February
2008
EDITORIAL
 
Vol. 4 No.1  
 

Cheap housing lacks mass appeal

STORY TOOLS
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Bucharest’s disregard for the importance of housing for underprivileged people may come back to haunt the city in the future.
There is a massive lack of quality low-cost housing in the capital, while much of the new private developments are outside the price range of most Romanians.
Mayor Videanu has said that he does not want any social housing in Bucharest because, he seems to imply, the city should be a gentrified urban landscape for middle class people [see feature page 14].
This is an unrealistic perspective. There is already a huge shortfall of labour in Bucharest and, as the city expands, it will need key workers in low-wage sectors, from street-cleaners to bus-drivers. It is every worker’s right to live near their place of employment in affordable and good quality housing. This is better for the city, the economy and the environment.
Videanu’s proposal seems to be that working class people, if they cannot afford to live in the city, should commute from far afield to Bucharest every day, while the middle class can drive five minutes to their jobs.
The city is also suffering from a mass of Communist-era apartment blocks that will end their life-span in the next 13 years without chronic refurbishment.
It would be better to act now on the growing housing deficit before it transforms into a crisis.

The Romanian Government’s silence on its own investigation into spies in the media is a worrying admission at a time when a public and mature dialogue between freedom of information and national security needs to take place.
In 2006 the domestic security service, the SRI, revealed its employment of undercover agents and informers in the media. Many of these are understood to be working as high level journalists or editors. The practice is legal.
The Government promised an investigation into potential conflicts of interest concerning the agents, but there has been no information available on whether this has been completed.
The sine qua non of a young democracy is a free media, which does not have any kind of interference from politics or the intelligence services.
But the Romanian media is not an incorruptible watchdog on its country, which is in a political crisis and has a questionable rule of law.
Instead it is a reflection of that society. Parts of the Romanian media have a reputation for serving covert political interests and using the power of print as a tool to blackmail.
If the intelligence operatives are engaged in work determining whether crimes are taking place in media institutions that could damage national security, then it may be justifiable for them to work undercover. Regarding some newspapers in Romania, I would be concerned for the country if there were no undercover agents working inside them. This intention could also benefit a cleaner media.
But it is not justifiable for agents or informers to use their position for political aims – such as to dictate the compass of the news agenda or forward the perspective of one interest above others. Agents could also distort or suppress information which needs to be made public.
This is precisely the conflict of interests the Government should be investigating and making public.
If the media institution is not under investigation, there does not seem to be any practicality in spying on journalists.
Secret services hate rumours. They waste time and prove nothing. Ideally, if a journalist is in possession of a great story that he or she can back up, it will be published. Therefore secret services don’t need to hang around media providers spying on information that circulates, but instead read the papers when they hit the news-stands.

Michael Bird

 
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