The Black Hole of Romania


Twenty years ago, during the first, raw years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the world was a vastly different place. The “Iron Curtain” had fallen and a dozen countries (including Romania) were now free to follow their own path. A German musical band was singing about the winds of change and millions of people were speaking in hopeful terms about a peace dividend. With the long and awful “Cold War” over, perhaps the world was becoming a better place.

On a blustery and cold spring day all those years ago, I found myself deep in the archives of the library at the University of [REDACTED], one of the largest collections of monographs (books), journals and documents on the east coast of the United States. Diligently searching through the primitive (even for those days) computer catalog, I found what I had been looking for, the location of a dusty set of old academic journals printed more than a hundred years earlier.

It seems foolish to admit it, but my hands were shaking as I crouched over in the stacks and found the old, olive green book and carefully opened it. It was written in German, a language I still don’t understand, and filled with advanced mathematical formulas totally beyond my comprehension. There inside, within the covers of Annalen der Physik, were the papers of Albert Einstein, everything from calculations on Brownian motion to his most famous work of all, the special theory of relativity that includes the famous “E=mc2″ equation. I couldn’t understand what I was reading but I knew that the knowledge there on the page before me had completely transformed the world.

There was nothing particular special about the old journal, which was just one of many extant copies of Annalen der Physik. It wasn’t like the library had any of his handwritten notes or papers. But seeing that old type, clearly produced on a mechanical typewriter, was special to me. Even to this day I find the logical conclusions of Einstein’s proofs flabbergasting, including the fact that gravity from a large mass (such as that of a planet) actually bends both space and time.

An otherwise unimpeded ray of light from the Sun will, as it approaches Earth, curve and bend towards this planet, in effect being “sucking” in. The even larger masses of stars bend space and time further, pulling in every molecule for millions of miles around. Indeed, it is the gravitational pull of the Sun which keeps the planets in their orbits, even Neptune, lying 4.5 million kilometers away, a distance so great that it takes light from our star more than four hours to reach it.

Mass, of course, isn’t relative to volume. The stars with the highest mass are indeed some of the smallest, stars which have exhausted their fuel and then collapsed. If an imploded star’s mass is great enough, it would then become a black hole, deforming space and time so strongly that even light would not be able to escape.

But I didn’t come here today to talk about physics or about Einstein’s many famous scientific theories. What I have to write about today concerns the second thing I found on my fateful journey into that library’s archives, something I had not gone looking for. Deep in the stacks, I found a copy of a (physical) newspaper entitled The Spectator, published by an obscure right-wing American organization. Although that edition was small, totaling just a handful of pages, the contents of that newspaper changed my life forever.

At first, I assume it was a joke or some form of elaborate sarcasm. That edition was entirely devoted to a supposed secret meeting of world leaders. They claimed that news of this event had been deliberately censored from the mainstream media. Indeed, the authors of the newspaper claimed that many of the world’s biggest media chiefs, which controlled the television and newspapers, were in attendance at that meeting and had been willing participants in the conspiracy to censor any news reports about the meeting.

I was shocked by this allegation, that a meeting of political leaders from around the world could have been systematically and deliberately kept out of news reports. Certainly there was no mention of it in any of the news magazines and papers in the library. I filed it away in my mind as the wild ravings of a fringe political group until years later, when the internet had become more widespread and the secret couldn’t be kept any longer.

Today it has its own Wikipedia entry, known generally as the Bilderberg conference, and a few hardy souls now stake themselves out front and do their best to find out what”s going on at that meeting, which still does include world political leaders as well as the heads of major media companies.

And so I began to systematically look at the news, wanting to both get a comprehensive picture of what was going on but also wondering what wasn’t being reported. In this day and age of broadband internet, I’m not suggesting that events of a Bilderberg-type magnitude escape notice, only that there must be dozens (if not hundreds) of stories that are important and relevant but just don’t “make” the news. It doesn’t take a conspiracy between media chiefs to accomplish it, only a form of cultural blindness.

A perfect example of this is war. If I asked an average person to tell me about any wars going on, anywhere around the planet, right now, they might come up with a few locations like Syria or perhaps Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet there are more than a dozen active wars right now, defined as being armed conflict between organized groups. Wars are happening and people are dying right this very minute in the Central African Republic, in the eastern Congo/Uganda border area, in multiple states inside of India, in Mozambique, in Mexico’s Michoacan state, in Colombia, in the Philippines, in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Yemen, in South Sudan, in Nigeria’s Borno state and Mali.

And yet where is the news coverage? Armed groups are in open conflict and people are dying and yet you’d have to read a wide bevy of media from around the world to even hear about these wars, much less consider yourself informed on what’s going on. Again, it doesn’t take a shadowy conspiracy of media bosses to prevent this kind of news from being reported, only a form of cultural blindness.

And there’s a lot of that blindness here in Romania, as I wrote about in The Second Dirty Secret of Romanian television. A few people disagreed with me, saying I had vastly overstated my case and that in every country there was a preponderance of news media focusing on domestic events.

As such, I spent a few hours today trying to see if there was a way I could prove my case by using visual graphics. I took screenshots of the websites of five Romanian television news channels (B1, Digi24, Antena 3, Realitatea, RTV) and seven newspapers (Mediafax, Jurnalul National, Hotnews, Adevarul, Gandul, Evenimentul Zilei, Click!).

I included Click! precisely because it is Romania’s most widely read newspaper. Based on internet rankings, Realitatea is the most popular website for news. Depending on whom you ask, either Antena 3 or B1 is the most-watched television news channel.

I didn’t include TVR because their website is not very well designed and doesn’t accurately reflect their news coverage. I’m forced to watch their newscasts on my (physical) television and on Friday night I took notes. It took 14 minutes before their chyron (the text at the bottom of the screen) mentioned any world news and 21 minutes before they had a single news story on world events (which was about Kiev, Ukraine).

I also didn’t include Pro TV because their news reports are behind a paywall and their website is a rather pathetic potpourri of links to funny videos and other superficial fluff.

And I also didn’t include any Hungarian-language media from Romania. While it is quite extensive, including newspapers and multiple television stations, I really just don’t understand the language enough to be able to analyze it.

After taking all these screenshots, I went through each screenshot from these news sources and highlighted in red any article that was about domestic news. I used green to highlight news from elsewhere around the world. Anything that was either an advertisement or a non-news article like “10 ways to lose weight” kind of article I didn’t color.

romaniacoverage

You can now easily see the preponderance of red. Four of these (Realitatea, B1, Jurnalul National, Antena 3) were red only, meaning every single article was about Romania.

Two others (Click!, Digi24) had only a single article about news from outside Romania. Digi24‘s non-domestic article was about the ongoing revolution in Ukraine but rather disconcertingly, Click!‘s sole link to foreign news was about a gang rape in India. Click! just linked to a wire story about the incident but The Guardian sent a journalist to the area and you can read about what happened in-depth here.

Only Gandul has a large portion of green. As far as I can tell, they are the only news organization in Romania which sent a reporter to Ukraine to report on events there. This is strange to me because Gandul is neither a television channel nor a physical newspaper. It used to have a print edition but now exists solely online, making it a kind of fancy blog. But due credit goes to them for being the only Romanian media to bother sending a journalist to Ukraine.

I also took screenshots from the websites of seven leading newspapers from around Europe, four from “big” countries (Guardian UK, Le Monde France, Komsomlskaya Pravda Russia, FAZ Germany) and three from “smaller” countries, (Blic Serbia, DNES Czech Republic, Le Soir Belgium).

europeancoverage

You can easily see that there’s a lot more green here, especially from the “big” countries. Only Blic from Serbia looks anything like a Romanian media source. Meanwhile readers in Germany, France and Britain are getting news about events from around the world, giving them a much fuller picture of what’s happening.

If the news media in Europe were likened to the stars in the heavens, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a virtual black hole in Romania. For someone who speaks nothing but Romanian, or who gets most of their news from Romanian-language sources, they are getting badly cheated out of a wider perspective because the coverage is overwhelmingly focused on domestic events.

I don’t have the capability (at least, not yet!) of recording multiple video streams but I can take static snapshots of television news broadcasts from around Europe. With the ongoing situation in Ukraine, I wanted to see how many journalists from around the world I could find who were on the scene in Kiev and reporting live as that country tries to sort out its future.

Czech Republic

Czech Republic

Italy

Italy

Poland

Poland

Spain

Spain

Not pictured here but included in my earlier report are journalists from several Russian media sources also reporting live from Kiev.

Countries which aren’t even contiguous (sharing a land border) with Ukraine still managed to find it worth their while to send a reporter. Yet from Romania’s vast array of media, only a single one (Gandul) took the trouble to cross over next door and find out what’s happening instead of just stealing photos and video from the foreign media.

The implications of this are frightening. Romanian society’s image of the outside world is being severely distorted by this overwhelming focus on domestic events, being reported on by Romanian journalists who have a narrow awareness of what’s happening around the globe.

I really feel truly sorry for anyone who has to rely on Romanian news to inform them of what’s going on in this world.

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7 Responses »

  1. Looks like Sam is going to start a news outlet to cover international events for news hungry (and computer literate) Romania citizens :-)

  2. No one should watch ANY news!

  3. Sam, I think you’ve done a brilliant job of devising a “visualization” that makes your “black hole” case undeniable. It is thus a good thing that so many younger Romanians reportedly are fluent in at least one language besides Romanian — most often English — and so could read your posts, and other international news-reports, via the internet.
    Somewhere recently I read that former President Emil Constantinescu had made a speech about a decade ago advising Romanians that “our future is English.” I couldn’t yet find this online, but I’d bet it’s one important factor in explaining why the Romanian economy is now abruptly advancing in fields such as Information Technology. A high school 12th-grader in Romania wrote me last year saying that he and his classmates had begun learning English in school there as early as second or third grade.

  4. 5 stars for the article. On the other hand, unlike most western european countries, at least we get foreign movies in the original language, with subtitles. To me that’s a big positive towards understanding other cultures (especially American) and languages (especially English).

  5. A nonscientific observation: in many places in the west (especially Spain) i found people to be much more ignorant than the average romanian about the world at large. And with no curiosity about anything outside of their limited spheres. A surprising exception was france -people there were sharp and interested, shattering my prejudices. Disclaimer again, this is just based on my experiences.

  6. i do agree to a certain extent to what you’re saying; yes, Romanian news are full of bullshit but … you cannot compare 12 Romanian newspapers with one publication per foreign country; your so called ‘relevant’ percentage is all messed up! no, let’s make a proper comparison, for example 12 Romanian newspapers versus 12 British ones; otherwise why not compare just Mediafax with Le Monde ( one versus one ), and it will result that Romania is very much up-to-date to whatever is going in Ukraine; I don’t think this is accurate, I just think you overestimate the implication of other EU news providers… and what about US?! it’s pretty big news what’s going on, not only for Romania or EU, but also for US, meanwhile CNN barely mentioned it…. but if you say that CNN is not representative, then I’ll say Click! is just as insignificant, if not less, taking in consideration that it’s a lame gossip newspaper; it doesn’t matter that it’s widely spread, it’s strictly a A TRIVIA/SHOWBIZ NEWSPAPER, just like The Sun in UK; no news of Ukraine on the front page of The Sun by the way; you’re a smart man, yet you compare The Guardian with Click! which is a bit ridiculous… and about your worry that the majority of Romanian have access only to Romanian written content/news, well I think that the majority of teens, young adults, and many people in their 40’s, even 50’s, are googling a lot in English, and a Romanian might read both a French and an English article in search for different information, I cannot say the same about a British or French person… despite the crap that it’s given to us on daily basis online and on TV, we’re not idiots! but we are poor, we don’t have money to proper rescue missions, and you want live transmissions from Kiev. that’s not realistic at this moment!

  7. Good article, and also sadly true. I have noticed the same thing when a friend of mine started to talk about the news he read on ‘worldnews’ subreddit http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews, and I’ve never heard about those things on hotnews or other newspapers such as puterea or gandul.

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