Disinformation has managed to erode the authority of traditional media outlets as well, Source: Depositphotos

In Romania, disinfo has found a cosy spot inside traditional media

In Romania, disinfo has found a cosy spot inside traditional media

Let’s take a look beyond the digital rumour channels to see how the truth has been lost

A survey made by the University of Oxford showed that 62% of Romanians are worried and unsure that they can differentiate fake from real news online. And according to a 2020 survey, only 48% of them know what fake news is and 22% state that TV media and the press cannot present and spread fake news.

The spread of disinformation is commonly associated with the digital environment and social media, however, this belief obscures that in recent times the emergence of dubious “experts” sharing diverse opinions and conflicting advice has become the new reality. And this can go a long to explain the anxiety many Romanians feel about what is fact and what is speculation.

Public persons, influencers, vloggers, or doctors from various domains have been invited to different TV channels for interviews. The most important thing is that their sayings weren't presented as opinions but as facts. This way a lot of disinformation, normally circulating on social media, has been broadcast to older generations, who tend to consume and trust more traditional media outlets.

Blurring the media lines

In journalism there are a lot of ethical rules and codes, among them “Seek Truth and Report It” and “Minimize Harm”. However, the proliferation of cable TV and digital media channels has also created market pressure on mainstream media to attract an audience.

For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, all Romanian TV channels transmitted the same, fact-checked news, confirmed by the national agencies. As things evolved, the uncertainty and distrust began to grow bigger among people, and some TV stations changed their approach to reflect that uncertainty.

Instead of presenting well-documented and fact-checked information, they started to invite personalities, whose credentials stemmed more from their online popularity than anything else. The latter could freely share their thoughts, beliefs and opinions on delicate subjects, which were presented as facts during the news of that week.

This might have increased the number of viewers for the TV channels, but it also generated a great wave of misinformation among people, especially the elderly. These media practices have stuck and are still used today on the subject of the war in Ukraine.

For example, at the beginning of the war a TV channel, Antena 3, presented videos from an online game as actual recordings from the war zones. This was discovered and reported by some newspapers in the hours after publishing the news.

An example of a person identified by Romanian fact-checker as a great source of disinformation and Russian propaganda is Diana Sosoaca, a lawyer and far-right politician. She’s amassed a name for spreading misleading and false narratives through her social media, at protests, or in her parliament speeches. Some of the narratives supported by her are conspiracy theories that the EU is planning to take Romanian sovereignty away, including through a power blackout in the country.

Despite her claims constantly being refuted and mocked by serious journalists, she is still invited to TV programmes and cited in articles. Her speeches, ideas and disinformation generate large numbers in terms of TV audiences, many views on social media and clicks and readers for online newspapers.

This is how traditional media has wittingly or unwittingly become complicit in creating and spreading disinformation and misinformation by giving opportunities to irrelevant voices to address important and hard subjects without facing the consequences of their actions.

In an age where communication technologies and artificial intelligence amplify the dissemination of fake news, with no filtering barriers to the final consumer, and the process again being repeated from consumer to consumer through social media, it is increasingly evident that the collective effort to resist the strength of disinformation it must be matched by more conscious individual efforts to get informed correctly and do own fact-checking research.

This article is part of Read Twice – an EU-funded project, coordinated by Euro Advance Association that targets young people and aims to counter disinformation and fake news by enhancing their skills to assess critically information, identify vicious and harmful media content and distinguish between facts and opinions, thus improving their media literacy competences.

The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union nor of TheMayor.EU



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