The hateful May: anti-EU frenzy in Romanian media

Dan Andronic (Evenimentul zilei) and Iosif Buble (Știri pe surse). Source: Facebook personal pages

The anti-Western speech in May was shaped by the elections for the European Parliament, held in Romania at the end of the month, on the 26th. The figures tell a very obvious story: out of 610 deemed anti-Western published articles, 530 were anti-European or rather anti-EU.

Almost 40% of those, more than 220 articles, were labelled as “biased news”. The undisputed champions are Evenimentul zilei and Știri pe surse: the first published 36 biased anti-EU news and the latter – 35. On the third place, Cotidianul, with 16  biased anti-EU news. Worth mentioning are also Mediafax (12), Sputnik and Jurnalul național (11 each).

What triggered the increasing of the biased anti-EU articles in May figures? Obviously, the campaign for the EP. Given that electoral period, some media outlets simply chose to cover political statements without bothering to add context and to provide neutral, non-political fact checking.

Evenimentul zilei and Știri pe surse, political bullhorns

Evenimentul zilei, for instance, quoted the Minister of Communications, Alexandru Petrescu, who urged Romanian media to speak more about the Alternative for Germany political party in response to a Deutschlandfunk radio material that portrayed Liviu Dragnea, PSD leader at that time, as a mafia organization head (in the mean time – oh, the irony – , Dragnea was sentenced to three years and a half in jail for abuse of office).

Evenimentul zilei also quoted extensively Ioan Mircea Pașcu, who claimed the SD group in the EP works to get rid of PSD, but “forgot” to add that Pașcu, a PSD member, was left out of the EP candidates’ list by his own party and has always been a constant critic of the EU leaders (SD affiliated included) who dared to tell PSD not to mess the rule of law and judiciary (funny, PSD is still a member of the SD group in the new EP configuration and Pașcu was nominated and appointed EC commissioner).

Not just the social-democrats were allowed to basically speak their minds freely. The former president Traian Băsescu claimed, according to another anti-EU biased article published by Evenimentul zilei, the existence of a secret report on the EU money frauds that would allegedly prove that Romania shouldn’t be the scapegoat when it comes to EU money misspending. Useless to say that the journalists did nothing to fact check the claim.

Blunt attacks were also spread: when Liviu Dragnea stated, in front of a large PSD rally in Iași, that Romania is mistreated by Brussels and that Romanians won’t accept to become a colony run by traitors, Evenimentul zilei only added the quotation marks.

The claim that the Netherlands block Romania’s access to the Schengen area was also covered by Evenimentul zilei simply by quoting Traian Băsescu, a candidate for the EP, but no accurate info (concerning debates and votes in the EP or discussions inside the EC or any other EU institution) was provided.

Liviu Dragnea was allowed to say pretty much anything without any vetting process being carried out by journalists. At some point, the PSD leader said that the EU would sanction Romania at president Iohannis’ request (of course, no proof was delivered).

As the campaign was progressing, attacks were getting personal. For instance, Norica Nicolai, candidate for the EP, expressed her belief that Frans Timmermans (back then, VP of the EC) had no qualifications to assess the rule of law status in Romania (as if the letter sent to Romanian officials was conceived and written by Timmermans personally).

In another article, Liviu Dragnea is quoted saying that the EU wants to murder (no metaphor here) Romanian children by allowing fish swimming in heavy polluted Western waters to be exported to Romania. No journalistic content is added to the article whatsoever.

In other cases, though, it’s Evenimentul zilei that does the job, there’s no need for a politician to point at a target: when the Dutch PM Mark Rutte says that the EU countries are part of a free movement space but need, at the same time, to take some responsibilities (accepting migrants, for example), the paper headline mentions “blackmail” (the article main photo depicts the Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, and Mark Rutte, cordially shaking hands at the EU Summit in Sibiu, an illustration of the fact that, as mentioned in the article, the Romanian president backs the EU sanctions on Romania, unlike PSD).

Foreign politicians are as good as the local ones to deliver. Orban Vicktor, for example, is quoted in an article with the claim that politicians, journalists and analysts are soaked in money in order to support immigration (to the EU). Needless to say that no proof is offered to the public.

Știri pe surse covered almost all the above mentioned statements, claims, lies etc in the same way Evenimentul zilei did. Știri pe surse also published a statement of the social-democrat MEP Răzvan Popa who called the Dutch PM Mark Rutte a “populist racketeer” without any context being added.

Liviu Dragnea, PSD head at the time, was quoted by Știri pe surse saying that people booing him at party rallies were acting like “the black shirts” in the ’30s Germany; no background information, though, was offered to the readers so that they understand the comparison was based on nothing.

Just bad news isn’t bad enough

Around 35% (190 out of 530) of the anti-European articles were “neutral news”: those pieces of news that covered real events, facts, statements depicting unfavorable situations for Europe, the European Union, European values etc. without any comments being added in order to distort the events.

Not surprising at all, Evenimentul zilei and Știri pe surse got the gold again, ex aequo, each with 19 articles. The second place belongs to News.ro, which is a news agency (and a pretty balanced one), that published 16 articles.

The conclusion that can be drawn from here is that Evenimentul zilei and Știri pe surse were more willing to select and publish those news, though neutral, un-biased, but anti-EU, than a news agency.

The bronze goes to Ziare.com, a news aggregator that was rather balanced (12 articles). Mediafax, a news agency, published 11 articles.

Interestingly enough, Cotidianul (that published 16 biased news articles) and Sputnik (that published 11 biased news articles) had no anti-EU neutral news in May. This could mean that those die hard propaganda media outlets didn’t find the neutral way of covering the news regarding negative EU realities damaging enough and preferred to stick to the good old ways of disinformation by biased editing.

The Fourth Reich, harems and Titanic

When it comes to the anti-EU biased analyses (a biased analysis is a large article mixing truths and lies in such a way that the bottom line is manipulatory, full of misinformation and totally not trustworthy), there’s a clear winner: Evenimentul zilei, which published no fewer than 24 such articles in May. The second place is, ex aequo, occupied by Cotidianul and Național (9 articles each); each of the two media outlets, such a coincidence, preferred not to publish any anti-EU neutral news, instead they focused on publishing negative biased news and analyses. România liberă published 8 biased analyses and Sputnik had 7.

Evenimentul zilei “warned” their readers about the hunt set up by George Soros who put up a list of MEPs that could be convinced to join the dark side (Soros’ dark side, of course).

Evenimentul zilei’s favorite columnist, Ion Cristoriu, wrote a piece entitled “EU leaders pulled each others’ hair in Sibiu for positions and for the Romanian baboons’ money”.

The migrants menace is a common topic so why not use a headline such as “Muslim harems paid by German social security funds”?

Another “analysis” speaks about the campaigning condoms used by Macron in order to make the EU more appealing.

Național is anything but soft when it says that EU countries hardly cope with being part of “a Nazi origin organization” having the main goal of enslaving weaker states.

In yet another biased analysis, Național says that the only thing the EU Summit in Sibiu does is to allow president Iohannis to divide the Romanian people.

And the paper gets back to its obsession, in another article: when talking about the EU, “it smells like the Fourth Reich”.

At some point during the campaign, Național published a PR article branded as such (at the same time, PS News published the same material, except the latter media outlet chose to insert a “P” at the end of the article, barely visible). The message was: Dragnea is holding on, he’s a patriot, he’s the only one that can protect the country’s natural resources from predators in the EU.

Speaking of PS News: the online publication writes that the EU will go bankrupt because of migrants.

It is worth noticing that the EU Summit in Sibiu was an inspiration for many of the biased news and analyses published at the beginning of May. Sputnik, for instance, thinks that the EU leaders gathered in Sibiu to “attack nationalism” (in Sputnik’s view, nationalism is what people in Europe crave for).

Cotidianul didn’t miss the opportunity to mention again the “Dutch set-back”: their stake in keeping the Rotterdam port profitable makes the country vote against Romania’s access to the Schengen area.

Național took it from there and claimed that the liberals (opposition party supporting president Iohannis) are ready to “hand over” the port of Constanța to the Dutch only to enter the Schengen area.

Q Magazine, that often publishes articles signed by Sputnik journalists, wrote that in Sibiu it was about “a summit on the Titanic”.

Surprisingly, perhaps, RFI praised Dragnea’s move to file a bill aiming at sanctioning the consumer goods double standard, noting that Romania becomes a trend setter in Europe (whereas the truth is more prosaic: that bill is ineffective, superficial and served only a campaign purpose).

The anti-EU neutral analyses were published mainly by G4 Media (7) and Adevărul (6), but Evenimentul zilei couldn’t stand aside and published 5 such articles.

So the true anti-EU champion in May was Evenimentul zilei, that covered the elections for the European Parliament with as many as 83 negative articles, 59 of which were biased (basically, three out of four articles). The silver went to Știri pe surse, which published 57 negative articles concerning the EU, out of which 37 were biased. On the third place, Cotidianul – 28 anti-EU articles, out of which 25 biased.

Surprisingly, Sputnik published only 18 negative articles covering EU topics, all of them biased. Basically, the Sputnik philosophy was exported and used to produce articles published by local media outlets.

There’s only one category that was successful for Sputnik: the anti-US biased analyses – 5 articles were published by the Russian propaganda portal. Only Știri pe surse published as many anti-US articles in May, but it was about news, not analyses. However, only 78 negative articles covering US topics were published in May.

* 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).

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