Since 2009, the media consumer is a Sloshed Citizen*. The new post-communist era brought along pro-European alliances, a wave of new televisions, news portals and other media institutions and the society became significantly more informationalized. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer media institution owners and their interests become increasingly greater. How do we become aware of being manipulated?
During election campaigns, it is relatively simple - a visual research and a quick counting of images with politicians wearing white shirts, surrounded by children, help us get an idea. The more complicated part comes after, when backstage agreements and hidden interests make “friendships” and alliances improbable. Although, there are some indicators that help us understand when the authors of journalistic texts aim at manipulating us. For greater efficiency, we will focus only on national Romanian language press, leaving the foreign press and the one in Russian for the next article.
Of all parts of speech, the smallest ones are most often ignored. Being frequently made of two or three letters, the prepositions and the definite articles are sometimes decisive and for a good reason. In the middle of July, in total obscurity concerning the election of the new government by the MPs, many press institutions referred to the deadline for the election of the new government in a manner at least curious:
“The government must be invested until September 12, i.e. three months after the resignation of Gaburici Government” (Unimedia.info, July 15, 2015).
“PUBLIKA.MD reminds that the new government must be invested until September 12, i.e. three months after the resignation of Gaburici Government” (Publika.md, July 20, 2015).
However, it would have been normal for journalists to use the expression “within three months”, which would have reinforced and pointed out the deadline, not “after three months”, expression that says exactly the opposite, thus reducing the importance of the September 12 deadline, especially since August was going to be a free month for MPs and the possibility of early elections was becoming increasingly real.
Sometimes, a noun's definite article can change not only the meaning of the news piece, but also the information perceived by the public. For instance, Publika presented as a fact the news about Sergiu Mocanu’s statements on alleged relationships between Jurnal TV, DA and Antifa organizations:
“Sergiu Mocanu, the leader of “People's Movement “Antimafie” disclosed the connections between “Demnitate si Adevar” Platform, Jurnal TV and the extremist group “Antifa” (Publika.md, August 7, 2015). Using the definite article with the noun “connections”, the authors announce the existence of such as being certain and the reader is invited to watch the news in order to find out what kind of connections these are. The promise is reinforced by the word “disclosed” from the news headline. However, the reader is disappointed because there is nothing more but Mocanu’s personal opinions in the news article. (I do not separate the Platform “DA” from Jurnal TV, because these are a single unit. I cannot separate the ardor they showed to support Petrenco’s actions”).
Thus, the “disclosed” information were not proved, this being nothing but a trick used to attract the public’s attention and, partially, to “fabricate” the news piece, while the “connections” should have been replaced either with “the alleged connections” - which would have maintained the stylistic unity, the adjective obtaining the definite article - or with “certain connections”, without any article.
The lack of the definite article, when it is necessary, can be as deceiving. The manipulating effect of the same news on Realitatea.md is confirmed by the formulation chosen for the inscription under the photo used for the article: “Valeriu Strelet, Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova”. The emphasis is on the politician’s name, while there is no article accompanying the noun “Prime Minister”. Thus, the attention is shifted from the administrative function of Valeriu Strelet to his personality. For comparison, here is a similar piece of news that uses an alternative formulation: “Moldova has a new government”. The liberal - democrat Valeriu Strelet is the new Prime Minister, voted today by the Parliament.” (ProTV, July 30, 2015). The emphasized expression is “the new Prime Minister”, where the adjective “the new” is accompanied by a definite article, thus, drawing the attention and becoming the novel element of the news.
* The Sloshed Citizen is a character from Ion Luca Caragiale’s ”Lost Letter” comedy.
The Sloshed Citizen is that common person, whose simple doubts, but full of good-sense, reflect the disillusionment and the confusion of common people towards the infamy of electoral processes, the false and elusory democracy, orchestrated in reality.
Cristina MOGILDEA – LEVA,
Head of Publications and Research Department, IJC
This material is published within the project "Freedom of expression and media development in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and South Caucasus", implemented by CIJ during the period May-September 2015, supported by Deutsche Welle Akademie and financed by German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The opinions expressed in this material belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the financer’s opinion.