This case study is an analysis of the news published by 12 informational portals from the Republic of Moldova on September 1-20, 2022, in the context of President Maia Sandu’s working visit to Comrat. The head of state visited Gagauzia on September 2, but the reactions continued even in the second half of the month.
Monitoring period: September 1-20, 2022
Subject of the study: news about President Maia Sandu’s visit to the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia on September 2, 2022, and reactions of the officials from Comrat and Chisinau regarding the event
Portals monitored: Kp.md, Aif.md, Vedomosti.md, Tv8.md, Newsmaker.md, Unimedia.info, Nokta.md, Gagauzinfo.md, Gagauzvedomosti.md, Actualitati.md, A-tv.md, and Ntv.md
Selection criteria: coverage area – national and regional, impact – audience, language – Romanian and Russian, type of property – public and private
The Russian-language portal of the Komsomolskaia Pravda newspaper published four journalistic materials about the visit of the head of state to Gagauzia. In the morning of September 2, Kp.md published the schedule of her official visit to Comrat, emphasizing that it was only the second visit to the autonomous territory during the president’s mandate. The portal makes an ironic comment in the news that Maia Sandu was not planning to meet with Irina Vlah, the head of the territory, and the common people: “We don’t see any meetings with common people and Ms. Vlah, the head of the territory, but it’s not surprising” (orig.: «Не видим встреч с простыми людьми и башканом Гагаузии Влах, но тут как раз без сюрпризов»). Thus, Kp.md does not separate facts from opinions, contrary to the provisions of the Deontological Code of Journalists of the Republic of Moldova.
On the second day, the portal published a news item about the president’s meeting with the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, referring only to a deputy’s statement about the price for the Russian gas and the eventual energy crisis. In the headline, Kp.md claims that “Sandu Has Not Even Realized Why Candles and Makeshift Stoves Are What Expects Us” (orig.: «Санду даже не поняла, почему впереди у нас лампадка и буржуйка»). It is subsequently mentioned in the text that the politicians had a heated debate and did not speak the same language. It should be noted that the publication includes the president’s reply, but does not provide any information about the other issues discussed during the meeting.
On September 4, Kp.md published a critical analysis of the president’s visit to Gagauzia by the journalist Dumitru Ciubasenco from his Facebook page, referring to the source. The text is entitled “Maia Sandu’s Gagauz Fiasco: Why the Visit of the President of Moldova to the South Has Become a Major Political Failure and a National Scandal” (orig.: «Гагаузское фиаско Санду: Почему поездка президента Молдовы на юг стала крупным политическим провалом и национальным скандалом»). In the text, the publication includes a meme from its Telegram channel. On a photograph of Sigmund Freud and a female patient, the following lines can be seen.
“What did you say to the Gagauz people?”
“They should learn Russian.”
The meme is actually inappropriate for an informative news item; it does not reflect the content of the text and deliberately misinterprets the facts.
On September 6, Kp.md publishes an opinion-based material in the “Politics” column without properly separating it from the fact-based ones; its author expresses her opinion about women’s competences to act as heads of a country in general and the relations between Maia Sandu and Irina Vlah in particular. The journalist resorts to misogynistic remarks, as well as generalizations without any fact-based support, including such phrases as “many countries headed by women behave aggressively,” “the stereotype saying that women are more empathetic and gentle than men is not true; women are meaner, more insensitive, and hard-hearted than men.”
On September 6, Argumenti i Fakti, a Russian-language portal, published a journalistic material about the president’s visit to the autonomous region, in which it covers Maia Sandu’s meeting with Comrat State University students, the closed-door discussions with Dmitri Constantinov, President of the People’s Assembly, and Irina Vlah, the head of the territory, and the heated discussions with the deputies from the People’s Assembly. The author emphasizes that the agenda of the head of state did not provide for a separate meeting with Irina Vlah – according to the title, it was a “Visit Not for Everyone” (orig.: Визит не для всех), and the visit is basically described as a failure. Journalist Dumitru Ciubasenco, ex-deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Muravschi, and ex-deputy Zurab Todua who harshly criticize the president’s visit to Comrat are quoted. The text is not balanced with any alternative opinions.
The Deontological Code for Journalists stipulates that media institutions administering web pages shall not allow or accept, even from the public, in their reactions (comments), any breaches of legal or ethical standards. One of the two comments to the article about the president’s visit to Comrat includes uncensored offensive words towards the head of state, yet it is not moderated by the newsroom.
On September 16, Aif.md published a news item about Grigorii Dulgher, the People’s Assembly deputy, detained at Chisinau Airport. The author suggests that this detention was due to the deputy’s criticism against President Maia Sandu during her visit to Comrat, in spite of the fact that the Border Police declared that Dulgher was detained for additional checkup of his documents. The news article contains a reader’s comment mentioning that “democracy is over, one can’t say a single word against the government (…), in a word, it’s a fascist state.” This comment is not moderated by the newsroom.
On September 2, Vedomosti.md, a Russian-language portal, published a journalistic material emphasizing President Maia Sandu’s statements regarding the eventual energy crisis and outlining that the state has limited financial resources for recompensing for natural gas consumption. In the second part of the text, the portal quotes only Ivan Dimitroglo, a deputy of the People’s Assembly, who criticizes the activity of the head of state during the meeting with the elected local officials and expresses his dissatisfaction with the president’s replies.
On September 3, the portal published a large text about the president’s visit to Comrat, entitled “Candles and Makeshift Stoves Are What Expects Us.” In Gagauzia, Maia Sandu Was Urged to Start Negotiating about Natural Gas with Russia” (orig.: «Впереди у нас лампадка и буржуйка». В Гагаузии Майю Санду призвали начать переговоры с Россией по газу). The author refers to the president’s statements during her visit to Comrat and the day before it, which he comments upon in an ironic manner, emphasizing that Maia Sandu and the ministers could not provide any coherent statements. After that, the author published an extensive statement (approximately 500 words) made by Irina Vlah about the president’s visit to Comrat. At the end of the material, the author tries to find out why no separate meeting with the head of the territory was included in the agenda of the visit. The journalist does not provide any clear distinction between facts and opinions, contrary to the rules of the Deontological Code for Journalists: “The president’s ‘honesty’ failed to impress the deputies” or “They even keep telling us lies about the political aspects of the contract with Gazprom.” A comment on this article includes offensive words referring to the president and the current administration. The comment was not moderated by the newsroom.
On September 6, Vedomosti.md published an opinion-based material in the “Politics” column without properly separating it from the fact-based ones; its author analyzes and comments on the post-visit statements made by several politicians from Chisinau. The journalist also refers to the statements which “sound as if they were made by a local lunatic” (orig.: в стиле городской сумасшедшей) made by ex-deputy Ana Gutu whom he accuses of extremism and unionism. In this context, the journalist also mentions the statement deputy Vasile Soimaru made on August 31 for Jurnal.md: “People from the two regions did not think in the same way they do today, before the idea of stopping the unionist movement was put into their mouths. (…) We could have ceded the Transnistrian region to Ukraine, demanding for the historical Bessarabia and Bucovina as far as Chernivtsi instead.” The author does not inform us that this statement was not related to the president’s visit to Comrat, and subsequently suggests that it was an official statement from the Party of Action and Solidarity.
The portal of the TV8 channel published six news items about the president’s visit to the region of Gagauzia. On September 1, Tv8.md announced that Maia Sandu was planning to pay a working visit to Comrat, quoting “the press from the region.” The next morning, the portal wrote that the head of state had several scheduled meetings, including the one with the heads of the People’s Assembly and the mayors from the autonomy, “however, it is not known for sure whether Maia Sandu will have a meeting with the head of Gagauzia.” This time, Tv8.md referred to another media institution (Gagauzinfo.md portal) instead of any official sources, such as the Presidency’s press service. The Deontological Code stipulates that a journalist shall publish only the information which he considers to be true after checking it. In this case, the portal could have checked the information using the official sources without relying on their colleagues’ assumptions.
In the following hours, Tv8.md published the news about the president’s speech to the students of Comrat State University and about Maia Sandu’s meeting with Irina Vlah, the head of the territory, in front of the building of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia. On September 3, the portal published Irina Vlah’s opinion of the visit paid by the head of state to Comrat and a detailed article about the “meeting where the sparks were about to fly” held by the head of state with the deputies from Gagauzia who “got into a rage” over the prices for gas.
On September 1, the day before the visit of the head of state to Comrat, the Russian-language portal Newsmaker.md published a well-balanced analytical material about the expectations related to the president’s official visit to Gagauzia. The day after, in addition to the current news, the portal published a detailed report by the Newsmaker.md special reporter in Comrat, which provides a step-by-step description of the key events during Maia Sandu’s official visit to Gagauzia. On Facebook, the text is accompanied by a number of comments, some of which contain offensive and uncensored expressions referring to the president. The comments are not moderated by the newsroom, though the Deontological Code stipulates that media institutions managing their web pages and pages on social networks shall not make or accept any breaches of legal or ethical standards from the audience, in their reactions (comments).
Unimedia.info presented the series of events in Comrat in seven articles published on September 2-3. The portal prepared a separate news item based on a short Facebook post by the ex-prime minister Ion Chicu, who has recently been omnipresent on Unimedia.info. The news article is actively commented on by the website’s audience. The portal emphasizes that, “according to the legislation, we have to censor comments which incite hatred, are aimed to attack a person, or contain abusive language. We encourage you to stay decent during discussions!” In spite of that, comments on Unimedia.info news include ad hominem attacks, abusive words, and xenophobic messages. For instance, the head of state is referred to as the “mascot of pedophiles overseas,” while Irina Vlah is called a “12-faced weakling, a Kremlin agent.” Gagauz people are often named racists or fascists. The comments are not moderated by the newsroom.
Nokta.md, Gagauzinfo.md, and Gagauzvedomosti.md
Nokta.md, a Russian-language portal based in Comrat, reflected the official visit of President Sandu to Gagauzia objectively and accurately in more than ten news items. Gagauzinfo.md, in its turn, published over 20 news articles on this topic, including two critical comments regarding the president, one borrowed from eNews.md, and another one from the journalist Dumitru Ciubasenco’s Facebook page. As to Gagauzvedomosti.md, it did not separate facts from opinions in the news articles, contrary to the provisions of the Deontological Code of Journalists, referring to the deputies from the People’s Assembly who attacked the president as to “hawks of war” (orig.: ястребами войны).
Such portals as Actualitati.md, A-tv.md, and Ntv.md, affiliated with the Socialist Party did not cover the official visit of the head of state to Gagauzia.
- Most monitored media institutions announced the event discussed in this case study on September 1 and published the news during the two subsequent days. The analytical and opinion-based materials on this topic were published on September 4-10. Among other things, the press kept mentioning the visit of the head of state to Comrat in the news articles published until September 20.
- Four portals (Aif.md, Vedomosti.md, Newsmaker.md, and Unimedia.info) did not moderate any xenophobic, discriminatory, or abusive comments from their audience, contrary to the provisions of the Deontological Code of Journalists. According to the document, “media institutions managing their web pages and pages on social networks shall not make or accept any breaches of legal or ethical standards from the audience, in their reactions (comments).”
- Five monitored news websites (Kp.md, Aif.md, Vedomosti.md, Gagauzinfo.md, and Gagauzvedomosti.md) covered the visit of the head of state to Comrat in a somewhat unbalanced manner by highlighting critical opinions and ironic comments against Maia Sandu (or, in some cases, against the members of the People’s Assembly and the head of the territory Irina Vlah). The texts were not balanced with any alternative opinions.
- Four portals (Kp.md, Aif.md, Vedomosti.md, and Gagauzvedomosti.md) failed to separate facts from opinions in several journalistic materials, distorted the facts intentionally, and took certain statements out of context, thus breaching the provisions of the Deontological Code of Journalists.
- Three of the 12 monitored portals (Actualitati.md, A-tv.md, and Ntv.md) did not cover the official visit of the head of state to Gagauzia.