July was a very hot month, indeed: more than 1,300 articles in Romanian media covered anti-Western topics. Almost 60% were labeled as anti-EU whereas the rest were deemed anti-US. Media attention was focused rather on anti-EU issues as, finally, at the beginning of the month, the EU leaders decided, after long and complicated negotiations, who to be appointed at the top of European Commission. Also, everything about Brexit became even more uncertain once Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May as UK PM.
The anti-EU media speech was built by 560 neutral news, 120 biased news, 47 biased analyses and 34 neutral analyses. The most biased media outlets were Sputnik (18 biased news and 7 biased analyses), Jurnalul (15 biased news and 6 biased analyses), Național (6 biased news and 9 biased analyses) and Evenimentul zilei (5 biased news and 9 biased analyses). Some other media outlets played their role here: PS News (one biased news and 5 biased analyses), Q Magazine (5 biased news and one biased analyses) and Lumea Justiției (6 biased news and 3 biased analyses).
The bad guys at the top of the EU
During the first days of July, Sputnik was very active in covering the results of the power games at the top of the European Commission. The result: biased news and analyses meant to show a divided EU – the Western countries get all the good and rich positions and act as power brokers while the Eastern countries have to find satisfaction in receiving the leftovers (an example, here).
Simply quoting politicians such as Călin Popescu Tăriceanu was enough for Sputnik to publish a piece of biased news: Kovesi, once appointed European Public Prosecutor’s Office chief, will prevent Romania from accessing EU money, GRECO had nothing to say when the Romanian judiciary had to deal with secret protocols that allowed secret services to control justice.
A skillful Sputnik journalist won’t stop at local sources when it comes to somehow “proving” a point. That’s how, one day, the Russian propaganda media outlet cited the US magazine “The Atlantic” in order to “analyse” how the EU want to annihilate the “national identities” across the continent.
It’s even better to use one bullet for two targets and that’s exactly what another biased analysis manages to do: unveiling the “dirty lobby operations” behind some of the most expensive military equipments both from EU and US.
Jurnalul trod on Sputnik’s heels: biased news consisting only of Tăriceanu quotes such as “EU leaders show an ugly face when haggling for positions” or as “GRECO experts had nothing to say about the secret protocols” and biased analysis (column) such as that one which concluded that not putting pressure on candidates for top EU positions (while all the process is live broadcasted on the internet) who need the country’s vote makes one a very inefficient state president. The same negotiating process is mentioned by another columnist for Jurnalul to make a perfect biased analysis: if the Bulgarian PM, Boyko Borisov, could (at least promise to) trade his vote, why couldn’t the Romanian do the same? For the columnist, though, it’s less important if at all that Borisov’s try was futile: the candidate (Timmermans) did not get enough votes and the Bulgarian’s PM request (the country to be taken out of the MCV) is simply ignored by Brussels.
Another column (biased analysis) gets straight to the main obsession shared by everybody at Jurnalul: Laura Codruța Kovesi. The argument is weak and no ground is provided, but the words are strong: unless Kovesi is supported by all Romanian authorities for EPPO chief position, the country won’t get a resourceful commissioner portfolio.
Mixing Nazis and Bilderberg with the EU
Național and Evenimentul zilei are on the same page with Sputnik and Jurnalul: they all express their unconcealed dislike of the EU. Național displays it in a column (biased anaysis): Romania’s presidency of the Council of the EU was useless for Romania, which was not able to benefit from it, in another column (biased analysis): the new chief of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, means corruption, plagiarism and putinism in another one (biased analysis): GRECO is just another USSR for Romania.
For Evenimentul zilei there’s only one thing juicier than abusing the EU and that’s abusing the EU and adding some conspiracies in the process. For example, you could “explain” (in a biased analysis) to your readers that the new chief of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, not only is a poor choice, but is a vile one, supported by the infamous Bilderberg group. Or you could quote a professor that says it is time to build walls and fences around Europe as the migrants integration failed. There is one type of situation, though, when Evenimentul zilei not only does not enjoy conspiracies, but tends to soften facts until turning them into rumors only to spread doubt. For example, although documents show that the Italian PM, Matteo Salvini, was financed by Russia, what you do? A biased analysis which says: are there any proofs that Salvini took any money from Putin? What a tangled situation!.
Sputnik and the art of emotional misinformation. Case study: Caracal & Deveselu
The anti-US media speech in July relies on 516 neutral news, 40 biased news, 8 biased analyses and 14 neutral analyses. There’s no competition here for who’s chief of the anti-US biased articles, Sputnik covered the whole field in July: 16 biased news and 3 biased analyses. Evenimentul zilei published only 5 biased news and one biased analysis and Știri pe surse just 6 biased news.
A lesson that Sputnik learned only too well is that it is very effective to put together in the same story a topic of local interest and a propaganda target. For instance, it is not enough to say that the US are a bad idea, it’s more useful to imply that it’s the US fault that Dragnea was sentenced to jail, that’s how a biased analysis is effective.
Biased news are as good, though, such as that which says the sanctions imposed by the US on Iran are economic terrorism or that which exaggerates the damage that some disoriented tanks commanders caused to some corn fields they overrun during a NATO exercise.
But the art of the biased media coverage consists in connecting a very emotional story to someone that you need to cause a prejudice to. And the perfect time for that was the kidnapping, at the end of July, of a young woman in Caracal, a city only 20 km away from Deveselu, the location of the so called US anti-missile shield.
The story developed in a strange, absurd, hideous manner: the girl was allegedly raped and murdered and, despite her call to 112 (the emergency service), authorities failed to save her.
It is in this context that Sputnik published an article suggesting the girl was the victim of a trafficking network for the benefit of US troops.
Another similar article followed, the next day. This time, Sputnik chose to quote Cozmin Gușă, former politician, now media mogul and political analyst. Although officially rejected by the prosecutors, the story was not removed or annotated by Sputnik.
More than that, on the third day, another article was online: this time, the headline was rather vague, still one could read “killing” and “US anti-missile shield” in the same sentence.
On the fourth day, the fourth article: the occasion was a public message of the US embassy to Bucharest on the human trafficking, just what Sputnik needed to suggest that the US ambassador feels guilty.
Sometimes, even when media outlets do not aim at promoting propaganda messages, the professionalism level proves to be low enough to not identify partisan statements. On the 22nd of July, for instance, Tehran announced the world that it had arrested 17 CIA spies and sentenced some to death. Despite the lack of fact checking and although proof had not been delivered by Iran, not to mention that US denied, many media outlets in Romania used headlines that simply presented Iran’s version as true, nothing suspicious here, no tensions in the Gulf, just some honest Iranian state communicators talking to the world.
* The authors of this analysis/study divided the media articles into two categories (news and analysis), each classified as biased or neutral. A geographical criterion was also used to link the media articles to the EU and the US. According to this study, a piece of news is nothing more but a short article covering a fact or a statement whereas an “analysis” may be a column, an investigative piece or any other type of article that is based on several facts and statements that are premises for the conclusion that the author of the article wishes to make public. The neutral characteristic is attributed to those news and analyses that use actual quotes (and not made up or out of context ones), rely on fact checking and logical syllogisms, provide side relevant data (context) in order for the public to get the bigger picture. News and analyses are labelled as biased when, on the contrary, the journalist’s work is not compliant with all of the above: quotes are partial and/or manipulated/manipulative, there’s no vetting process, neutral context is not added (and when there’s some context provided, facts are selected to match the conclusion – which, in this sort of cases, is pre-set – and not the other way round).
Based on this report: