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Between scandal and accurate information

The study analyzed the manner in which several televisions covered the harsh exchange between Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca and a group of combatants of the armed conflict on the Nistru
The value of a media product depends on several factors: language, video or photo images, the manner in which the sources involved are approached, used and cited. The purpose of these factors is to help media consumers understand the general picture of the situation.
On 31 March, a group of combatants protested in front of the Chisinau City Hall. Previously, the Mayor’s Office allocated to Transnistrian refugees apartments in two apartment buildings in the Ciocana district. The City Council decided that the refugees will be able to privatize their homes only after authorities repay the loan in the amount of EUR 3.2 million contracted in 2007 from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The veterans disagreed with this decision and challenged it in court, where they won the case. The combatants were dissatisfied with the decision of the Mayor’s Office that members of the Chisinau City Council were to decide, ultimately, if people can privatize apartments without paying for them.
The demonstration, which began peacefully, ended with clashes between protesters and the law enforcement after combatants tried to make their way to the City Hall meeting room, where the weekly operative meeting was taking place. The protesters collided with the policemen ensuring the security of the institution. This moment was recorded by the journalists that were present on site. The news about the incident at the City Hall was in the top three of that night’s newscasts, accompanied by an “appropriate” title.
A headline is the first contact of the reader with the text. According to the Guidelines on Style containing Ethical Norms („Ghidului de stil cu norme etice pentru jurnalişti”), produced by the Association of Independent Press, headlines should present the information “briefly, clearly, to the point, neutrally and without nuances. Headlines should grasp the essence of the problem in several well-chosen words. … Headlines must have no ambiguities … and they must present information without exaggerations.”
The colleagues that covered the issue did not, however, take into consideration this advice.

  1. For example, the Publika TV channel announced about a “Monstrous scandal at the City Hall: Transnistrian conflict refugees and Dorin Chirtoaca making the dust fly by bickering” („Scandal monstru la primărie: refugiaţii conflictului de pe Nistru şi Dorin Chirtoacă s-au ciondănit ca la uşa cortului”).

In the final video material, the Publika TV reporter failed to cover obscenities recorded during the exchange between Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca and combatants. You can make out such words as rubbish (prostii), bug off („paşol von”), stick it („să ţi-o bag în... ”), you, twisted („râsule”). Moreover, journalists transcribed some of the obscenities even in the text of the material:
“Outraged by the protesters’ behavior, Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca tried to no avail to calm the spirits; he tried several times to talk with them and even dropped a few curses. “Bug off, you twisted,” Chirtoaca muttered between his teeth after the protesters’ leader Anatol Bazgu waved some papers.”
And to gain more dividends on account of this material, Publika TV also organized a survey at the end of the text, asking website visitors to answer the question: Who is right in the conflict between Dorin Chirtoaca and Transnistrian refugees?  

2.  The issue was also covered by the Pro TV channel. Here is the headline of the material, which also contains the link to the web page: “Thrusts and jeers at the City Hall. Exasperated, Chirtoaca SWORE at a protester” („Îmbrânceli şi huiduieli la primărie. Scos din sărite, Chirtoacă a ÎNJURAT un protestatar”).

Reporters brought to the forefront the fact that “Dorin Chirtoaca lost his temper and swore during a clash with a group of protesters, which jostled with police inside the City Hall,” and only later explained to viewers that “Transnistrian refugees had come to demand that authorities execute a court judgment without a decision of the City Council.”
Like in the previous case, journalists left uncovered some of the obscenities during the clash. For example, at the beginning of the material, at the 00:30 time mark, to be exact, one of the protesters shouted to Chisinau Mayor: “Stay to talk with the people, you bitch!” It is unclear why some obscenities were masked by a specific sound and others were not.
However, Pro TV reporters were more thorough in documenting, and in the second part of the material they explained to general understanding the actual apple of discord between the Mayor’s Office and protesters.

3. Of all broadcasters, the Jurnal TV channel used the most brutal videos. Although the headline said “Clashes and jeers at the City Hall” („Altercaţii şi huiduieli la Primărie”), the video at the beginning is discouraging: one of the protesters grabs another one by the throat, trying to strangle him.

The text of the material is full of derogatory epithets and statements, making it clear that the reporter is trying to influence the viewers’ opinion and bring sensation to the forefront: “Angry to the utmost, the veterans of the Transnistrian war railed at the capital’s Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca. To make themselves better heard, they took a loudspeaker. The mayor came out to talk with the protesters, but at some point he lost his temper.”

4. The Prime TV channel was more distant in its coverage.
However, the material under the heading “Scandal at the City Hall. A group of demonstrators called Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca to account” („Scandal la primărie. Un grup de manifestanți i-au cerut socoteală primarului Dorin Chirtoacă”) still featured the already famous words of Mayor Chirtoaca, ”bug off.” Like their colleagues from other TV channels, journalists brought to the forefront the scandal at the City Hall, and only by the end reminded that “several years ago the Mayor’s Office offered to former combatants apartments in two buildings in Chisinau.  According to the agreement signed with the European Bank, which had funded this project, the apartments cannot be privatized until the state reimburses the entire cost. Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the Mayor’s Office to grant to tenants the right to privatization.”

In conclusion:
Headlines: Reporters chose headlines that had no intention to inform the public briefly about the covered issue. “Monstrous scandal at the City Hall”, “Thrusts and jeers at the City Hall”, “Exasperated, Chirtoaca swore at a protester”. Instead, the headlines created panic among viewers and brought rating points to televisions. However, if the intention was to actually inform the public about the scandal, then reporters ignored the public interest, as the notion of public interest also includes the behavior of the government, public authorities or institutions and any other entity that uses public money or affects the interest of the community. The problem was not in the scandal, but in the fact that people want to privatize the apartments for which the Mayor’s Office borrowed money from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the public institution failed to explain to them why, from the point of view of city councilors, they cannot do it.
Language: Reporters used obscene language, which is unacceptable for a material in the media. They failed to cover the obscene words recorded during the exchange between Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca and combatants. You can make out such words as rubbish (prostii), bug off („paşol von”), stick it („să ţi-o bag în... ”), you, twisted („râsule”). Moreover, journalists transcribed some of the obscenities even in the text of the sequence. It is a worrying fact, especially since the reports can be viewed by minors.
Sourses: At first glance, all the four monitored outlets presented the parties involved in the scandal. But after watching the materials, the question arises: So what? There is no third party that would clearly explain the essence of the misunderstanding, why the Mayor’s Office insists on deciding whether to allow combatants to privatize their apartments in the situation when there is a court decision, or not. A legal adviser, a lawyer or an expert would have been appropriate. It seems that the journalists chose the easiest way: to report on a scandal and say nearly nothing about the problem that caused the dispute.
What is the consequence of the unilateral approach to the issue? Violent comments accompanying materials speak for themselves. For example, a user named Ion comments on the website of Publika TV: “If they don’t like it, they should be immediately evacuated. Those who really fought [in the war] are tending to their own business, and these impostors are only looking for something to gain”.
Another comment, by Vlada, is as follows: “Why talking about common sense and education? Our people is rubbish! You can only criticize with your bottoms on the chair! The envy is too big! Bravo, Anatolie Bizgu!”
Here is a comment on the Pro TV website, anonymously signed by “cicea”: “Chirtoaca, strike that Ciobanu in the face, make his talking machine drop from his hands… ReSpEcT for such a mayor is still on!”
The case study has been produced within the project “Promoting media literacy among Moldovan citizens”, implemented by the IJC with financial support of the U.S. Embassy in Moldova. The study does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the funder.