This case study an analysis of journalistic materials on the topic of energy published and/or broadcast by 9 media institutions from Chisinau, Tiraspol, and Comrat on September 5-13, 2022. The monitoring was focused on the aspects directly or indirectly related to gas and electricity supply, diversification of energy resources, tariffs for natural gas and electricity, price cap regulation, information and awareness-raising campaigns, and providing firewood for the population.
Monitored portals: Pervii Pridnestrovskii, Novosti Pridnestrovia, Dnestr TV, Gagauzia Radio Televizionu (GRT), Gagauzinfo.md, Nokta.md, Trm.md, Kp.md, Ziarul National
Selection criteria: coverage area – national and regional, impact – audience, language – Romanian and Russian, type of property – public and private
On September 5-13, the Pervii Pridnestrovskii portal published 4 materials (3 news items and a report) related to energy issues or indirectly referring to the topic of monitoring.
The first news item dated September 5 titled “The Price for Gas in Moldova Can Reach 29 Lei” (orig.: „Газ в Молдове может подорожать до 29 леев”) informs us that the price for gas “from our neighbors” could reach 29 lei in the winter of this year, whereas “at our neighbors, a cubic meter of gas costs 23 lei. A year ago, it was slightly over 4 lei,” presuming (suggestion) that the new government, i.e. the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), is to blame for these growing prices, as well as for the overall complicated situation in the country. The news item continues with video images referring to the actions of a group of people who held a protest in front of the Government, demanding the resignation of the executive authority. It is followed by the statement by Vlad Batrincea, deputy and member of the Party of Socialists (PSRM), who criticizes the government and speaks about the “absolute lack of any assistance to people from the governance.” The news article ends with the journalist’s “opinion”: “Nevertheless, our neighbors keep thinking about the winter and the way they could get some firewood. Those who cannot get any wood try to obtain some manure cakes, as, for example, the residents of the ATU of Gagauzia do. Recently, Gagauz people have asked Maia Sandu during her visit to Comrat how they could survive the cold when the bills for the public utility services are astronomical.” No statement by the head of state is provided, though she is directly mentioned (lack of the right of reply).
The second material titled “On Gas, Romanization, and Farmers: Maia Sandu in Gagauzia” (orig.: „О газе, румынизации, аграриях: Майя Санду в Гагаузии”) refers to Maia Sandu’s visit to Comrat on September 2. The report tends to reflect the details of the president’s meeting with the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia from a single perspective. The journalists emphasize the critical statements by the Gagauz deputies made during the meeting. In addition, the source mentions that “the ATU of Gagauzia demands assistance from Russia. They have written to Prime Minister Mishustin… meanwhile, in the ATU of Gagauzia, protests are being organized… People are dissatisfied with the prices for public utility services. Things have gone from bad to worse” (mixture of facts and opinions), and misunderstandings between Gagauzia and the Republic of Moldova are caused by the fact that the parties “speak different languages, directly and indirectly. In the ATU of Gagauzia, they speak Russian, Gagauz, and Moldovan. In the Republic of Moldova, they speak Romanian.” Besides, the newsroom uses irony, remarking that “the president of the Republic of Moldova was asked many questions. Sandu kept jotting all of them down. Even her pen broke from so much writing. She had to rummage in her bag for another pen. After a pause for her searching, the questions continued.” Pervii Pridnestrovskii resorts to a manipulation technique by quickly rewinding the video images backwards, thus presenting President Sandu in a negative way. In addition, the website discussed the agricultural issues: “…drought and poor harvest. However, that’s only half the problem. Previously, fruits and vegetables used to be exported to Russia. A few months ago, Russia instituted an embargo on their export. Farmers are losing their profit. President Sandu affirms we have to search for alternative markets” (facts mixed with opinions and highlighting specific key points – it is not Russia who is to blame for the embargo, but the Republic of Moldova because it preferred a different governance and a new vector of development). The report ends with the journalist’s conclusion: “Two hours of discussions have produced no result.”
The third material dated September 7 and titled “Candles and Makeshift Stoves: Winter in Gagauzia” (orig.: «Лампадка и буржуйка»: зима в Гагаузии) is dedicated to the same topic – “contradictory discussions between Maia Sandu and the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia.” Accusations against the president of the Republic of Moldova (made by Elena Iurcenko, a deputy of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia) stating that President Sandu “refuses to visit Moscow personally to negotiate a lower price for gas” are being repeated. Maia Sandu is not offered the right to reply. In addition, at the end of the material, the initiative of the Government of the Republic of Moldova to launch www.lemne.md, a website for publishing the information about the firewood purchase procedure, is mentioned.
In the fourth material, “What Are the Stocks of Firewood in Transnistria?” („Какие запасы дров в Приднестровье”), the media institution contrasts (suggestion technique) the situation with firewood in the Transnistrian region, where it is in abundance and will be offered to every citizen, and the difficulties faced by the citizens on the right bank of the Dniester. For instance, according to the source, “… in the Republic of Moldova, due to the growing price for gas, firewood is being massively purchased. People line up to buy it. Today, www.lemne.md website has been launched, but the truth is that village residents cannot use it, because they have no Internet connection” (facts mixed with opinions, generalization, and fake).
The energy issue was largely left off the agenda of the Novosti Pridnestrovia, the official news agency of the self-proclaimed authorities of the Transnistrian region. During this period of time, the media institution published 4 materials about blackouts in several localities on the left bank of the Dniester (examples: 1, 2, etc.) and the speech by Vadim Krasnoselski, the head of Transnistria, the occasion of the Day of Gas System Workers.
|In addition to the mentioned news, Novosti Pridnestrovia published an opinion-based article by Vladimir Dmitriev in the “Analytics” section titled “The Governance of the Republic of Moldova Brings the Country to Dung Brick Fuel” („Власти Молдовы довели страну до кизяка”). In the article, the author refers to hardly identifiable sources: “Moldovan Telegram channels have already described it [Lemne.md website] as an attempt to digitize energy poverty. Meanwhile, in the countryside, people stock up not only with firewood, but also with dung brick fuel which was used in the pre-industrial era for heating stoves” (orig. „Молдавские телеграм-каналы уже назвали это «попыткой оцифровать энергетическую нищету». В селах Молдовы тем временем заготавливают на зиму не только дрова, но и кизяк – им топили печи сельских домов еще в доиндустриальную эпоху”). Another example follows: “The experts close to the governance call Transnistria ‘the best asset’ in the negotiations with Moscow regarding the gas issue” (orig. „Близкие к власти эксперты называют Приднестровье «козырем» на переговорах с Москвой по газу”). The author also resorts to tendentious and fake subheadings: “Moldova Has Lost Its Sovereignty” (orig. „Молдова потеряла суверенитет”).
Dnestr TV channel published 5 materials on the subject of monitoring on September 5-13: 4 news items and a report. In the first news article dated September 5, “The Republic of Moldova Considers Signing a Long-Term Contract with Azerbaijan” (orig.: „Молдова обдумывает долгосрочный газовый контракт с Азербайджаном”), Dnestr TV mentions the statement by Andrei Spinu, Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development, according to whom, the Republic of Moldova is currently analyzing the possibility of signing a long-term gas supply agreement with Azerbaijan and simultaneously considers diversifying its energy resources. The second part of the news includes a statement by Vadim Ceban, Moldovagaz President, during a broadcast on Realitatea TV channel, where he discusses the tariffs for gas imported from Russia, the formula for calculating that tariff, and the eventual prices for gas for household consumers in October.
The second news article dated September 8, “The President of Moldovagaz Will Negotiate with Gazprom in Moscow” (orig.: Глава Молдовагаз отправится в Москву для переговоров с Газпромом”) mentions Vadim Ceban’s visit to Moscow scheduled for next week in order to meet with Gazprom representatives and to negotiate about eventually amending the gas sales agreement for the Republic of Moldova. The third news dated September 12 is titled “The Government of the Republic of Moldova Prepares for Gas Supply Disconnection: Which Measures Are Planned” (orig. Правительство Молдовы готовится к приостановке поставок газа: какие меры планируются): Dnestr TV borrows the information published by Mold-Street.com and lists the 11 steps to be taken if gas supply is stopped, according to Andrei Spinu. The fourth news item dated September 13 also refers to him as the source, stating that he “doubts the continuation of relations with Gazprom” (orig.: „…сомневается в продолжении отношений с „Газпромом”) (facts mixed with opinions). The content of this news was borrowed from Point.md, and the main source is mentioned.
In the last material dated September 13, Dnestr TV compiles declarations and information from several sources. The institution quotes President Maia Sandu’s statements made during a broadcast on TV8, in which the official mentions the possibility that the Republic of Moldova could purchase gas from Romania. According to her, the Transnistrian region could receive gas from across the Prut only if it pays for it. The head of state also mentions the relations with Gazprom, the new formula for establishing the tariff for gas, and eventually re-negotiating the contract with Russia.
It was followed by the statement made on Telegram by Alexei Pushkov, a Russian senator. According to him, Maia Sandu should address the USA and Romania instead of Russia to obtain gas (from Russian: “Sandu can’t pay – she won’t be able to buy gas. She might as well buy liquefied molecules of freedom from the USA or ask for gas from her native Romania”). Another quote is by Vasile Tarlev, who suggested during a broadcast on NTV Moldova that the Republic of Moldova could extract its own oil and gas in the southern region of the country, but “there simply has to be an owner, and investments are required.”
Gagauzia Radio Televizionu (GRT)
On September 5-13, the official portal of the public company of the ATU of Gagauzia broadcast 8 materials on the energy issues. The first two dated September 5 and 6 are part of the column titled “How to Survive the Approaching Winter” (orig.: „Как пережить зиму”). The journalists from GRT tried to figure out the problems related to heating the elderly population in the region was facing. Also on September 6, GRT broadcast a report titled “Harsh Reality” (orig.: „Суровая реальность”) about retired people and ordinary residents of the region preparing for the coming winter. The report is mostly balanced and contains no deontological breaches. The only aspect that raises questions is the subtitle, “To Starve or to Freeze, That Is the Question” (orig.: „Голод или холод: вот в чём вопрос?”), which approaches mixing facts with opinions.
Other reports on the topic of monitoring were about installing a photovoltaic panel station in Dezghingea Village (September 7); launching Lemne.md online platform by the Government of the Republic of Moldova and supply of firewood to the population (September 8); Comrat local authorities trying to solve the issue of the lack of firewood for the population (September 9); the campaign launched by the Government of the country to urge its citizens to save energy and heat in winter (September 9); an emergency meeting convened by the “Council of Elderly People of the ATU of Gagauzia” where they expressed their concern about the issues the residents of the region were facing, including those related to energy (September 12).
In one of the reports, President Maia Sandu was mentioned in the context of her visit to Comrat on September 2. One of the sources says that “the population of the ATU of Gagauzia did not hear any necessary answers to the questions about preparing for winter from the president… All the replies were merely formal” (orig.: „Население Гагаузии не получило ответов от президента на вопросы по подготовке к зимнему периоду… Все ответы несли чисто формальный характер”). The GRT journalists were supposed to address the president and/or the Presidency and to offer them the right of reply, which they failed to do.
In most of the materials published by GRT, a slightly biased approach could be seen in the way the central authorities are presented (usually in a slightly negative manner) and the local authorities (usually positively or neutrally). For instance, whereas the local authorities keep “trying to solve the issue of the lack of firewood for the population” (orig.: „пытаются решить проблему нехватки дров для населения”), the national ones tell us that “we should do our best to save in the coming winter” (orig.: „этой зимой мы должны сделать все возможное, чтобы экономить”); this message is accompanied by a poll in which all the citizens interviewed blame and criticize the central authorities.
On September 5-13, the Gagauzinfo.md portal published 25 materials on the topic of monitoring. They addressed such issues as the difficulties that may arise from gas outages, diversification of gas purchases (Azerbaijan), increasing tariffs and exaggerated tariffs, launching an online portal for purchasing firewood, who will suffer the most from growing gas prices, etc. In most cases, the information was borrowed from other media sources.
One of the news articles refers to the opinions of a deputy from the Russian Duma who affirms that, in Russia, the price for gas is much lower, and that “for the coming winter, Russia will be provided with heat and electricity because it has sufficient gas reserves, unlike Europe” (orig.: „Россия зимой гарантированно будет обеспечена теплом и светом, поскольку у нее достаточно запасов газа, в отличие от Европы”). Some news articles present the events happening in Europe or the EU member states negatively. For instance, “Due to the energy crisis, in Romania, prices for firewood have increased by 40%” (orig.: „В Румынии на фоне энергетического кризиса цены на дрова выросли на 40%”). Gagauzinfo.md journalists try to contrast Russia (presented positively) and Europe/Romania (presented negatively).
In the portal’s own news, Elena Iurcenko, deputy of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, is referred to as one of the main sources who criticizes, subtly or directly, the governance in Chisinau and presents the local government in a positive context (ex. 1, 2). Thus, the editorial board selects the sources in a tendentious manner.
In the news article titled “In the Republic of Moldova, Partial Power Outages up to a Complete Blackout Are Possible” (orig. „В Молдове возможны перебои с электричеством вплоть до полного блэкаута”), the portal also mentions blackouts in the Ukrainian regions of Sumy, Dnepropetrovsk, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Poltava, without specifying the reason of these blackouts (blurring information): as a result of Russia’s attack against power plants, large-scale blackouts were taking place across the country.
In one of the news items, Andrei Vedutenco, the press secretary of the head of Gagauzia, claims that Irina Vlah is the target of the central authorities’ campaign aimed at denigrating her, directly accusing Vladislav Kulminski, the ex-deputy prime minister of reintegration and ex-presidential adviser, of arranging it. Neither Kulminski nor the central authorities were given the right to reply. The same thing can be said about another news article in which Irina Vlah blames Maia Sandu and PAS for the lack of political will to negotiate the gas price in Moscow: “As to the problems in the energy sector and growing prices for gas, Irina Vlah has repeatedly affirmed that the Moldovan authorities lack the political will to negotiate with the partners and to protect Moldovan citizens’ interests” (orig.: „Что касается проблем в энергетическом секторе и неподъемных цен на газ, Ирина Влах неоднократно заявляла, что у властей Молдовы нет политической воли, чтобы пойти на переговоры с партнерами и защитить интересы граждан Молдовы”). In the same article, the newsroom resorts to mixing facts with opinions: “As to Maia Sandu’s scandalous meeting with the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Vlah remarks that the participants of the discussion with the president were outraged by the fact that the gas issues remained unsolved” (orig.: „Говоря о скандальной встрече Майи Санду с депутатами Народного собрания, Влах отметила, что участников дискуссии с президентом возмутило то, что не решается проблема с газом”).
The Nokta.md portal published 20 materials on the topic of monitoring, covering various aspects of the energy issues, from the planned audit at Moldovagaz and launching the national campaign for responsible energy (electricity, heat, and fuel) consumption to the fact that the Government launched a hotline where information about purchasing firewood could be obtained and the possibility for the Republic of Moldova to purchase gas from Azerbaijan. A large part of the materials was borrowed from the other sources from Chisinau; some of them also include certain data about the general context of the issue under discussion.
Nokta.md news articles were complex and referred to a number of sources. The newsroom presented the information in a neutral and objective way without any deontological breaches. In addition, the editorial board provided diverse content on the topic: news articles, reports, anti-fake news materials, and analytical articles in which the newsroom journalists tried to explain why the price for gas in the world is decreasing.
The Trm.md website published 24 news articles on the topic of monitoring; 4 of them were about fuel price fluctuations approved by the National Agency for Energy Regulation (NAER). Other articles cover the possibility of the Republic of Moldova signing an agreement with Azerbaijan; events that could happen if Gazprom suspended gas supply; what the real tariffs for gas should be, how the formula for calculating such tariffs is developed, and when the new natural gas tariff could be approved (all the explanations were provided by Vadim Ceban, President of Moldovagaz).
A series of news articles were dedicated to firewood: where it could be purchased, where it could be imported from if the Republic of Moldova runs out of stocks; the green line launched by the Government for informational support; Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita’s statement about the green line; extending the firewood sales limit.
The sources quoted most often directly or indirectly were the officials, including Andrei Spinu, Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development (in 6 news articles); Vadim Ceban, President of Moldovagaz (in 3 news articles), and Natalia Gavrilita, Prime Minister (in 3 news articles). Whereas other monitored media institutions emphasized the negative aspects of the topic, the news published by Trm.md were mostly positive and avoided sensitive aspects, such as the way growing tariffs for gas could affect citizens.
On September 5-13, the Komsomolskaia Pravda portal published 24 materials on the topic of monitoring, 4 of which touched upon the issue of fuel price fluctuations. The other ones cover such issues as the green line launched by the Government for providing informational support regarding firewood, eventual negotiations with Gazprom for a new gas supply agreement, the beginning of the heating season, the institutions to be connected first, etc. The editorial board insisted on the news items about growing prices for fuels and a possible increase in the price for natural gas. Almost every second material published by Kp.md includes deontological breaches: the most frequent of them are irony and facts mixed with opinions.
Irony could be noticed in many materials on the news portal: “A Phone Number for Firewood: Now You Can Use a ‘Hotline’ to Hear about Fuel Reserves for Stoves in the Republic of Moldova” (orig.: „Телефон на дрова: Теперь о запасах топлива для печек в Молдове можно узнать по «горячей» линии”); “Ceban Travels to Moscow to Save Moldova from the Cold Winter: Moldovagaz Management Goes to Negotiations with Gazprom” (orig.: „Чебан летит в Москву спасать Молдову от холодной зимы: Руководство Молдовагаз едет на переговоры с Газпромом”); “It Turns out That, in the Republic of Moldova, We Had Low Prices All the Time, and Inflation Grows Only Because of Them, According to the NBM Governor” (orig.: „Оказывается, в Молдове все это время были низкие цены: именно из-за них растет инфляция – мнение президента Нацбанка”); “Bad Luck Again: Termoelectrica in Chisinau Has Enough Fuel Oil until December – After That, Manure Cake Is All That’s Left” (orig. „И тут облом: Мазута на Термоэлектрике в Кишиневе хватит до декабря, дальше – сплошной кизяк”).
In additions, multiple cases of mixing facts with opinions have been identified: “Possibly, [Vadim Ceban – author’s note] could negotiate a better price for our country or improve the situation in terms of payment provisions and audit for the company” (orig.: „Возможно, ему удастся договориться о более приемлемой цене на газ для нашей страны или улучшить ситуацию по срокам платежей и по аудиту); “Alas, Moldova does not manufacture automobiles working on dung cakes: on weekends, we will pay for fuel by only 20 bani per liter less” (orig. „Эх, и почему не выпускают в Молдове автомобили на кизяке: В выходные тратим на топливо на АЗС всего на 20 бануц меньше за литр”).
Kp.md also resorts to suggestions such as that, in the Republic of Moldova, the situation is very complicated, even worse than in the Soviet times: “This is a new inflation record since 1999, as if the country were living in times after the recent collapse of the USSR, and it had not happened 30 years ago” (orig. „Это новый инфляционный рекорд с 1999 года. То есть страна сейчас живет в состоянии, будто СССР развалился не 30 лет назад, а совсем недавно”).
In several materials, Kp.md distorts the statements made by some officials, publishing the journalists’ own interpretations and presenting them as statements by the sources: “Moldovagaz President: That’s Enough, Comfort Is Over: We Won’t Walk around the House in Our Underwear – in the Apartments of the Residents of Moldova, Temperature Won’t Reach 23 Degrees This Winter!” (orig.: „Глава Молдовагаз: Все, с комфортом покончено, в трусах не походишь – 23 градусов тепла в квартирах жителей Молдовы зимой уже не будет!”).
At the same time, Kp.md favors Chisinau municipal authorities, presenting them positively: “Chisinau Is Getting Ready for the Winter: Will It Be Warm in the Apartments? The Mayor’s Office Is Solving Pressing Problems” (orig. „Кишинев готовится к зиме: Будет ли тепло в столичных квартирах, – мэрия решает насущные вопросы”). At the same time, the central authorities were ridiculed and discussed in a negative context: “The Parliament, the Government, and the Presidency Will Be the First Buildings to Benefit from Heating: the Governance Shall Not Be Freezing!” (orig.: „В парламент, правительство и президентуру Молдовы дадут тепло в числе первых – власть не должна мерзнуть!).
Besides, Kp.md manipulates not only by means of tendentious and ironic titles, but also by using images intended for spreading panic and/or presenting certain situations ironically instead of informing: “If You Have Frozen Vegetables for the Winter, Pray for Electricity Not to Be Disconnected” (orig.: „Если заморозил на зиму овощи, молись, чтобы не отключили свет”).
Ziarulnational.md published 21 news items mentioning the topic of monitoring; two of them were about the increase or decrease in fuel and gas tariffs, based on the decisions adopted by the NAER, and one referred to the 30% increase in gas prices in Europe.
In its materials, the portal also covered the aspects related to the new tariff for natural gas presented by the president of Moldovagaz; capping the price for natural gas in the European Union; the possibility for the Republic of Moldova to purchase natural gas from Azerbaijan; the support offered to the Republic of Moldova by the EU and the development partners in the sphere of energy efficiency, etc.
Three news items touched upon the topic of firewood for the winter and providing the population with it, and in several other materials, the newsroom highlighted success stories of several persons who had applied for and implemented projects for diversifying energy sources.
Most of the news items on the website were based on a single source, and for many of them, the country’s central authorities (Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita, Minister Andrei Spinu, and President of Moldovagaz Vadim Ceban) were the main sources. The newsroom resorts to sensationalism in a number of headlines: “The Head of Moldovagaz WARNS…,” “Putin’s Plan to Make Europe Freeze Its Tail FAILS…,” “A FLAGRANT Mistake behind Prices for Gas, Including in the Republic of Moldova”; “Putin FEARS the EU Might Cap Oil Export Prices and Resorts to THREATS.” Besides, in several cases, Ziarulnational.md uses mixtures of facts and opinions: “The Head of Moldovagaz WARNS that Gazprom has every right to SUSPEND gas supply from October 1. Coincidence or not, exactly from October, the price for gas, according to the agreement, is supposed to DECREASE”; “Putin’s plan to make Europe freeze its tail FAILS. The price for gas has fallen below 2 000 Euros per thousand cubic meters and keeps decreasing.” In some cases, the authors refer to unverifiable sources: “Some analysts expect the prices to remain high…”
- All the 9 media institutions published the news on the topic of energy.
- The media from the Transnistrian region (Dnestr TV least of all) and the ATU of Gagauzia (except Nokta.md) took advantage of the topic to attack and to discredit the central authorities, whereas the public media institution from Chisinau tried to present the central authorities positively.
- The portal of the national public TV channel (Trm.md) avoided covering sensitive aspects of the topic of monitoring.
- Almost all the monitored media institutions committed deontological breaches (except Nokta.md and Trm.md). Most often, these were mixtures of facts and opinions, the lack of the right to reply, irony, and suggestions.
- While covering the topic, some media institutions emphasized sensationalism (Ziarulnational.md) or resorted to irony (Kp.md).
- Both the media from the Transnistrian region and from Gagauzia (except Nokta.md) presented the local authorities positively.
- A certain synchronization of the contents published by certain media institutions from Comrat and Tiraspol was noticeable. For instance, the negative news about the central authorities published by several portals from Comrat were immediately borrowed and extended by the websites from Tiraspol.