It was quite a busy November for Romanian media that covered anti-Western topics: 1.780 articles were published. Both EU and US have their fair share of issues on display (908 for US related events and 872 that dealt with EU facts). Despite the slight US advantage when considering the general figures, it turns out that, in fact, EU related issues were covered in a more biased way than the US ones: 72 pieces of news focused on EU (compared to 57 when it came to US) and 29 analyses regarding he Union (versus 17 on the States) were biased. As we are about to see, this has got to do with Brussels politics and their impact on Romania, especially given that November was the month that saw both a new PM and a new (and old, at the same time) president.
The main topics in connection to the European Union covered by Romanian media and politicians in November were Brexit (including here the report on Russian influence over the Brexit campaign, now kept hidden by PM Boris Johnson, and the general election on December 12th), the complicated relationship with Turkey that Brussels had to manage, all the debates and controversies over European internal feuds (France’s Macron versus Bulgaria and its “gangs”, the same Macron versus Merkel on EU’s “frailty”), the fights and arguments following Macron’s claim that NATO is brain-dead, the closer and closer bond that Putin and Hungary’s Orban Viktor (now there’s an Orban in office as PM in Romania too – except the latter’s first name is Ludovic) share, neo-Nazi incidents in Germany, Catalan protests, the stabbings on London Bridge.
The main US topic was, of course, the impeachment of president Donald Trump (Congress procedures, hearings, rants, arguments and all that) but many others were covered by media outlets: the sanctions on Iran and later in November the allegations that Tehran made concerning US help and support for protesters, the defiant Erdogan going on with purchasing Russian S-400 missiles (and Serbia trying the same scheme), Trump’s wall being cut up by Mexican smugglers, Russia’s disbelief in US having killed Al Baghdadi, recent mass shootings on US soil, North Korea doing what it does best (trash talk and missiles firing), China threatening to retaliate after US Senate shown support to protesters for democracy in Hong Kong.
The German governor
The most biased articles were in connection either to the new government or to the presidential elections (the first round held on November 10th, the second – on December 24th). For start, on November 5th, Sputnik quoted journalist Sorin Roșca Stănescu that expressed his belief that presidential elections are held in Romania not for people to choose a president but for Germany to appoint a governor (funny, but at the same time Roșca Stănescu is full of praise for president Trump, one of the few in the world that opposes the deep state – or, in its Romanian version, “the parallel state”).
On November 6th, Național presented its “analysis” on the goals of the new cabinet: “National power grid, sold to foreign (companies)”. The article, though, despite the punching headline, only mentioned some rumors about stock exchange listing of some national power companies (rumors unconfirmed so far).
No coincidence: the social-democrats relied on xenophobia to shape their campaign political messages. The mayor of Focșani, for instance, posted on Facebook a list of names (such as “Klaus”, “Hellvig”, “Siegfried”, “Orban” – pointing to president Klaus Iohannis, chief of Romanian internal intelligence Eduard Hellvig, MEP Siegfried Mureșan, PM Ludovic Orban) which, according to him, would prove that foreigners had taken control of the country. The Facebook posts ends with congratulations to the Romanian internal intelligence which, the mayor implies, had pulled strings to put all those mentioned in office.
For some reason, Romanian social-democrats tend to believe they can persuade voters to perceive their political competitors as Nazi supporters only relying on the fact that someone bears a German name. As stupid as it may sound, it’s not the first time they did it. This time, it started on the next day of the presidential election’s first round. Retired secret service general Dumitru Iliescu (quoted by Flux 24) wrote on Facebook that sitting president and candidate for a new term Klaus Iohannis was nobody else but Adolf Hitler in his speech following the first round.
Four days later, Sputnik cites the same Facebook post, only this time it attributes it to another officer, an Army one.
A week after the first round, a prominent social-democrat MP and former minister, Lia Olguța Vasilescu, makes it official on behalf of PSD: she says that Iohannis thinks of himself as a (Nazi) concentration camp commander and has a strong desire of reeducating members of PSD. The statement made headlines in all the media. Some, such as the news agency News.ro, mentioned civil society organizations taking a stand about “the trivialization of important historic moments”. Others, such as Național and Capital or Antena 3 didn’t bother at all.
Justice made in the US
US meddling in Romanian judiciary is also a common theme for anti-Western propaganda. This time, the pretext was the visit the US ambassador to Bucharest, Hans Klemm, paid on November 14th to the new minister of Justice in office, Cătălin Predoiu. For Național, that was enough in order to claim that Predoiu was given commands on whom to take down. For Sputnik, it was much worse: Klemm’s visit meant not only that judiciary is controlled by the US, but also that online censorship (!) is on the agenda (not so cleverly disguised in talks about intellectual property).
Eight days later, on November 22nd, Klemm also visited PM Ludovic Orban, the perfect occasion for Sputnik to publish a piece headlined “Orban, enlightened again by the Americans”.
Treason on behalf of EU
Finally, what was meant to be a blow for the “Nazi” candidate on the second round of the presidential elections proved to have no effect despite the efforts. While in Zagreb for a EPP summit, PM Ludovic Orban mentioned his cabinet in connection to Romania’s nomination of a EC commissioner that was eventually accepted by the Commission president. It was enough for some media outlets to claim that, once more, what happens in Romanian politics is nothing but a Brussel shock wave. Q Magazine calls this “EPP political interference” a crime and a betrayal. Treason was also mentioned, twice, by Lumea Justiției, for the political benefit of the EPP parliamentary group. Sadly, though, Jurnalul noticed, it was a bomb that didn’t explode.
Extensively covered in 2018, when it struck again after some years, swine fever is still a very good reason to picture foreign companies as extremely greedy and cynical. Național did it again by claiming that Romanian farms which had to be shut down following the swine mass slaughter were bought by Danish investors. Which may be true (although not certain) but still wouldn’t prove that it was all a major plot.
* 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).