Dazed and confused: Russian narratives promoted by Romanian media in March

The Russian president has everything under control. Everything that spreads chaos and panic in the world. Source: kremlin.ru
The Russian president has everything under control. Everything that spreads chaos and panic in the world. Source: kremlin.ru

Little did the Europeans know at the beginning of March that the real invasion they had to deal with that month was not the migrants crowd unleashed by Turkey but the coronavirus army of death and disinformation.

Yet the new coronavirus – as it was called at first – did manage to take control of the world agenda. During the first decade of March, though, the migrants crisis made headlines across the European media. Romanian media was moderately interested as the migrants route to the Western Europe had nothing in common with Romanian territory. However, apart from news covering daily events at the Turkish – Greek border or in the EU’s cabinets, not much coverage in connection to Romanian. For RFI, though, foreign affairs analyst Iulian Chifu claimed that the EU is to blame for the massive flow of refugees that Turkey allowed to enter Europe as the Union did not make the promised payments to Istanbul in time or as according to amounts negotiated earlier. Sputnik was not that polite and simply labeled EU’s behavior as “stupid”.

Not many other EU related topics, except the coronavirus, made in on the news: a few pieces on the post-Brexit negotiations, something about an AfD wing being closely watched by the German intelligence and some scandalous stories from Spain – the former king, Juan Carlos, stripped of any public allowance after being exposed as corrupted with bribes.

Not much from the US either: China expelled journalists working for US based media, Switzerland filed a criminal complaint against CIA (the crypto-scandal), Taliban attacks in Afghanistan shortly after deal with the US was signed, Bernie Sanders used by USSR for propaganda and missile attacks on Iraqi base housing US troops.

Before the coronavirus filled in all the blanks in the media, Cotidianul hoped it was a good time to try to remind people about the alleged rapist and murderer Dincă from Caracat that “delivered girls to the US base in Deveselu”. Another story Cotidianul fancied was the one that exposed the real mastermind behind the European Court of Human Rights: George Soros.

România liberă attempted to ride the wave of frustration and anger that people in Bucharest felt when confronted with very high figures of pollution and published a story that allegedly disclosed how the US based company Stericycle got rid of toxic medical waste: by illegally burning it. Not much proof, though, if at all.

Out of the blue, sociologist, intelligence related and political jolly joker Vasile Dîncu thought it was smart to talk about Romania exiting the EU. No further explanation was given, though, no follow-up occurred.

China: we got the virus from the US

But then, little by little, the disinformation festival took over. On March 4th, when the coronavirus was still something that the Europeans did not quite treated as menacing, US senator Marco Rubio denounced Chinese fake news already spreading. Three days later, the Romanian language Sputnik counter-attacked and quoted some Iranian leader considering the possibility of the coronavirus to be an US biologic attack targeting China and, of course, Iran.

It was, however, only the beginning: as G4 Media noted, the last conspiracy theory in town was that 5G networks could spread COVID-19 (that Russian disinformation piece, though, does not seem to have helped a lot the Chinese friends in their attempt to sell Huawei 5G technology everywhere).

On March 13th, things got to government level: a Chinese cabinet spokesman twitted that the coronavirus might have been brought to Wuhan by US troops in November 2019 while there for the military games.

EU’s “headless chickens”

Once the first decade of March ended and it became obvious that Italy was about to get hit hard, the propaganda turned to a more local coverage. It started in neutral fashion with a piece published by the state owned and controlled media agency, Agerpres, that announced on March 12th that the virus breaches the European unity.

Then, a transatlantic conflict was suddenly on: the US tried to buy a coronavirus vaccine patent owned by a German company, an attempt that the German state authorities finally managed to thwart.

As Italy’s crisis was deepening (also because of the EU’s lack of solidarity and common policies), adversaries of the EU seized the moment. Serbia praised China (which so conveniently offered its help) and heavily criticized the Union. Q Magazine used “abandon” to depict the EU – Italy relationship while not forgetting to mention the Chinese generous aid and Active News went even further: the EU slammed the door into Italy’s face.

Cotidianul called this “the Chernobyl of the West”, strongly supported by Lumea Justiției that quoted MEP Chris Terheș with his obituary of the EU. Lumea Justiției also cited Gheorghe Piperea, a lawyer, that pictured the EU countries as “headless chickens walking around in goalless manner”.

Nothing more natural than an assault to be carried out against Europe, then, in Național’s view.

IMF & WB, the sextons of the retired

Național added a new character to the gallery of corona-profiteers: the sextons. Played here by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, lurking in the shadows to get out at the right time and inject some loan vaccines into economies. Which only makes sense if you realize, as Sputnik does, that partners such as the US are at times like these as good as cattle manure.

Once Sputnik is mentioned, this means Kremlin is involved. A conclusion also drawn by The Financial Times, which publishes an analysis on how Russia spreads fake news and disinformation aiming at triggering chaos and panic amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

Very similar conclusions were drawn by EU analysts and the US based Atlantic Council.

Nothing to rely on, though, for Lumea Justiției, that calls the state of emergency declared by the Romanian Government a “state of cretinovirus”. And, in the same day, publishes a story that puts the finger on what’s really happening: too many retired people in the world, too much money spent on them.

All in the name of capitalism, of course, as a deep analysis published by România liberă shows.

Norica Nicolai, fake news creator

A piece of fake news that was successful was created and promoted by Norica Nicolai, former MEP, generously helped by her friends in the media. According to Nicolai, the EU was deeply biased when decided to put EUR 300 bln into France’s economy and only EUR 1 bln into Romania’s. Jurnalul took it right away as crystal clear news alongside with Sputnik. A day later, though, the European Commission dismantled the lie: the money for France was not EU’s, but France’s, the EU only agreed to the spending by France.

Government helping banks, not people

As the third decade of March was progressing, the propaganda front needed some new narratives. Național moved first: the Romanian cabinet has no intention of helping Romanians in need, it only looks after the banks and multinational companies. The following day, Național published a very similar story and this time used the term “kisses” when talking about Romanian PM Orban’s sentiments for banks. On that very day, former PM Victor Ponta, extensively quoted by Lumea Justiției, claimed that the Romanian authorities would get local companies into bankruptcy in order to favor the multinational companies and by no means will put monthly bank loan repayments on hold. Some days later, the Cabinet decided to do just that: suspend to up to nine months those bank loan repayments and give financial aid to local companies. And no, Ponta never apologized for simply and plainly lying.

Norica gets dirty between EU’s clay legs

The coronavirus, though, is no medical pandemic, is only a hoax meant to cover evil capitalist intentions. For instance, Național exposed companies such Amazon which, amid the crisis, makes billions. Shocking, right, who would have thought people have to be paid to deliver goods?

So wouldn’t it be better to declare our independence from the US and the EU alike? Recommended by Sputnik, what can go wrong? After all, it’s Russia – not the EU – that helps Italy, according to România liberă (by the way, what a so very… subtle move: China got out of the picture and switched places with Russia).

And who could blame Italy for accepting Russian aid since the EU is only a colossus on clay legs, as Norica Nicolai (yes, her again) says (according to Sputnik too)? May this colossus be on clay legs but its arms are of steel and those arms are attached to a master that only steals from us, strongly believes economist Ilie Șerbănescu.

Italexit. Again, by Norica Nicolai

The Bonanza of disinformation is not necessarily very well organized, its main goal is to flood everything in sight. So now one may spot the piece of news which says that Chinese embassy to France suggests the coronavirus came from the US and then to bump into an analysis that may be well intended but it sends mixed signals with a headline that says “US – China disinformation war” – so which one is using disinformation? Based on the headline, both players seem to. But do both do that?

Or, as mentioned above, it is only about flooding everything with confusion? G4 Media thinks the latter is the winner.

And then… back to Italy with Norica Nicolai doing it again: Italexit on the horizon, the Italians won’t ever forget how they were left alone in the dark (just read this heartbreaking piece by Lumea Justiției and you’ll understand). It won’t matter anyway, says Cotidianul, as the world of tomorrow will be ruled by super-companies, most of the based in the US and there’s no guarantee that the EU will survive the present crisis, Sputnik believes.

When Putin steps in

So far Sputnik was mentioned several times, Russia also, but still there’s no human touch to it. Wait, it’s done: a Romanian social-democrat MP knows who the hero is. A hero that Romania lacks. It’s Vladimir Putin, the guy who knows how to get the job done in times of crisis if you listen to the MP. You might maybe be shocked, but that’s what Lumea Justiției thinks too. And, even more shocking, also Sputnik.

A hint of “Infektion”: the US bio-labs

All that scared some dozens MEPs which sent a letter to Brussels urging EU leaders to really counteract this shameless disinformation and fake news huge campaign. One that was not about to stop even for a bit, but kept getting larger. Towards the end of March, it was announced that France had a cure for corona but kept it a secret. If one looks at the coronavirus death figures in France can immediately understand that this is pure bogus. Still, this “news” could be read in many places on the internet.

Sputnik stroke again and wrote about the concern expressed by Russia regarding the proximity of some US bio-labs to its borders. So, wink-wink, virus, bio-labs, you get it.

Flower power: no military expenses, all the money for health

Remember the above-mentioned conspiracy of the retired figures reducing by allowing a virus to deliver mass death? It got back: in a column published by România liberă. Not very surprising, the origin of this was Russian media.

And there are more benefits than mass killing old people, think of the vaccines, the big pharma industry. It’s too hard for you? Don’t worry, Lumea Justiției knows just the guy for that: Astărăstoae.

But we can be saved. Not with IMF loans (yes, Național’s obsession, as shown above) that would only deprive the country of any identity (says Sputnik). No, the solution is to not finance NATO anymore and put all that money into health (especially the mental one, that would be of real help, but don’t tell Pleșoianu that).

Because, at the end of the day, Evenimentul zilei may have a point: who’s lying, China or the US? If in doubt, always ask the Romanians and they will certainly get things clear: the coronavirus is of no Romanian origins, it does not grow in our national dirt, it is brought here from other countries.

 

* 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:

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