Record number of news pieces covering anti-Western topics in January 2020 in Romanian media: almost 2,200, a number never to have been reached before in 2019. Two thirds of these news pieces focused on anti-US topics and especially on everything around the Iranian general Soleimani killing by a US drone strike. Unlike other important US foreign policy actions, this particular one triggered some local emotional expression, mostly due to biased analyses linking the possibility of retaliation by Iran to the US anti-missile shield located at Deveselu, Romania.
US related topics also covered by Romanian media in January were as follows: North Korea defying the United States by claiming to resume nuclear missile testing, Trump’s impeachment, TurkStream inauguration by Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan and Bulgaria’s Borisov, the Nord Stream 2 sanctions, the call to UK to not allow Huawei to deliver 5G equipment, Turkey’s claim that Russian S-400 missiles are perfectly compatible with NATO rules, Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East, Soros spending USD 1 billion to fund liberal universities across the world.
As for the EU issues, the Romanian media covered the French pension system reform saga (Paris Opera strike, protesters – police clashes, Govt stepping back, president Macron stalked by protesters), the Catalan politicians extradition from Belgium, the Poland – Russia row (concerning WWII events), the mass stabbing in Paris, former Romanian president Traian Băsescu criticizing the EU for not being more offensive against Iran, Iran pulling out of the nuclear deal, Brexit (the focus on trade deal negotiations, Scotland pushing for independence), the Polish legislation concerning judiciary, the EP resolution on Hungary and Poland rule of law, the migrants’ protests on Greek islands, the banning of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 in Germany, the expulsion of two Russian nationals from Bulgaria for espionage allegations, the Italian mafia operations with EU agriculture subsidies, the Kremlin playbook 3 (total influence on Bulgaria) launching, the court decision which stops Orban Viktor from controlling media.
Romania’s war with Iran, either catastrophe or fake
The first to give voice to the old scenario which says that Romania turned into a target the moment it allowed the US to locate at Deveselu a ballistic missile defense site was Alina Mungiu Pippidi, professor and founder of the so-called Romanian Academic Society and of the romaniacurata.ro website. An analysis published by Pippidi on January 6th having the headline “How Romania got on the brink of war” mainly says that Romania’s leaders are plainly stupid to support the US against Iran and that claiming Russia’s the enemy just to get along with the US is unpatriotic, after all.
On the very same day, Pippidi was invited to a prime time TV talk show by host Silviu Mănăstire and accepted the invitation sent by B1 TV. As expected, Alina Mungiu Pippidi expressed the same opinions that were published earlier that day. The TV station website used as headline the statement according to which the Deveselu ballistic missile defense site made Russia spend more than planned for military equipments and also that Romania, on the contrary, should not spend as much as it does for military purposes.
Pippidi was still live on the B1 TV’s studio when her ideas were covered by PS News, a website run by Silviu Mănăstire, bearing the headline “We placed ourselves on Iran’s map”. Q Magazine, a weekly known for its Sputnik related content, also quoted Pippidi. Active News didn’t miss the opportunity and cited Pippidi extensively, mentioning “enormous” in connection with the risk of war and the mat that Romania turned into under US steps.
So it came as no surprise for this narrative the Iranian ambassador to Bucharest statement that Romania might be a target in this “war”.
On the other hand, there’s no war at all, claims a well known journalist, Cristian Tudor Popescu. According to him, both Trump and Ali Khamenei are happy with Soleimani’s killing: Trump’s goal is to look like a tough commander who fully deserves a second term at the White House whereas the Iranian dictatorship really needed the Iranians to unite against US and in doing so to forget about the everyday hardships or at least not blame the local establishment for that. So, Popescu concluded, this was just a joint venture operation. The journalist’s opinion was fully quoted by Hotnews.ro.
A similar scenario, which mentioned Soleimani’s killing as a PR stunt made to prevent the impeachment procedure to be completed or at least to make it less visible, was covered (where “covered” simply means “published”, no real analysis was made) by ziare.com, Știri pe surse, Evenimentul zilei, Agerpres.
Other analyses also tried to prove that this is not a legitimate war. Național, for instance, explained that WWIII is, in fact about the corporations versus the fanatic leaders. Or, as Evenimentul zilei claimed, it was all about Trump’s arrogance. But for Q Magazine this is the proof that something’s really rotten in the US, a country which – according to Cotidianul – sees one that does not support it as an enemy. Active News, though, dare to wonder: do we, Romania, have to support the US in this war against Iran?
However, for the foreign affairs analyst and diplomat Dan Dungaciu, things look bad for the US, which can’t even protect its embassy in Baghdad 16 years after invading Iraq.
The new Kovesi comes from the US
Another opportunity for local propaganda to get furious was the appointing of the federal prosecutor Jessica H. Kim “as the U.S. Department of Justice regional Resident Legal Advisor for Bulgaria and Romania, providing justice sector assistance to build capacity in combating public corruption, money laundering, and organized crime” (according to her Linkedin profile description). For Național, it’s simple to understand: she’s the new Kovesi (former National Antti-corruption Directorate chief, now EPPO chief-prosecutor), but this time sent by the US.
Ps News points out that the US keeps an eye on us and mentions “Big Brother” in relation to the move of appointing Jessica H. Kim (although she is not named at any moment). However, it’s certain that Resident Legal Advisor’s role is to “conduct justice” in Romania and Bulgaria.
Active News is sure that Poland would have never not allowed such a thing to happen whereas Romania and Bulgaria are just too obedient in order to oppose the appointing.
Special Section, special media “affection”
The European Union has its fair share of criticism too. Both the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Commission were basically trashed by some media outlets in Bucharest.
Lumea Justiției wrote that the European Commission used manipulatory statements before the CJEU in order to persuade the judges to accept the shutting down of the Special Section (of the Romanian General Prosecutor’s Office) to investigate magistrates.
Lumea Justiției also blamed the Court of Justice of the EU of favoring the Special Section’s enemies (two hours for their statements before the judges compared to only 20 minutes for the Section’s supporter).
That was not enough and LJ resumed the attack against the European Commission. This time, the criticism got colorful: the bureaucrats in Brussels were called “dishonest and stupid” for manipulating some more on the Special Section to investigate magistrates topic.
Finally, one more kick from LJ: extensively quoting judge Dana Gârbovan who was not shy at all when expressed her belief that the Romanian cabinet is “full of EU lackeys”. Active News used the same quotes and Q Magazine involved Soros in the CJEU’s verdicts and mentioned the letter sent by some Romanian magistrates to Ursula von der Leyen.
Kogălniceanu base brothel
January was also the month that saw an old story being revived: the sex trafficking network around the Kogălniceanu US military base. Dead for a few months because of lack of data, the story got ignited again. This time, it was not Libertatea to fuel the fire (as it happened in August 2019), but Cotidianul. The media outlet published a criminal complaint submitted by a former Kogălniceanu base translator according to which a real brothel was set up at some point inside the US military base. A second part was published shortly after the firs one. The story was covered by Q Magazine, Active News (part one and part two) and Lumea Justiției.
The real corruption is in the West
It’s not us, it’s them! – this seems to be the motto of some editors-in-chief in their attempt to picture both EU and US as sources of evil and corruption compared to which Romania’s level is pick pocketing.
Jurnalul’s columnist has his own way of putting it: whose leash is tighter on Romania – US’ or EU’s?
Romania Liberă has two bad news: not only are the Germans those that get to decide what’s going to happen with the Romanian health system but also all of the EU is more corrupt than Romania so Kovesi has a lot of work there to do.
That is also the opinion that MEP Maria Grapini shares, according to Sputnik: the EU only blames the East for corruption in order to hide its own.
Cotidianul underlines the fact that this is not just the European way of gettinf rid of accusations, but the Western way, as one can see in Davos.
Extremely active in January, Cotidianul also makes public the recipe that works in Eastern Europe – street protests and foreign orders. Still not convinced? Well, Cotidianul throws in the final argument: Soros is to blame.
Strategically in vain
The oil and gas in the Black Sea were once again perfect triggers for blunt nationalism expression. Which seems rather natural when it comes from Active News (that exaggerates some rumors concerning Lukoil’s intention to buy an exploitation permit from Exxon) or Q Magazine (which knows that EU has to benefit from Romanian gas) but it’s a bit strange when put on display by Libertatea in a column that is both illogical (although it claims to reveal sophisms, not produce them) and biased when it implies that the strategic partnership between Romania and the US is pretty similar with the one between Romania and the USSR in the 50s.
In a way, that’s the belief that the national TV chose to show to its public when decided to broadcast Tudor Gheorghe’s concert on January the 26th, a day that used to be sacred before 1989: on this day, former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was born. But Ceaușescu’s birthday is not the point here (although a happy coincidence), the point is that the songs’ lyrics seem borrowed from the social-democrats’ electoral campaign materials: full of euro-skepticism, criticizing protesters that took to the streets to defend judiciary and criticizing prosecutors in charge of corruption cases. And all this under the name “In vain. 30”.
Waves of slur and blame followed, especially on social networks, having as main target the national TV. And whereas no one in TVR board bothered to comment, Antena 3 took the lead: Oana Zamfir, Antena 3 star, trampled the creatures that insulted the great Tudor Gheorghe, according to Sputnik, and Ion Caramitru, famous Romanian actor and manager of the National Theatre in Bucharest, was held accountable for his son’s harsh words, Andrei, against Gheorghe. Antena 3 mentioned that the Social-Democrat Party took the musician’s part against a former minister of Education.
Last but not least, it may not all be in vain and Romanian – Russian relations not lost forever: the Romanian Electoral Authority chief met with the Russian ambassador to Romania and discussed matters related to elections, of course, given Russia’s long history of good practices when it comes to democratically putting people in power.
* 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).