Author and affiliation: Dr. Ciprian Cucu, University of Alba Iulia, Romania
Reviewers and affiliation: Dr. Alina Bargaoanu, National School of Political Studies and Public Administration (Bucharest) & European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO); Susana Dragomir, University Babes-Bolyai, Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Political, Administrative and Communication Science
- The Romanian media ecosystem has developed its own alternative news networks and channels that spread anti-EU and anti-Western narratives, combined with apocalyptic news, conspiracies, pro-Kremlin narratives, fascist content, Dacian mythology, etc. Many times, they copy false narratives from US and UK alternative and fringe media.
- For at least 5-7 years, there has been a growing ‘sovereigntist’ movement (bridging nationalism and populism) that is the main drive behind disinformation, pushing mostly anti-Western narratives. The movement includes journalists and media outlets, social media influencers, politicians, and other public figures, such as religious and cultural personalities. Religion and ethnic minorities-related sensitivities are often instrumentalised to fuel anti-EU and anti-Western sentiments.
- Romania does not have a strong cultural, historical, or economic relation to Russia. There is no relevant Russian minority, Romanians do not speak Russian, there are no Russian radio or TV stations. However, a growing Russian influence has been noticeable in the last few years. The Kremlin’s intentions are not to make Russia liked or admired in Romania (because of historic wounds) but to create hostility towards the West. In Romania, Russian disinformation is efficient as it takes over autonomous narratives, being camouflaged by proxies and mobilising old communist ties and feelings of nostalgia for a period long gone. Besides, it gets spread by political parties and movements, NGOs, think tanks, religious figures, former and current journalists, influencers, and cultural personalities.
- Resilience against disinformation is very low: Romania is second to last in the EU countries on media literacy and 29th out of 38 countries examined on trust in media. A 2022 report concluded that “Romanians have internalised global conspiracist narratives (…) and erroneous information have prevailed over arguments presented by the scientific community or by authorities”. Moreover, the media lacks independence, and the political parties use their public subsidies for media coverage, hence, weakening media freedom. In this sense, an RFS report highlights that “media funding mechanisms are often opaque or even corrupt. While the largest media companies manage to be self-sufficient, most depend on external funding sources, including subsidies. Diverting public funds to the media, in a non-transparent manner, is a widespread political practice, distorting both the market and the watchdog function of the media”.
- Romanian authorities have so far failed to tackle disinformation systematically. although there is some interest, e.g., the 2020 National Defence Strategy included disinformation, but actions have yet to materialise so far. This lack of action helps internal actors to capitalise on disinformation for their political gain, using the anti-Western agenda to climb to power.
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This project is funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.