Journalists in Romania Schooled by BBC

MIKE ORMSBY'S radio journalism students are in a panic. They are testing mikes, making last-second changes to their stories, and readying tape machines for the daily 2 p.m. news broadcast. ''Let's go!'' Mr. Ormsby shouts. ''The clock is running!''

In a classroom down the hall, television instructor Michael Mulford smiles while a student reads a clear, concise text on recent Romanian student protests, accompanied by TV images of young denim-clad marchers. When the piece loses momentum, Mr. Mulford interrupts. ''Minute details should be thrown into graphics,'' he says. ''Don't let them bog you down.''

At the BBC Radio and TV Journalism School in Bucharest, a journalistic revolution is taking place. In 10 short weeks, raw recruits receive hands-on training from BBC-trained teachers and develop into top-flight reporters capable of writing and reporting balanced stories. Funded mainly by the British Know-How Fund and the Soros Foundation, the school is the BBC's first-ever outside of Britain and a ray of light in the darkness of sensationalism and rank amateurism that is the Romanian media.

''I think an objective, professional media is vital for the functioning of a democracy,'' says billionaire financier George Soros. ''I think the BBC school contributes to that.''

Students throughout Romania flock to the school, which boasts a TV newsroom and separate TV and radio studios, making it the best-equipped journalism school in the country. Three applicants vie for every position.

Many of those enrolled already work for TV and radio stations, but have come for much-needed seasoning. ''I want to be a better journalist,'' says college-age TV student Alessandra Stoicescu, an on-air television reporter at a private station in Bucharest. ''I'm good, but I think I can get better.''

At the school, television students learn how to use a camera, edit a news story, and link words to images. Radio students learn how to produce news shows, write succinctly, and interview difficult subjects. Classes take place Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Those who successfully complete the program, which includes making a documentary, receive a coveted BBC graduation certificate.

Romania surely can profit from better journalists. Radio stations are heavy on talk shows and Euro disco but light on news content. ''They think the story is the press conference rather than what is said at the press conference,'' Ormsby says. ''They think the story is the mayor rather than what the mayor is saying.''

The situation with TV is worse. The government controls the only nationwide channel, TVR 1, and sometimes manipulates the news to present President Ion Iliescu and his aides in the best light. During a TVR 1 report on the recent increase in gas prices, a motorist said he was ''satisfied'' with the higher prices. This unlikely response prompted the nation's most-popular newspaper, Evenimentul Zilei, to run a front-page editorial denouncing the government for ''grossly manipulating Romanian television.''

The news on privately owned stations, although better, still suffers from long stories and an undue fascination with politicians.

It was this frustration with Romanian radio and TV that led Horea Murgu, now director of the media department at the Academy of Theater and Film in Bucharest, to lobby the BBC in person for a school three years ago. It took two visits, but in October 1992, the BBC Radio Journalism School opened its doors. Television was added in May 1994. To date, 104 Romanians have studied there.

BBC graduate Gabi Alupoae says the BBC made a good decision. A news editor at Radio Horion in Craiova, a city west of Bucharest, she says the school has had an enormous impact.

''Journalists who study there learn how to find the truth,'' Ms. Alupoae says. ''And when they go back to their newsrooms, they raise the standards of everyone around them.''

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