Fact Check: Romanian Journalist Cileacu Did NOT Fake Being In Danger In Israel -- She Followed Protocol

Fact Check

  • by: Ioana Burtea
Fact Check: Romanian Journalist Cileacu Did NOT Fake Being In Danger In Israel -- She Followed Protocol It's Protocol

Did Romanian journalist Cristina Cileacu of Digi24 TV station misrepresent being in the middle of an attack while covering the Hamas-Israel conflict in October 2023 in order to manipulate the audience? No, that's not true: A video of the event proves that a siren went off during filming and the journalist followed protocol by lying on the ground. There is no evidence that Cileacu is part of a disinformation ring involving Romanian and foreign politicians, as a video circulating on social media also claimed.

The claim originated from a video on TikTok by user @goldfmromania on October 23, 2023, under the title (translated from Romanian to English by Lead Stories staff) "Bogeyman of the day, Cristina Cileacu." It opened:

Manipulation 'sister' of Scholz and Radu Tudor, Geoană's right hand man.

This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:

Screenshot 2023-10-24 at 14.52.21.png

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Tue Oct 24 11:39:43 2023 UTC)

Cileacu and Valentin Stan, Digi24 reporters, were in Israel in October 2023, reporting on the Hamas-Israel conflict. After a cropped video showing Cileacu lying on the ground while people were cycling behind her became viral on social media on October 23, 2023, Victor Ponta, former prime minister and adviser to the current prime minister, criticized Cileacu on Facebook and mocked her (translated from Romanian to English by Lead Stories staff):

'In a normal country, with a normal press, this lady who broadcasts lying on her stomach when everyone around her was cycling calmly would have gone live and apologized for mocking the viewers and the reporters who actually put their lives in danger. Afterward, she would have politely announced her resignation (so that she wouldn't be fired by the TV station). But I forgot that, in our country, impostors are rewarded - if you lie and act like a monkey, you're "it."'

Social media users like @goldfmromania have since been sharing the short video, pushing the narrative that Cileacu "faked" being in the middle of an attack and that she is engaging in the same kind of manipulation that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (who was also surprised by an air raid siren in Tel Aviv airport and had to lie face down on the tarmac, as per protocol) is allegedly guilty of, as well as political analyst Radu Tudor from Antena 3/CNN and Mircea Geoană, NATO's deputy secretary general.

Digi24 TV station released a statement saying that Ponta's claims were an "unprecedented attack against Digi24 journalists" and that by accusing Cileacu of "fake news," he created a fake story himself. The news station released the full footage of the event involving Cileacu, who is seen standing and talking to the camera when an alarm goes off. She is then seen lying on the ground next to a car while continuing to explain the procedure: "Right now the alarm is sounding again. Vali, let's go to the car, lie down! Let's see how we handle these vests. I hope you can hear the alarm in the background. The recommendation is to lie down if you have nowhere to run and take cover, so that's what we are doing now."

"According to the security protocol in Israel, in case of an air strike, the population needs to take cover immediately. This means going to the nearest bunker or safety room, or, if they are outdoors, the recommendation is to lie on the ground. This is what Digi24 journalists did when the alarm caught them in the middle of a live broadcast," the station wrote on its website.

The person who posted the video alludes to an alleged coordinated manipulation campaign by referring to Scholz and pointing out the calm cyclists behind Cileacu. Israel's ambassador to Romania, Reuven Azar, explained on X, formerly Twitter: "Israelis sometimes ignore sirens, but journalists should never ignore them."

There is no proof of the alleged link between the other people mentioned in the video and Cileacu. Tudor is a political analyst from Antena3/CNN, a rival TV station of Digi24. The only time Cileacu is known to have spent with Mircea Geoana, deputy secretary general of NATO, was when the journalist moderated a talk at the Aspen Institute in Bucharest in 2020 -- Digi24 was a media partner of the event and Geoana was one of the speakers.

In 2020, Cileacu also moderated a talk on disinformation and countering fake news at the European Parliament. There is no proof she is part of a "disinformation ring" or that any such group exists involving the top tier of Romanian or European politics.

After Ponta's statements, Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu spoke with Digi24 (translated from Romanian to English by Lead Stories staff): "The personal opinions expressed by Mr. Ponta have nothing to do with the government's activity. I am sorry for what Miss Cristina Cileacu, whose professionalism was never in any doubt, is going through." At the same time, he said he wouldn't fire Ponta.

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  Ioana Burtea

Ioana Burtea has worked in journalism for 15 years. She started her career at Mediafax news agency in Bucharest and has written for DoR magazine for over seven years. Her collaborations include publications like Europe & Me, New Eastern Europe, Balkan Insight and Washington Post. Ioana published pieces on the justice system in Romania, social affairs, politics and personal essays. In 2018,  she became a fellow of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.  In 2021, she received the first prize in the Portrait category at the national Superscrieri journalism awards.

Read more about or contact Ioana Burtea

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