elaborated in 1975 ([PCR] 1975). In this official document, television was required again to promote permanently the socialist view of the world, to combat firmly “foreign, idealistic or retrograde mentalities,” to transmit scientifically correct information about nature and society, to militate for the realization of domestic policy and external relations of the state, and to make it easy to Romania’s citizens to understand such topics. Television was supposed to become a forum on economic and social issues for the opinions and proposals of ordinary citizens. The primary role of television producers had to be that of propagandists. The program presented in detail the profile of the communist propagandist, who had to
“have an advanced conception, a thorough Marxist-Leninist ideological training in order to be able to understand precisely the great revolutionary transformations taking place in the world, to be closely linked to the popular masses, serving through its entire activity the interests of the working class, the people, the cause of the party, socialism and communism” ([PCR] 1975, 164-165).
Propaganda thus took over more and more of the TVR’s broadcast time, the establishment of shows meant to support PCR doubling the number of broadcasting hours. However, these failed to please the audience. This was visible through various tools. For instance, the Studies and Surveys Office, established in 1967 and led by sociologist Pavel Câmpeanu, monitored the impact of television through monthly barometers on tele-reception and conducted qualitative and quantitative analyses of the audiences of various TV shows, annual retrospectives of certain types of shows, and summaries of letters from the public. These were followed by suggestions for improving the program and numerous surveys dedicated to local productions. These analyses revealed that the press was the most effective channel for explaining political issues. However, in the case of those who had both radio and television connections, political information was taken more efficiently from television programs than from radio shows. Television was more efficient than the radio in the field of propaganda, due to the combination of image and sound ([SRR Archives RR 339-22]). All programs could be better understood by the public thanks to the visual support provided by the filmed reports, live broadcasts, television films or various materials filmed in television studios. All newsrooms had to make efforts to create programs that were in line with the Party’s ideology, regardless of their specifics. Câmpeanu published some of the results of the surveys in the Cinema magazine, especially the ones that presented the programs with the largest audience, while he also wrote two books during the 1970s, which were meant to contribute to sociological research on television and its audience. However, the office which Câmpeanu directed had a limited impact on the development of the Romanian Television, since the institution continued to pursue its propaganda role over the needs and preferences of the general audience (Hîncu 2017, 9).
A very important moment that contributed even more to the political control of TVR took place in 1977. During a meeting on the 11th of October that year, Nicolae Ceaușescu decided to officially abolish the censorship institution, the former Committee for Press and Printing. The moment was exploited at maximum by communist propaganda, but the reality was completely different. Censorship was moved from the centre to each institution. The producers of the radio and television shows were now having the main responsibility for the content, the political orientation and the observance of the truth. Propaganda and censorship thus went hand in hand with support for the Party’s policy, to the detriment of quality television shows. Any difference from PCR’s views had to be removed and even sanctioned. Compared to its first years of existence, this led to a very different working climate at the TVR headquarters. The initial enthusiasm of the filmmakers was replaced by fear and anxiety caused by the question they asked themselves before each viewing: will it pass or not?
Although TVR was constantly trying to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities, the criticisms of its shows were more numerous than the praises. The management of the institution contributed to this situation, self-criticism, a process specific to the regime, being practiced at the highest level. During the 1977 National Conference of the Party (7-9 December), Vasile Mușat, the general director of Radiotelevision, had an intervention in which he showed that the Romanian Television still had a lot to do in order to rise to the level of the Party’s confidence, but also to meet the demands of the audience. Mușat said that television needed more ideological clarity and firmness to fulfil its role as a propaganda tool meant to militate for the appropriation and application of the Party’s policy at the national level ([PCR] 1978, 295). Although at declarative level the opinion of the viewers was very important, TVR oversaturated its program with propagandistic elements, losing its relevance for its audience.
Because of the propaganda, the inhabitants of the areas close to the border began to watch, depending on the space in which they were, the Yugoslav, Hungarian, Bulgarian or even Soviet Union alternatives. The communist authorities were aware of this phenomenon, as it was similar to other areas of Europe. In 1979, the Office of Studies and Surveys of Romanian Television, in collaboration with the Faculty of Journalism of the Academy “Ștefan Gheorghiu” conducted an opinion poll in Bihor County (an area close to the border with Hungary), according to which the average audience was 59.6% for the Romanian Television and 21. 8% for the Hungarian one. The proportion of those who watched the Hungarian television programs was significant because it represented a fifth of the county’s population. The largest part of this audience was composed of Hungarian ethnics, but the shows were also watched by those who identified as Romanian. The daily average was 54.1% of the Hungarian population and 10.4% of the Romanian one ([SRR Archives RR 339-24]).
The Yugoslav state television, which was the most liberal television in the communist space and which had studios in Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Titograd, Sarajevo and Skopje, could be also watched in all cities in the western part of Romania (Cioroianu 2005, 465). Many Romanians learned Serbian at that time thanks to television programs broadcast by the Yugoslav television. Censorship did not affect its programs in the same way that it compromised Romanian shows, which made the Yugoslav television seem even more interesting. For example, the erotic scenes in the films broadcasted by the Yugoslavian television were not censored, while on TVR such scenes simply did not exist. Football also played an important role in the Romanians’ preference for the Yugoslav programs, because while TVR broadcasted only the semi-finals and finals of the European and World Championships, the Yugoslavian television broadcasted all the matches from those competitions (Sorescu-Marinković 2012, 182).
For similar reasons, many in the south of Romanian learned some Bulgarian, the accumulated vocabulary being mainly related to sports. In fact, a major difference between the Yugoslav and the Bulgarian shows was that former offered subtitles, while the latter doubled the programs. The need to watch the Hungarian, Bulgarian or Yugoslav television intensified in the 1980s, when, according to the historian Dana Mustață, the Romanian Television entered its “totalitarian phase” (Mustață 2013, 56).Whether they were magazines, movies or television shows, images that could cross borders were considered to be dangerous for the regime, because they tended to make people want the life they saw “beyond” and, implicitly, to try to escape from the local communist “heaven.”
At the 12th Congress of the Romanian Communist Party, held in Bucharest in November 1979, immediately after Nicolae Ceaușescu praised the results of the Cîntarea României festival, in which no less than 120,000 groups had participated that year, critiques reappeared. Deficiencies in ideological, political, and cultural work were identified. While the education department of the Party was accused of failing to adequately train cadres according to the communist ideological principles, the press, the radio and the television were accused of failing to fully reproduce “the concrete reality of economic, social, political and cultural life in our society, the great revolutionary transformations taking place in Romania” (Ceaușescu 1979, 81-82, my translation). Ceaușescu thus put even more pressure on the public television, whose period of glory was beginning to set. PCR had invested in the modernization of the Romanian Television, expecting it to be permanently available to the Party. However, Nicolae Ceaușescu never stepped on the television headquarters, all his filmed messages being transmitted from a studio specially arranged in the building of the Central Committee ([DLM] 1996, 116).
The fact that the Romanian Communist Party used the Romanian Television as a propaganda tool cannot be disputed. In fact, since its beginnings, the small television was primarily intended to serve the interests of the Party. However, thanks to the people who have been part of its management during certain times and to a large part of its producers, the television has managed to modernize, to present programs that attracted and reached a large part of the population. The fact that in the second half of the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, TVR maintained its external contacts, especially with “Western” partners, greatly influenced the program schedule and increased the quality of the broadcasts. Relying at the beginning on directors and technicians brought in from the radio, the Romanian Television gradually managed to form a strong team who developed an initially modern and relatively liberal institution. Its evolution in the first two decades of existence has been spectacular, with Romanians managing to produce reports, shows, documentaries, television films and even series that have been highly appreciated by the public. The fact that Romanian Television wanted to offer products that would please viewers is clearly illustrated especially by the large number of surveys conducted by the Office of Studies and Surveys, which was designed to identify the degree of satisfaction with different categories of programs, respectively the dropout rate. The establishment of monthly audience barometers for internal use also shows the desire to continuously improve the quality.
However, in the 1970s, the shows that were in the top of the audience’s preferences coexisted with a series of boring, sometimes niche programs, which failed to capture the attention of viewers. Most of the time, among these unattractive programs were the propaganda shows, the ones that, according to the wish of the Romanian Communist Party, should have had the greatest impact. The period in which the Romanian Television started to have less and less contact with the foreign countries and especially with the Western ones, coincided with the increasing influence exerted by the Romanian Communist Party in TVR. Like other televisions of communist countries, TVR has faced a harsh reality due, among others, to the expectations of the regime. Although great attention was paid to shows with ideological content, as, in the view of the communist party, the primary role of television was to function as a propaganda tool, entertainment programs were much better in terms of quality and much more appreciated by the public. Even though it broadcasted an impressive number of programs with an ideological content during the 1970s, the Romanian Television also produced successful shows, managed to keep Romanians in front of their small screens, informed them, educated them and entertained them. Consequently, one can consider that, as national public television, TVR fulfilled its mission during the period under scrutiny, despite the Party directives and censorship, although overall its activity can be best described as compromise.
[ANR Archives CC PA-5/1969] Box Secția Propagandă și Agitație, folder 5/1969. CC al PCR collection. Arhivele Naționale ale României [National Archives of Romania], Bucharest, Romania.
[ANR Archives CC C-1/1972] Box Cancelarie, folder 1/1972. CC al PCR collection. Arhivele Naționale ale României [National Archives of Romania], Bucharest, Romania.
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Silvia-Cristina BAUMGARTEN is a PhD candidate at the School of Doctoral Studies in History, University of Bucharest. Her doctoral research investigates the communist propaganda in the programs of the Romanian National Television during the communist regime. She holds a master’s degree in the history of communism in Romania, from the University of Bucharest, and she completed her BA in history, at the same university. In December 2018, she received the Dissertation of the Year award of the Senate of the University of Bucharest for the study “The Communist Propaganda in the Programs of the Romanian National Television during 1971-1972”. For two years (2016-2018) she was a contributor to the “Library of Repression” Project at the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of the Romanian Exile Bucharest (IICMER). Currently, she works as a history and social studies teacher. firstname.lastname@example.org
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BAUMGARTEN, Silvia-Cristina. 2021.The Romanian National Television as part of the communist propaganda apparatus during the 1970s. Analele Universității din București. Științe Politice [Annals of the University of Bucharest. Political Science series] 23(1): 117-135. https://doi.org/10.54885/PWYN1507