The Romanian group owned by controversial businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, Realitatea Media, announced earlier this week the takeover of another media group, Academia Catavencu. In order to conclude the absorption, SO Vantu must first obtain the approval of the Romanian Audiovisual Council - CNA, as the Romanian law does not allow the concentration of the audiovisual sector.

The businessman, who from now on will not only own two TV stations, but also a radio station and a significant number of publications, must avoid a breach of the law at least officially. But worries abound considering that earlier this year he announced he had been the secret owner of the Realitatea TV station for two years.

With the strategy he himself revealed with the announcement that he was the real owner of Realitatea, one may easily believe that the businessman might own other media through obscure off-shore companies, despite a legislative ban in this regard.

The merger with the Catavencu group would bring a large number of media outlets under SO Vantu’s umbrella: Realitatea TV and Realitatea FM, The Money Channel, Radio Guerrilla, the Cotidianul newspaper, the Academia Catavencu weekly, the Romanian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique and many other niche publications.

But unofficially he is also the subject of rumors that he controls considerable more outlets than those officially admitted. The Bucharest-based Radio Total is owned by the Cyprus-based firm Radoway Limited Cyprus, with unknown shareholders, which used to control an important stake in Realitatea TV.

And the Ziua newspaper is supported from the Virgin Islands, while Gardianul, another newspaper, is also linked to SO Vantu.

The rumors are encouraged by SO Vantu himself, as he himself was seen as mocking at everybody when he announced the ownership of Realitatea TV. He was even seen as mocking at the National Audiovisual Council, which lacked the power to identify the owners of Realitatea until SO Vantu himself decided to go public about it.

Compared to most EU states, Romania’s media antitrust legislation is only interested in the audiovisual sector with no reference to print media. And the Audiovisual Law itself contains a paradox: it prevents an owner from holding multiple licenses if these licenses belong to multiple companies, but allows the control of multiple licenses if controlled by one company.

Legally, SO Vantu must obtain a CNA approval to transfer the Radio Guerrilla license from its current owner, Catavencu’s Polifonic SRL, to Realitatea Media SA.

According to Mihaela Stanculescu, Marketing manager at Realitatea Media, the company is well aware of the law and took into account when considering the takeover. “The takeover process will follow several stages and we will not be at any point in the situation of exceeding the 20% threshold mentioned by the law”, she said.

The law sets a threshold of audiovisual license ownership for a particular media mogul, to prevent the consolidation of the market.

According to CNA vice-president Attila Gasparik, the Council invited Realitatea representatives to explain on Thursday, June 1, how they will comply with the legal conditions for the takeover, three days after Realitatea announced the conclusion of negotiations with Catavencu.

But the transparency issue would become a major problem for Realitatea if it becomes clear that SO Vantu is also behind the Cyprus-based firm Radoway, the owner of Radio Total. Such a situation would bring the number of allowed radio licenses above the legal threshold. And CNA has been trying to identify who “is” Radoway for months, with no results.

That ads to the lack of legislation regarding the concentration of various types of media – audiovisual and print, audiovisual and cable, media and advertising etc. That happens as most EU member states have taken measures against cross-ownership, and in countries such as Italy and France where such legislation does not exist, the situation is worrisome.