Journalists from west Europe have broadcast and printed stories about east Europe that are distorted or false, leading to a fake presentation of reality which victimises nations and some of their poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

We reveal how Sky News broadcast false content about a potential sale of weapons from a gun-smuggling gang in Romania in 2016. The UK broadcaster claimed the arms were trafficked from Ukraine and could be used in terror attacks in west Europe. In fact, they were hunting weapons that were useless for terrorists, and one was even labelled ‘Made in Romania’. The ‘smugglers’ included a landlord and part-time hunter, and an account manager for UK phone company Vodafone. They believed they were acting in a documentary.

We also reveal how Sky News broadcast a false interview in Russia with a supposed mercenary for a Kremlin-backed paramilitary force which undertook an offensive on the city of Palmyra in Syria. He was, in fact, a hired actor, who said to us: “To be honest, I told them so much bullshit and [the Russian crew] understood it and were smiling, I have never been to Syria.”

Another Sky News broadcast from 2015 showed a supposed ex-Jihadist in Syria who saw a Japanese journalist killed by ISIS. This also caused us concern. In Turkey, we found a journalist who had interviewed the same man and believes it is highly likely he was faking it for cash. The journalist told us: “He could be [a] family member of the person who was arranging the interview for big money. Anyone [who] watched TV could say those things and any Syrian could say that after getting that much money.”

Our strategy was to forensically analyze media with false content, and then interview every person involved in the creation of the articles or broadcasts, wherever possible.

The evidence gathered puts into question the truth and ethics of the satellite TV station’s major exclusives.

However, if no one takes the media group to court and the British media watchdog finds no wrongdoing, nothing will change.

We also examined other media from the UK. In November 2016, British tabloid The Sun published an investigation into “child slaves” assembling Kinder Egg toys in Romania. We travelled to the town where the alleged ‘slavery’ took place and spoke to the accused family, the labour inspectors, the social workers and the council leaders, and discovered there was no evidence of ‘slavery’. The family has since faced persecution and ostracism - but feels that it cannot take on the might of a British media empire to seek a right of reply or justice in court.

The Sun’s journalism is part of a post-revolutionary media narrative that plagues Romania: a source of prostitution, labour and human trafficking, exploitation and slave work that contributes to a media agenda which believes EU expansion is a failure.

Romanian journalists are filled with tales of the underhand tactics employed behind the scenes by British journalists assembling reports in the country, such as distorting the voice of interviewees to fit their prejudiced view on the country, or sensationalising articles with non-relevant footage of slums and poverty, or not checking whether interviews set up by fixers are genuine. This behaviour that hints at a broad attempt to defame a country.

As one former tabloid journalist tells us:

“For stories which are about issues in foreign countries - Romania, Bulgaria - it’s an attitude that tabloid newspapers can write what they want because - what are Romanians and Bulgarians going to do? Are they going to complain? Are they going to sue? No. The standards of verifying became even lower than at home. They are even more dehumanised than anyone else because they are so far away.”

A FoX grant of €3.300, allocated on 21 September 2016.

Team members

Michael Bird

Michael Bird is an award-winning journalist and writer based in Bucharest, Romania.

Michael Bird

Lina Vdovîi

Lina Vdovîi is a Moldovan-born journalist. She started working as a reporter for Opinia Studenteasca in Iasi, Romania.

A FoX grant of €3.300 allocated on 21/09/2016

need resources for your own investigative story?

Journalismfund Europe's flexible grants programmes enable journalists to produce relevant public interest stories with a European mind-set from international, national, and regional perspectives.


support independent cross-border investigative journalism

We rely on your support to continue the work that we do. Make a gift of any amount today.