A suicide, a fake interview and protests


Last week, one of the most known Romanian singers died. Even since very soon after her death, all the information was pointing to a suicide, fact that was heavily exploited by the press, that went so far as even presenting the substance she used (as a random fact: at least 5 more people tried to kill themselves the same way since than, in less than a week’ s span). Excepting the bad taste that remains in one’s mouth after seeing how the pain of a family is exploited in commercial / rating/ traffic purposes, one fact detached from all the others: a fake interview.

Romanian press isn’t perfect, nor even close to it, especially when the country tries to keep her head over the water and manage to somewhat survive the deepest financial crisis since forever. Afraid not to be confronted with massive redundancies similar to the one that affected U.S. press industry or to have the same faith as their fired (“restructured”) colleagues, the journalists are grabbing any piece of sensational information to fulfill their chiefs and their chiefs’ chiefs desires and secure their jobs, even if doing that doesn’t match with their conscience or ethic beliefs. After all, the conscience and ethics aren’t paying the bills, are they?

That is to make clear one fact: most journalists don’t like breaking this kind of news or calling different people to find out what they say about a dead colleague or even being the ones to announce them the sad news. Most journalist will prefer a common sense obituary and maybe a small announcement regarding the memorial service …but that is all, they don’t want to run with the crowd, climb on crosses and tombs in cemeteries to see better and write who was crying and who wasn’t or who was wearing what at a funeral. Still, most journalists can’t afford the luxury of refusing to do what they are asked only on grounds of conscience and ethics.

In this context and while Romania was affected by serious floods and problems, a Romanian singer decided to end her life exactly on her birthday. There was a whole media circus, very suited to the old Roman slogan  “Panem et Circensus” and perfect to distract peoples attention.

The one thing that singled out of all this black comedy was an interview, invented by someone at the Romanian state news agency, published one day before the musician died and republished, after the event, by the deputy general director of the agency.

The fake interview was discovered by Paginademedia.ro, site that belongs to the media specialized journalist Petrisor Obae.  He discovered the interview was, in fact, a compilation of information extracted from musician’s blog and old statements. More than that, Paginademedia.ro also reveals, quoting Agerpres’ insiders, that the fake interview wasn’t just a singular case, but “business as usual”.

Probably the material would have gone unnoticed if the musician wouldn’t have killed herself, who knows? Maybe she would of seen it and decided to let it run because it put together, in fact, words that she said or wrote on her blog and meant advertising, a good way to promote her new album.

A derailment like that from journalistic standards would have been expected by many if it would’ve come from a tabloid, the kind of publication that is used to dig everyone’s dirt to find out facts that can feed the sick curiosity of the public they educated this way. But not from the State run press agency.

The reaction to Agerpres’ fake interview came fast from Romanian media associations, some of them acting in the first phase on social networks as Facebook.

The official complains were formulated soon after by Romanian Center for Independent Journalism (CJI), ActiveWatch Romania, Media Organizations Convention (COM) and Publicmedia. They asked the Culture, Arts and Mass-Media Commissions in Romanian Parliament, both from Senate and Deputy Chamber, to take position towards Agerpres, blamed for disrespecting the mass-media law, and to decide the proper sanctions.

After mentioning what articles of Agerpres functioning law were violated with the publishing of the fake interview, the associations mentioned, in open letters sent to the Parliament’s lower and upper chambers, that the violated  articles refer to basic functioning principles of mass-media and “the fact that the infringement of those principles was made by or with the approval of some high positioned people in Agerpres’ hierarchy puts a question mark over the way Agerpres is fulfilling its public mission”.