Saturation Point


You know I got to tell you that my brief experiment with television is just about over. I thought I would be able to handle it, I really did. The last time I had a television in Romania was about five years ago when I lived in a little village. The only channels we could receive were the free ones from a satellite (one of the Hot Birds I believe) and it was a grand total of TVR2, Pro TV International and Taraf, a manele channel. And frankly I didn’t watch any of those all that often.

But about a month ago I got a new apartment and it came both with an enormous television and a cable package with 100 or more channels. So my practice of late has been to do my daily work (the stuff I do for money) and leave the TV on with the sound muted, mostly tuned to the news channels. I figured it’d be a nifty new way to stay abreast of current affairs. Sadly, no.

To begin with, Romania has an astounding 6 and a half non-stop news channels. It’s been a while since I’ve been in America but even there I’m not sure there are more than six non-stop news channels. Here in Romania the six are: TVR Info, Realitatea, Antena 3, Romania TV, B1TV, The Money Channel (which poor Claudia Boghicevici cannot spell), GiGa and the “half” channel is Transilvania Live, currently 99% news but soon to branch out into other programming. For a country that’s roughly the same population as the state of Florida (in America), that is an overdose of news. And that’s not even counting the supplementary newscasts on Pro TV, Antena 1, etcetera or OTV which I am not even going to “count”.

I have a simple policy every day – I switch to one of these news channels and then as soon as they show a cat or a dog (or some other animal doing something “hilarious”), I change to the next one. Either that or 10 minutes non-stop of footage of snow is my trigger to head on to the next channel. And I can tell you from three weeks of intense viewing that these major six are virtually identical. It’s almost unbelievable, especially when you consider that they are owned by different “barons” (or the government) and theoretically should have differing viewpoints. But no, it’s almost the same shot from channel to channel, the same story, the same “yuk, yuk here’s a cat video from YouTube” or the same story about celebrities (Whitney Houston is dead, I fucking get it already). Even the order of the stories is almost identical, always concluding the segment with the weather followed by the sports.

Now what’s also amazing is that there is virtually no international coverage at all – it has to be some of the most insular reporting I have ever seen. I’ve yet to see one news story on Romanians in Serbia or Ukraine who are equally (or worse!) buried in the snow. I’ve yet to see one news story period from the Republic of Moldova, which you think would be nominally of interest. I’ve yet to see anything longer than 30 seconds on what’s going on in Greece or the rest of Europe. It’s just a repetition over and over of the “white apocalypse” (the snow) and endless chatter about what politician A said about politician B with only tiny breaks for celebrity gossip (mostly American), cat videos, the weather forecast and fucking sports.

In America I’m used to this kind of myopic coverage but to be fair the United States is 4,000 km wide and home to 300 million people so there’s a lot going on (not that I’m excusing the paucity of depth in American reporting). But in Europe? And in a country of just 19 million? Surely there has to be more going on. My cable package also includes BBC (England), Rai 1 (Italy), TVE (Spain), France 24, Russia Today (in English), Russiya 24 (Russian) and some German and Hungarian channels (which I don’t watch as I don’t speak those languages). Yes of course the Italian news is more focused on Italy and the Russian news on Russia but good lord, they actually do discuss other things as well. You’d never know there was a war going on in Syria or bombs exploding in Thailand if you only watched Romania’s six 24-hour news channels.

Which now come to think of it clears up a couple of mysteries for me, including why in the world some of these channels would want to have me on their broadcasts (or talk about me). I mean I consider myself interesting of course :P but the truth is that there is so little actual variety in their goddamn programming that when something new comes along, they jump on it like dogs on a bone.

The second mystery that’s been cleared up is why ProTV is light years ahead of the rest in their news coverage. As I’ve mentioned before, when I first came to Romania I had no cable and didn’t speak the language so I watched ProTV by default (it’s all I could receive with an ordinary antenna). I then moved around and lived in a village, etc, and stopped watching TV except for when I was in a hotel or something and then would mostly watch an hour of the Discovery Channel at most. But I’ve noticed ProTV actually does some reporting, actually does some investigating, actually goes out there and digs up stories instead of just regurgitating press releases and covering the sports scores. Don’t misunderstand me, they indulge in a lot of sensational crap as well but they are the only true producers of news that I can see on TV in the Romanian language.

What I’ve known for a long time and which I thought was common knowledge but apparently is not is that ProTV was founded by and is still owned by an American company. Back when I first came to Romania, ProTV dominated the airwaves (and still remains quite popular, as evidenced by just how many people still come up to me after seeing the December 1 report about me) and they are the ones who set up their news the American style – first lead off with blood and disaster, then the rest of the “normal” news, wrap up with sports and the weather. This is the American “recipe” for news, so to speak, and it’s clear that the other channels in Romania have just copied that “recipe” without even understanding why or what it means.

Now I have no way of proving this but I imagine the ratings, as in the number of people actually watching the six 24-hour channels, are abysmally low. I realize that in Romania controlling the news is more about influencing politics than it is about making money. That’s all fine and good but I bet one of those channels could really break out and succeed on their own if they ever got over this short-term perspective on things. There is some good writing and good investigating going on sometimes by the print newspapers so surely it could be done beyond ProTV’s nightly newscast (their morning news is just a lightweight regurgitation).

I guess the last mystery to be cleared up by my little three-week TV watching adventure is exactly why so many people showed up at the anti-ACTA rallies. Clearly downloading content off the internet is far better than what’s on the actual television, which is dominated by this cheap, superficial and useless “news” and American shows that are months out of date and almost no original programming in the Romanian language whatsoever (and God save us all from La Bloc, which I incredulously see continues to be rebroadcast) except for the execrable Cronica Carcotasilor. If I had time to watch “TV” I’d be downloading episodes too!

3 thoughts on “Saturation Point

  1. Actually, Cronica Carcotasilor is based on an italian show: Striscia la Notizia. So it’s not original either. Romanian journalists can’t do any investigative journalism because they’re so poorly trained. If you pay attention to the rhetorical quality of so called talk shows you’d notice this. Bad reasoning, poorly expressed, uncritical thinking, rumors and innuendo rather than evidence, bias, etc. But this works, since the viewers are not better themselves. You should look on B1 or Antena 2 or Euforia for some witch/astrologer/homeopath/”esoterist”(yes, there is a word in Romanian that stand for “guy engaged in esoteric activities) fellas and then you’ll feel what the anti-acta protesters feel: despair and frustration to being surrounded by stupidity(or at least that’s their perception).

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