Anti-Western media in Romania: careless dummies and biased rogues

There are two types of anti-Western speech spreading agents in the Romanian media: the unintentional/careless dummy and the intentionally biased “rogue”.

The most common type is the unintentional/careless one which acts mainly like a recording device: whenever and wherever there’s a politician saying something, the dummy will record and instantly broadcast the statement without attaching to it comments and remarks meant to contextualize the message.

On the other hand, the intentionally biased “rogue” knows exactly what, when and how to put it depending on the topic of interest at a given moment. In current July, for example, “Evenimentul zilei” quoted journalist Ion Cristoiu with the claim that former chief prosecutor Laura Codruța Kovesi was supported by the same organizations financed by George Soros that “control a third of the European Parliament”.

In that same month, “Evenimentul zilei” published an article saying that the Swedish embassy to Bucharest removed from its website a short movie about Kovesi shortly after her dismissal; the embassy replied by saying that the movie had been removed as early as 2017, so there’s no connection to the dismissal.

July, however, was a month of jubilation for those media “rogues” that have campaigned for years to get Kovesi out of the Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). One of those media campaigners, “Active news”, deem the foreign countries support for Kovesi “imbecil” and follow the removed Swedish movie lead in order to found its position. Another piece of “Active news” mocks the US ambassador to Bucharest, Hans Klemm, for being “struck two times” in only one month – first, by Kovesi’s dismissal, then by the passing of the off shore resources in the Black Sea bill.

It was not the only occasion that “Active news” used to place its anti-American propaganda: just a week before the passing of the Black Sea oil and gas resources royalties bill, the website published an article claiming that the Black Sea is an “American lake” and Romania will give away for free resources evaluated at 16 billions USD.

Pure disinformation was spread by “Antena 3” headline talking about the preliminary opinion of the Venice Commission: “The Venice Commission praise the judiciary law amendments”. This, though, was a totally false statement, in fact the Venice Commission strongly recommended that those amendments are revoked.

And that was no exception for the news TV channel, “Antena 3” also gave the floor to Codrin Ștefănescu, secretary general of PSD (the social-democrats, in power): the Venice Commission only make suggestions, don’t urge, hence the judiciary law amendments will go all the way.

In the first month of the monitoring process, 37 media outlets published news and stories that, in a way or another, lacked ethics and journalistic basic rules. The absolute champion of July was “Evenimentul zilei”, with 24 news and stories. The second place belonged to “Sputnik”, with 16 materials. On the third place was situated “Active news”, with 11 news and stories.

The total number of news and stories selected in July to fit the criteria mentioned above was 189. So, the average per day was 6 news and stories in various media outlets – this means that, everyday, at least six pieces published as journalistic production was, in fact, biased, fake or propaganda “journalism”. The average per media outlet per month was also around six – this means that, every month, an average media outlet produced six materials that couldn’t be considered by the book journalism. However, 61 of the materials that we selected are “neutral news” and were selected not as an example of bad journalism but rather as political statements relevant for propaganda benefits. In these cases, the media outlets are not to blame for quoting politicians but for not putting every time into context the statements so the general public could have a clear image of the political interests. That’s what we’ve categorized earlier as the unintentional/careless dummy media.

Chronologically, between those two events in July there was another one with no connection to judiciary: the debate on the passing of a new bill aiming to set royalties for the oil and gas resources extracted in Romania. This was the perfect occasion to realize who’s who in the rudimentary propaganda business: “Sputnik” claimed that Romanians would rather live in poverty than put a normal (i.e. high) price on oil and gas, “Active News” (a portal getting very active in such contexts) stated that the Black Sea is an American lake, therefore Romanians will have to give their resources for free (as already shown above), “Fluierul” (an undoubtedly fake news portal) was blunt about it: selling cheaply the resources is treason.

On August 1st, more than 50 articles covering Fifor statement (the Deveselu shield dealing with ballistic missiles) were published only by online main media outlets, not to mention local news and news TV channels. As one might expect, “Sputnik” didn’t miss the chance and published several stories mocking Fifor and Romania.

Then, as the swine fever epidemic seemed completely uncontrollable, “Sputnik” felt inspired once again to disseminate alarming stories about lack of food, poverty and Western conspiracies. However, all throughout August and September, “Sputnik” panicked whoever was willing to believe their stories – dozens of them – about swine fever.

And it was “Sputnik” yet again that couldn’t miss the August protest show and wrote that the Gendarmerie forces’ beatings were legal (and quoted some guy on Facebook that had pretended to be part of US Army!).

Quite relevant for the type of disinformation spread was the claim of a former internal Romanian secret service, Daniel Dragomir, for “Antena 3”: some of the instigators in the protesters crowd in Victoria Square “did not speak Romanian”. The claim was regarded as news worthy (although no proof was provided) for many news portals. A similar thesis was promoted by Adrian Severin, former MEP, convicted for fraud, that wrote for “Romania libera” daily that protests were conducted by Western forces interested in an unstructured Romania.

“Lumea justiției” go further: they accuse SRI (the internal Romanian secret service) of betrayal because of “tolerating” Antifa, an organization present at the protests that allegedly tried to overthrow the government. “Lumea justiției” published a series of articles covering the protests. One of them extensively quoted Gelu Vișan, a politician displaying a clear anti-judiciary agenda whose opinion is that protests were only the visible part of the efforts to tear Romania apart. More than that, Vișan claimed, president Iohannis “the Nazi” should be in court for high treason.

But that wasn’t enough: ten days after the protests, in yet another act of total submission to the PSD leader, “Antena 3” interviewed Liviu Dragnea who said that four guys may have tried to assassinate him in April 2017 and implied Soros might had something to do with that.

One of the well known fake news/propaganda/biased news portal in Romania, “Active News”, published two pieces converging to the same scenario: protests were manipulated from Russia and Germany. The source for the first story is a retired Romanian Army officer, the source for the second is Sorin Ovidiu Vântu, a businessman and former media tycoon, now in jail serving for various frauds. Another former Romanian Army officer “revealed” for “Active News” that protests were manipulated by Germany in order to hit American interests in Romania. Amidst all this spin, “Active News” did it again: a former head of the Romanian secret service in charge of providing protection for high rank politicians claimed that president Iohannis could be a German secret service officer, hence his accusations that the Romanian Gendarmerie was abusive towards the protesters.

A total of 253 articles in August media were relevant for our analysis. Out of those, however, around 190 articles were simply neutral coverings of political statements. In most of the cases, there was barely a context to complete the news, basically the whole piece of news consisted of the reproduction of the statements made by politicians. So, no intention of manipulating or publishing biased news in those cases, still the effect was damaging: flooding the society with anti-Western public speech.

16 articles can be easily considered not just biased, but fake news. The champion of those biased news is “Sputnik”, with nine of them. The second place belongs to the “Antena 3” website, with only two, and then there’s “Cotidianul”, “Capital”, “National”, “Lumea justiției” and “Active news” (each with one article). There’s a category of news which we called “biased analysis”: this is not necessarily a piece of fake news, but a collection of facts that are put together to form some sort of analysis that points to an idea which is definitely manipulative and do not reflect the facts. As many as 41 of the articles published in August can be included in this category. On the first place, ex aequo, “România liberă” and “Național” (with six articles each); then, there’s “Active news” (five articles), “Sputnik” and “Jurnalul” (four each), “PS News”, “Q Magazine”, “DC News”, “Lumea justiției”, “Evenimentul zilei” (two articles each) and “Flux 24”, “Nationalisti”, “Cotidianul”, “Sursa zilei”, “Nașul” (one each). There’s a final category that we called “biased opinion” in which we included those articles that contain propaganda type opinion that doesn’t rely much on fact if at all. Nine of the articles we deemed relevant in August could stay in this category: “România liberă”, “Național”, “Sputnik” (two each) and “PS News”, “Active news”, “Lumea justiției” (one each).

It is worth mentioning that “România liberă” has won the gold for biasing analyses (after a Russian huge fan, Iulian Capsali, was appointed editor in chief of the daily), ex aequo with “Național”.

In September, things cooled down a bit and the media “rogues” were overrun by politicians, the main providers of propaganda.

Still, in an interview for “Q magazine”, Renate Weber (MEP) said that Romania and US are partners only in the sense that Romania purchase weapons from the US and those weapons are supposed to protect Romania from Russia only after Russia has already been pissed off by that purchase. Renate Weber was interviewed by Bogdan Duca, a journalist also working for “Sputnik”.

“Lumea jusiției” continued its exposure article series: the protesters are connected to Brussels MEPs and smoke pot (!). “Sputnik” was more than happy to cover the “scoop” (in fact, just republish everything) and the social-democrats in power very enthusiastically used the allegations to ask for investigations to be conducted by prosecutors (Russian style, again).

Not surprisingly, it was revealed that the Gov financed a Romanian website that republished all “Sputnik” articles.

A total of 208 articles in September media were relevant for our analysis. Out of those, however, around 170 articles were simply neutral coverings of political statements. In most of the cases, there was barely a context to complete the news, basically the whole piece of news consisted of the reproduction of the statements made by politicians. So, no intention of manipulating or publishing biased news in those cases, still the effect was damaging: flooding the society with anti-Western public speech.

Still, 16 articles can be easily considered not just biased, but fake news. The champion of those biased news is, again, “Sputnik”, with eight of them. The second place belongs to “Lumea justiției” (three) and then there’s “Național”, “Antena 3”, “Q magazine” and “Romania TV”’s website (each with one article). There’s a category of news which we called “biased analysis”: this is not necessarily a piece of fake news, but a collection of facts that are put together to form some sort of analysis that points to an idea which is definitely manipulative and do not reflect the facts. As many as 23 of the articles published in September can be included in this category. On the first place, ex aequo, “România liberă”, “Sputnik” and “Național” (with four articles each); then, there’s “Q magazine” (three articles), “DC News” and “Jurnalul” (two each) and “Știri pe surse”, “Lumea justiției”, “Active news” and “Cațavencii” (one each). There’s a final category that we called “biased opinion” in which we included those articles containing propaganda type opinion that doesn’t rely much on fact if at all. There’s only one example in September and that belongs to “Sputnik”.

So, again, for the third month in a row, “Sputnik” is the champion of fake/biased news, but also the first place holder of the category biased analyses, together with “România liberă” and “Național”.

Recently, the G4Media news portal wrote about “Voices strongly promoted by Russian propaganda make the prime time agenda on Antena 3 and Romania TV”: “PSD political figure Liviu Pleşoianu, Daniel Dragomir, former Romanian Information Service (RIS) convicted for corruption in a first instance, journalist Bogdan Duca, and lawyer Dan Chitic are four public figures strongly promoted in the past two years by Sputnik, Russia’s official propaganda machine, funded directly by the Kremlin. The four individuals, who constantly display anti-EU and anti-American positions, are regularly invited by Antena 3 and Romania TV, TV stations controlled by media tycoons Dan Voiculescu and Sebastian Ghita.

Despite the fact that Antena 3 is trying to project a pro-American stance, prime-time shows often invite charlatans denouncing <American imperialism> and support Kremlin opinions.

As a matter of fact, in 2016, the US Embassy described both Antena 1 and Antena 3 as <large audience TV channels owned by mogul Dan Voiculescu… Often strident critics of the institutions of the rule of law, prosecutors, the United States of America, and the European Union>.”

Another news portal, pressone.ro, disclosed that the social-democrats have set up a few months ago a propaganda website designed to be used by local party organizations. The irony and, in the same the time, the perversity of that start with the domain name: antifakenews.ro. The mechanism is simple but seems effective: tens of local party organizations share the same article in the same time on Facebook and this, of course, helps spreading that particular article pretty much. There’s no person taking credit for the editorial policy of the website, there’s no contact and no real names as authors of the articles. All the articles, however, are pure anti-Western propaganda looking suspiciously similar to those published by “Sputnik”.