Fake news thrives in Romania, fuels euroskepticism | Inquirer News
Close  
ANTICORRUPTION PROTESTS

Fake news thrives in Romania, fuels euroskepticism

02:31 AM April 03, 2017
Employees of the National Audiovisual Council of Romania, the state authority that monitors TV and radio stations, are pictured at the main headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, on March 31, 2017. Dogs "paid" to demonstrate against the government, a deadly fire ordered by American billionaire investor George Soros: "fake news" is prospering in Romania, fuelling euro scepticism in the continent's southeastern flank. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI

Employees of the National Audiovisual Council of Romania, the state authority that monitors TV and radio stations, are pictured at the main headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, on March 31, 2017. Dogs “paid” to demonstrate against the government, a deadly fire ordered by American billionaire investor George Soros: “fake news” is prospering in Romania, fuelling euro scepticism in the continent’s southeastern flank. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI

BUCHAREST – Dogs paid to demonstrate against the government. A deadly nightclub fire ordered by an American billionaire.

So-called “fake news” is prospering in Romania, fueling euroskepticism in the former communist country.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Social Democrat government’s attempt in January to weaken anticorruption legislation unleashed a huge wave of protests that eventually forced an about-turn by Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu.

But it also unleashed a wave of truth-stretching reports by progovernment broadcasters.

FEATURED STORIES

The first major incidence of “fake news” was spotted in December—just two days before a parliamentary election—with privately owned Romania TV reporting that the US business tycoon George Soros, a popular target of antiglobalists, had somehow “financed” a nightclub fire that killed 64 people in 2015.

Outrage over the blaze led to the toppling of the then Social Democratic government and a follow-up investigation found that failure to respect safety regulations—rather than any foreign plot—was the cause of the tragedy.

Nonetheless, in a country where the national media industry is dominated by five privately owned 24-hour news channels, rival broadcasters were quick to jump onto the story and into the “fake news” fray.

‘War on the streets’

When as many as 500,000 people marched in peaceful demonstrations earlier this year to defend the anticorruption drive, some media reported a “war on the streets” or a “coup.”

Multinational companies, those reports claimed, were forcing their staff to join in the protests. Romania TV said some employees and their pets were being given money to protest.

“Adults were paid 100 lei (22 euros, $24), children earned 50 lei and dogs were paid 30 lei,” the broadcaster reported.

But anger at fake news also surged among viewers in the former Soviet satellite state, where memories of communist authoritarianism remain strong.

ADVERTISEMENT

The National Audiovisual Council of Romania received over 2,000 complaints in January and February alone, nearly 10 times the number in the same period last year, according to council member Dorina Rusu.

The regulator fined Romania TV more than 6,000 euros ($6,400) for making claims about Soros and 11,000 euros for broadcasting “fake information” about the “paid” demonstrators.

Press freedom organization ActiveWatch and a group of Romanian advertisers called the Art Directors Club also criticized what they labeled biased reporting.

Two of the broadcasters, Romania TV and Antena 3, temporarily lost two-thirds of their advertisers in February, according to industry observer IQads.

Tainted media moguls

Romania’s media industry is vulnerable as it is largely under the control of moguls who “face corruption charges, have already been imprisoned, or harbor obvious political leanings,” said Petrisor Obae of the media watchdog Pagina de Media.

Dan Voiculescu, founder of the channel Antena 3 and former president of a small party aligned with the Social Democrats, is serving a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering.

The head of Romania TV, former Social Democrat deputy Sebastian Ghita, faces four counts of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion, and has been on the run since December.

Romania’s anticorruption drive, which has also targeted politicians and other oligarchs, has been met with press reports so negative they were denounced by the European Commission as “major media attacks” on the judicial branch.

In one Antena 3 report, the country’s chief anticorruption prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, was accused of having received one million euros from a local mobster to cover up charges against him. She pressed charges against the journalists and a trial is under way.

Over the past year, Kovesi has lodged 15 complaints with the audiovisual council for insults and defamation.

‘Russian propaganda’

As in other countries formerly under Soviet influence, Moscow is seen by some as an invisible hand in the spread of false information—in particular on issues concerning the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato).

“The goal is to weaken confidence in the EU and Nato and weaken Romania’s international position,” said Corina Rebegea of the US-based Center for European Policy Analysis.

Romania, one of the EU’s poorest countries which has received 26 billion euros from the bloc since joining in 2007, has been falsely described by some journalists as a net contributor to the bloc.

Another story making the rounds claimed, falsely, that foreigners controlled 70 percent of the country’s farmland.

Euroskeptic discourse was given a further boost last summer when Romania TV owner Ghita joined a small nationalist party and his channel began inviting in politicians with similar views. —AFP

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.
Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: fake news, Romania, world news
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and
acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.



© Copyright 1997-2021 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.