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Social engineering and manipulation through the media in Romania

Social engineering has deep roots in Romania, ever since the project of the late dictator Ceausescu of reshaping the New Man (omul nou), a dystopian enterprise, a nationwide socio-political project that has been successfully restarted in recent years through the media owned by a series of moguls and oligarchs who have allied themselves with the political power during the period of the so-called “privatisation”.

To be sure, the same happened all over Eastern Europe and the former Soviet countries, but Romania’s case is special and the situation there should be compared rather with Russia (or, to a lesser extent, Ukraine).

As in Russia, Romania has been the field of a slow, methodical and thorough process of social engineering through the media. In both cases, huge swaths of the population have been made to switch their world view, their Weltanschauung, from an optimistic, pro-Western one, to a pessimistic, nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-Western and anti-modernist one.

In both cases, in Russia and Romania, Orthodoxy, the eastern branch of Christianity, was used as an engine for enforcing the mentality of a besieged nation, pillaged by the West.

The regress in the quality of the media was accompanied by a general assault on science: the very influent, anti-Western newspapers, TV-channels and news sites are the same that encourage the cult of saints, the pilgrimages and the alternative medicines, or promote staunchly anti-Western and ultra-nationalist figures, such as the actor Dan Puric.

Many newspapers and TV channels have launched a campaign against vaccination, while a newspaper such as Romania Libera is promoting homeopathy as science. Astrologers and healers appear on the main TV channels, while sensational fake news are presented as real ones. One former chief editor of the daily Evenimentul Zilei, Malin Bot, who was derided for having published, with pictures, the scoop of a semi-human siren supposedly found dead on a beach in Egypt, has cynically and brazenly justified all this as being common practice, even necessary, given that readers are asking for such stories, while web sites need clicks in order to be able to pay salaries.

Stirring up anti-Europeanism

In Romania, where a majority of the population still views the European Union positively, the aforesaid mogul-controlled media managed to instil a wide-spread defiance towards the EU. The EU institutions are presented as the grossest caricature of a web of faceless, unelected bureaucrats, complotting to steal Romania’s resources for the benefit of giant Western corporations.

At best, the EU is seen as a surrogate of a new kind of Soviet Union, set to deprive member countries of their traditions, beliefs, national identities, and finally of their soul. Conspiracy theories and allusions to the Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros are over-present, and even promoted by influent political figures such as Liviu Dragnea, the Socialist boss who actually runs Romania, and who last year said on TV that Soros (to whom he alluded) had sent a team of hitmen from abroad to assassinate him, and that he barely escaped.

The irony behind all this is that very often the articles seem to be taken directly out of the Romanian version of the main Russian propaganda channel: Sputnik.

Romania Libera is the most flagrant example. After having been for years owned by WAZ, the german regional media group Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, Romania Libera, run now by the rabidly anti-Western and pro-Orthodox Iulian Capsali, has become an open vehicle for anything that would push Romania away from Europe and towards Russia.

To give one recent example of a piece of news taken out of context, Romania Libera alleged over the weekend that the French president Emmanuel Macron is trying to subjugate the press by directly paying the journalists who write according to government lines.

So widespread is the conviction that the EU is a kind of a totalitarian construction, that even the press theoretically against the governing Socialist-led coalition, such as the platform Contributors, could publish the fake news that Macron seems to have proposed a European army to defend the EU from the USA. The result is thus that even the anti-government and right-oriented press is also, for ideological reasons, lambasting Europe.

A report by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, Anti-Western media in Romania: careless dummies and biased rogues, that analyzed the Romanian media during last year’s summer showed that in July 2018: “everyday, at least six pieces published as journalistic production were, in fact, biased, fake or propaganda “journalism”. The average per media outlet per month was also around six – this means that, every month, an average media outlet produced six materials that couldn’t be considered by the book journalism.”

The study was recently resumed by the newly created, quality magazine Newsweek, which was quickly attacked for that by the aforementioned Evenimentul Zilei.

The study can be resumed in:

16 articles can be easily considered not just biased, but fake news. The champion of those biased news is “Sputnik”, with nine of them. The second place belongs to the “Antena 3” website, with only two, and then there’s “Cotidianul”, “Capital”, “National”, “Lumea justiției” and “Active news” (each with one article). There’s a category of news which we called “biased analysis”: this is not necessarily a piece of fake news, but a collection of facts that are put together to form some sort of analysis that points to an idea which is definitely manipulative and do not reflect the facts. As many as 41 of the articles published in August can be included in this category. On the first place, ex aequo, “România liberă” and “Național” (with six articles each); then, there’s “Active news” (five articles), “Sputnik” and “Jurnalul” (four each), “PS News”, “Q Magazine”, “DC News”, “Lumea justiției”, “Evenimentul zilei” (two articles each) and “Flux 24”, “Nationalisti”, “Cotidianul”, “Sursa zilei”, “Nașul” (one each). There’s a final category that we called “biased opinion” in which we included those articles that contain propaganda type opinion that doesn’t rely much on fact if at all. Nine of the articles we deemed relevant in August could stay in this category: “România liberă”, “Național”, “Sputnik” (two each) and “PS News”, “Active news”, “Lumea justiției” (one each).

Other influent, among the young and educated, media that have turned totally anti-EU are Catavencii, formerly a satirical weekly that has become, since the failed, Socialist-led parliamentary putsch in 2012, stridently anti-Western, all disguised as humour.

The main channel for anti-Europeanism remains television, especially Antena 1 and Antena 3, founded by the jailed fraudster Dan Voiculescu, a man with a shady past, that included working for the Communist secret services, the much-feared Securitate, and who has been convicted for defrauding the state.

His TV channels, especially Antena 3, broadcast a toxic mixture of aggressive fake news wrapped in a loose language, using profanities and verbal bullying. The main anchors, Mircea Badea, Mugur Ciuvică and Mihai Gâdea, seem sometimes to be working in a clear coordination with the Russian Sputnik, like when it came to attacking Codruta Kovesi, the former chief of the anti-fraud office, DNA, proposed now as chief EU public prosecutor. Overpresent, Antena 3 has even tried to recuperate the fight against communism during Ceausescu times.

Even once honourable media, that were simply technical in the delivery of the information they were providing, such as Capital, owned by the same company that publishes Evenimentul Zilei, have become manipulative, with incendiary titles such as: Open war: Romania left at the mercy the Hungarians.

Needless to say that the National Council of the Audiovisual (CNA) is turning a blind eye to all this, while sanctioning the scarce remaining independent media for “slander” or “defamation” when governing politicians are criticized.

A new law on “slander” and “defamation” is actually in the works, and, if adopted, it would effectively gag what remains of the free media in Romania.

But the fact remains that such a massive switch in public opinion wouldn’t have been possible without a knowledgeable and systematic use of the media.

The dystopian scale achieved in reshaping the minds is proof of a social engineering the the totalitarian Communist regime could only dream of.

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