“In Truth lays no news and in news does not lay truth” 
When the Department of Communication and Mass Media published a press release on the MFA of the Russian Federation’s website in reference to the anti-governmental protests in Romania, the Russian media was already informing its citizens about the exceptional and tense situation in Romania. In the short press release, only three paragraphs, two main ideas are sketched: the first one is the confidence that current government of Romania will find a way to avoid the division of society and solve the difficult internal situation, based on the democratic and constitutional principles of the country; – the second one – in last years, Romania’s leaders have been too busy with the construction of a mythical enemy – Russia, resorting to a Russophobe discourse whenever they had the chance, so they overlooked the issues of their own country, issues that now require special attention.
“Romania’s leadership has overlooked the important issues in its own country”, according to the MFA of the Russian Federation/ “Власти Румынии просмотрели острые проблемысвоей страны, считает МИДРоссии.” – an excerpt of the Russian Federation’s MFA, RIA Novosti, 09.02.2017.
The feeling left by this brief press statement, only three paragraphs and published on February 9 2017, after many days of protests, is that it had the role to give a green light to Russia’s local press, suggesting which narratives to emphasize when informing the population further on.
Starting from the previously mentioned thesis, I conducted a retrospective analysis of the most popular mass media sources from the Russian Federation in order to see how much of the Russian MFA’s press rhetoric can be found in the informative reports in the Russian media during the protests in Romania
Rossia 1, Pervîi Canal and NTV – the fourth power in the Russian Federation
It is not complicated to identify what are the most popular sources of information in Russia, given that the Russian media market is governed by the Russian State, state-owned companies or Kremlin’s closest. Obviously, the independent press is not missing, but it is overshadowed by the state-owned large media outlets that have a crushing ratings.
Thus, according to the audience ratings, the leader of the Russian media market is actually the state-owned media trust – Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (Всероссийскую государственную телевизионную и радиовещательную компанию (ВГТРК)). This trust owns some of the most watched national TV channels: Rossiya 1, Rossiya 2, Rossiya 24 (informative channel) and RTR Planeta (international Russian channel), even specifying on its website that Rossiya 1 is the leader in national television broadcasting with an audience of 98.5% of Russia’s population and more than 50 million viewers in CIS and Baltic States.
The news agencies RIA Novosti and Tass (ex Itar Tass) – Ria Novosti being available in several languages, as well as Ostankino (Останкино) Television Center, which broadcasts one of the most popular TV stations in the Russian Federation – Perviy channel are also owned by the state. In the Ostankino media trust, the state owns 51% of the total shares.
Also, here we must mention the TV station Rossiya Today, available in several international languages, which is fully funded by the state budget.
Another important owner in the Russian Federation is the Gazprom Media, in which Gazprom is a full shareholder. Thus, Gazprom Media owns the national channels NTV and TNT and the satellite television NTV plus.
The next one on the list of major media owners in the third category is the National Media Group (NMG), controlled by Rossiya Bank, the major shareholder being Iurii Kovalciuk (according to 2014 data), being known as one of President Putin’s closest. This trust holds shares in Pervîi Chanel (25%), 72.4% in 5 Channel, 82% in Ren TV and 98.32% of the national newspaper Izvestia, being the only shareholder of Ruskaia Slujba Novostei.
Anyway, in the last and the most minor category, but still important on the Russian media market is the RBK media, defining itself as a trust that provides viewers and readers with economic and financial information and considered in present as being independent.
The popularity of state-owned channels is confirmed once again by national research referring to public confidence in the Russian media.
“the most viewed TV stations in the Russian Federation are the state-owned broadcasting ones – Pervia Canal, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 2, Rossiya 24 and NTV”
In the Russian Federation as well as in most Post-Soviet countries, television is an important source of information. An overwhelming majority of Russians consider television the main source of information – 60% of Russian citizens watch daily news broadcasts, according to the research conducted by Levada Analytical Center. Levada also tells us that the most watched TV stations in the Russian Federation are the state-owned ones – Pervia Channel, Rossiya 1, Rossiya 2, Rossiya 24 and NTV – 50% of respondents watch these channels daily, 26% of respondents watch these channels a few times a week, 10% watch them once a week and only 8% do not watch them at all. Like in the rest of post-Soviet region, international media does not play an important role – 87% of Russians have never read or viewed international TV stations or websites, and only 4% of respondents mentioned that they do this at least once a week.
When it comes to information about local news or from abroad, 59% of Russians are informed by TV stations and only 20% from Internet sources (newspapers, journals, newsletters). Also, the percentage is roughly the same as the Russians’ perception regarding the objectivity of TV broadcasting of information on foreign policy – 58% consider TV information on foreign policy as objective.
The dominant topics in the Russian press: “what is happening with the country that Moldova was trying recently to unite with?”
Thus, the above figures constituted the main criteria that draw my attention in particular on news bulletins and informative TV shows from the most popular state-owned TV stations – Rossiya 1 and Rossiya 24, Pervi Canal and NTV. Also, I have analyzed the informative bulletins about the protests in Romania broadcasted by the REN TV station, given the fact that it also has state affiliation and news agencies Ria Novosti and Tass, known to be the biggest informative agencies in Russia, cumulating in a total of 111 news reports from these news stations. The results of the analysis are related to some extent with the opinion of some Russian analysts found in newspapers and online resources, such as Izvestia.ru, Gazeta.ru, Interfax.ru, Riafan.ru or Rosbalt.ru, in order to create a mirror image between broadcasted news on TV, written press and news agencies that “borrow” information from other sources, such as Ria Novosti and Tass, but also to validate and invalidate certain aspects of the analysis.
Translation of photo:
Ria Novosti: 38 news, texts and videos, published during 02-27.02.2017; Themes identifies: violent protests; Romanian maidan; Russian MFA about the danger represented by Romania. News Sources: Reuters, Digi, Mediafax, Agerpres, Sputnik, MID.ru and apnews.
NTV: 8 news, video and text, broadcasted during news bulletins, period 23.01-13.02.2017; Themes identified: violent protests, the devided country; the involvement of the secret services in the protests; the economic situation of the country; Russian MFA about the danger represented in Romania.
TASS: 28 news analyzed, text during the period 23.01. – 13.02.2017. Themes idenditified: the divided country; Romanian Patriarchate supports the prostests; Russian MFA about the danger represented in Romania, NATO and Romania; the country’s economic situation. Sources: Reuters, Agerpres, Mediafax, Digi, Antena 3, Realitatea.
12 video bulletins broadcasted during 01-14.02.2017; Themes identified: violent protests; the devided country; Romanian Maidan; the economic situation of the country; EU degradation; Romanian Patriarchate supports the protests; the EU doesn’t help Romania.
10 videos broadcasted during 02-06.02.2017; Themes identified: violent protests; the divided county.
15 videos broadcasted on news bulletins during 01-14.02.2017; Themes identified: violent protests; the divided country; Romanian Maidan; economic situation; anti-Russian feeling in Romania; NATO and Romania; EU does not help Romania; Russian MFA is about the danger represented by Romania.
The analysis has identified several dominant themes that have been grouped in 4 types of narratives in the Russian media that shaped the image of the protests from Romania:
- Disorder and Violence in Romania
REUTERS/ INQUAM PHOTOS. Ria Novosti: Anti-Governmental Protests in Bucharest. February 2nd 2017/ Антиправительственные протесты в Бухаресте. 2 февраля 2017/ Anti-governmental protests in Bucharest
It can be considered the top theme that has been found in all the news about the protests in Romania, even though the violent clashes in Victoria Square was a unique episode, it was repeated in many TV reports and written news on the day it was published and later, by using images and short videos in which the violence and confrontations with police forces was emphasized. For example, RIA Novosti, from 38 news items dedicated to the events from Victoria Square, published between 2nd-27th February, in 8 of them an emphasis was put on the violence and disorder created by anti-governmental demonstrators, broadcasting clips taken from social media platforms, local or international press. Also, images with violence from Romania are found in either short news reports about the protests. Pervîi channel broadcasted 10 news stories in their informative TV broadcasts, each having approximately 1 minute, between 2nd – 6th February. All 4 news bulletins from February 2nd where focused specifically on the violent nature of the protests from Victoria Square. Neither NTV, REN TV nor Rossia 1 and 24 didn’t miss the opportunity to make the subject exclusive. News with an emphasis on the violent nature of the protest also remind the fact that the disorder was caused by football galleries, that the protesters were paid, that in the conflict were involved and arrested hundreds of people and that the protests are supported by the president of the country.
In connection with this theme, it is frequently emphasized the fact that these are the biggest protests after 1989, when Ceausescu’s dictatorship was changed. The similarity doesn’t end here, but continues to announce that, like at that moment, the protesters want the change of the present governance of the country and in truth this is the real reason that stand behind the massive protests. Briefly, it must be mentioned that neither of the analyzed sources did not miss the chance to use the violent episode of the protests from Romania to argument a thesis or other launched by them, as will be seen later on.
- Romanian Maidan
Video Screenshot Ren TV, 04.02.2017: Romanian’s leadership after a series of protests have withdrawn the bill for corruption amnesty/ Румынии после серии протестов отозвало законопроект об амнистии коррупционеров.
“It seems that the Romanian leaders have received the visit of the Ukrainian President P. Porosenko” – together condemning Russia for its aggressive actions… but today it seems that the maidan has arrived at Romania’s door. At least the crowd is similar, and through the colors red, yellow and blue, also the orange one is looming too – the beginning of the news report Ren TV, covering the protest from Romania.
In the few news stories with this title or content, the protests from Romania are presented through the view of the events from Ukraine. In the news broadcasted by Ren TV, Rossia 1/Rossia 24, or written by Ria Novosti, Gazeta.ru, Riafan.ru (the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Commmunication of the Russian Federation), which refer to the violent characteristics of the protests, communicate that Romania is taking Ukraine’s path, being at just one step from the colorful revolutions. It is specified that these types of protests are a characteristic for Eastern countries and, as soon as possible, we should expect similar events Romania’s neighboring countries. Also, it is discussed that the fact that these protests are leading Romania on the road to velvet revolutions, which in the future, will intensify the anti-Russian and Russophobe feelings in Romania.
It is no coincidence that this rhetoric was launched in the above-mentioned news report, broadcasted by Ren TV, on 9th February, but it rather picks up the main theme from the press statement made by the Russian MFA’s Department of Information and Press, and also it is linked with the main theme highlighted in the declarations made by the Russian MFA representative, Aleksandr Boțan-Horcenko, appeared on the same day on Interfax.ru.
The Russian Federation’s MFA declares Romania a risk for Russia after the US anti-missile shield was built /В МИД РФ назвали Румынию угрозой дляРоссии послеразмещения там ПРО США: Interfax.ru, 9.02.2017
In this report, Aleksandr Botan-Horocenko mentions that the Russian Federation already declared that Romania is a country which presents a risk for Russia due to the agreement to build the anti-missile system on its territory, and also accepting the relocation of NATO weapons in Romania. Also, the report is mentioned that the Russophobe feelings in Romania are increasing and a collaboration with the Romanian authorities will become more and more difficult. If the stars are aligned or not, so that the Russian press, simultaneously, makes declarations about the protests in Romania and the fact that Romania is allowing the North-Atlantic Alliance to install American military equipment on its territory, we can only guess. It is certain that the Romania-NATO subject is, in general, the state-owned mass media’s favorite subject in Russia. Also, on the 9th of February 2017, in the country, in an interview with the daily newspaper Adevarul, the Russian Ambassador from Bucharest, Valeri Kuzmin, played his card by launching an invitation to the new government involved in the protests and criticized by the EU representatives.
- Romania – a divided country
Taking Prime Minister S. Grindeanu’s statements, where he declared that the Governmental Emergency Ordinances in order to stop the division of the country witnessed by everyone, the Russian press has made the division subject a main focus.
The divided state theme and the division of society in half, appears on Ren TV, in a special report broadcasted by Rossia 1, with the title “One Country– Two sides: Romania is barricaded”. In other news broadcasted by Rossia 24, it is specified that the protests are a revolution against the governing political class and that these demonstrations are supported by the country’s president, who prefers the situation and also the Romanian Patriarchate. Also, the anti-presidential protests are brought into discussion, which is a clear sign that the country is divided. NTV airs a special report entitled “Who started the Romanian political crisis” – according to the experts the protests, might have been organized with the involvement of the secret services from the country, who were also accused of corruption, thereby Romania is in an internal political fight between liberals and socialists.
Rossia1, 02.02.2017: B Румынии произошли крупнейшие после свержения Чаушеску волнения
“In Romania, the biggest protests are taking place since the Ceaucescu regime… the protests have rapidly changed in chaos and police confrontations … what is happening with the country that was, not long ago, dreaming of uniting with its neighboring Moldova”
- The protests in Romania – the effect of EU integration
From a subtle allusion of the Russian Federation’s MFA, that the Romania’s elites have ignored the serious economic and social problems that have come to light, to information that the protests from Romania are caused by the economic situation, worsened even more after the EU integration, is apparently a long way – however what isn’t heard at the Russian MFA, is seen on TV. In this context three news reports about the Romanian protests come in our help, made by a special correspondent on location – Anton Liadov, broadcasted by Rossia 1 and Rossia 24 during the evening news bulletin, by using the rhetoric of the impoverished Romanian state as a result of the EU integration, and now the adverse effects of the integration are now emerging through the countries’ population who is now dissatisfied by the internal economic situation, and EU just washing its hands with the whole situation, even though the corruption from Romania is a clear sign of the EU degradation. Moreover, the news report entitled Romanian Civil Servants don’t have enough space in prisons, because after the Romania’s integration in EU, half of the Romanians live in poverty. Romania has lost its sovereignty, independence, Romanians work in the EU states illegally. Romania has lost everything that Ceaucescu built – yet, in Victoria Square the EU flag is waving – protesters are still hoping for the help from their bigger brother. Also, in the news report, the EU shows only concern. Who can be inspired by the blue flag with starts after this, asks Dmitri Kiseliov, in the news program from Rossia 1. Porosenko must not be taken into consideration!, he said.
The theme about the poorest country in the EU and economic situation which fails Romania’s population is not found only here. One of the experts interviewed in the special report – Itogi Dnia aired on NTV, Angara Samurokova, considers that one of the causes for the protests is the internal political conflict and the people’s discontent for the quality of life in the country. Also, other experts support the idea about Romania’s poverty and that the protests are the result of an exhausted socio-economic system, Romania being the poorest country in the EU. Victor Mironenco for Rosbalt, through his example, demonstrates that the present socio-economic model is not working.
On the other hand, in the news reports from Ren TV points out that Romania’s aid request from the EU representatives in solving the internal crisis has remained unanswered.
What also needs mentioning here, besides the poorest state rhetoric, is corruption as a sign that EU is deteriorating. Also during the news reports on Rossia 1 and Rossia 24, the question arises what would have happened with Moldova if it had united with Romania, as the ex-leaders of the country wanted or what will happen with the country which is torn apart by corruption which, not long ago, wanted to unite with Moldova. In truth, these two short questions are overshadowed by many other narratives about the protests in Romania constructed by Rossia 1 and Rossia 24.
*The rate of themes found in the analyzed news reports, refers to the number of encountered cases and not the number of the news reports, for example in a news report 3 themes can be found.
Instead of Conclusions
The flags of the European Union and The United States of America were flying permanently next to the Romanian flag in the majority of the reports and the news about the event taking place in Romania. The Russian experts, as well as the local and international ones, were trying to understand the phenomenon, by evaluating everything pragmatically, as they do best.
This analysis does not play a role in measuring the grade of objectivity or the accuracy of how the facts were presented by the Russian mass media in reference to the protests in Romania, their mission being difficult to accomplish given the fact that in the country things are not clear, but it rather intends to identity the top themes that the state-owned mass media focused on while reporting these events, omitting other contextual details. How accurate and true was the information brought to the attention of the Russian public by the Russian national mass media, is up to the journalists to evaluate. In my opinion, even in this case Russia’s ideological themes were not missing – EU deterioration, NATO the dangerous enemy, colorful revolutions and obviously the Rusofobia politics of the Western states – Rossia 1, Rossia 24 and Ren TV taking the number one prize for promoting them.
*Tatiana Cojocari is a member in the LARICS Expert Council.
 Word play about the most important sources of information in the Soviet Period – Izvesti (News) and Pravda (Adevar) borrowed and adapted from vedeomosti.ru website, author Aleksei Levinson.