On August 10, 2015, the majority of television stations and news portals published information based entirely on the statement of Mihai Moldovanu, head of the Health Department of Chisinau Municipality. After a meeting at the Chisinau Mayor’s Office, he announced that two heads of department at the Holy Trinity Hospital had been dismissed and that a reprimand was imposed on a third hospital employee for negligence during the operations on July 16 on 10 patients who suffered complications after eye surgery.
The majority of journalists from, for example, Agora.md, realitatea.md, unimedia.md or e-sanatate.md wrote their postings from a single source, Mihai Moldovanu, contrary to the Journalist’s Code of Ethics according to which information needs to be verified from at least two sources. Only a few sought the opinion of the persons concerned and mentioned in a negative context, i.e. the three doctors penalized. Jurnal TV sought the reaction of the hospital’s director, but failed to obtain it. Publika TV and PRO TV sought the opinions of the head of the hospital and the head of the surgery department.
Without verifying it, Journalists also accepted information from Mihai Moldovanu that all the patients but one had been discharged from the hospital thus suggesting or intimating that they had recovered. Agora.md, for example, wrote: “Out of the ten patients whose eyesight was affected, only one is still hospitalized, while the others were discharged from the hospital with improved health.” This information was partially true, a fact confirmed by a Pro TV news story that contained the statement of one of the patients. The story appeared under the heading “One of the 10 patients operated on for cataracts is at risk of becoming BLIND and is looking for a hospital abroad to save her eyesight. Two doctors will be DISMISSED for negligence.” The woman said that she couldn’t see with the eye operated on and that the state of that eye had deteriorated and she was looking for a hospital abroad to have another surgery. Later in another news story, we found out that the woman who remained in the hospital had an eye removed because it couldn’t be saved due to complications. For convenience or out of incompetence, journalists failed to verify the statement of the “first source,” i.e. the head of the Health Department who faced a situation that could damage his image and the image of the department he leads and might therefore present information in a manner favorable to himself. Journalists neglected professional rules by failing to verify information and let themselves be manipulated into delivering misinformation to the public, i.e. partially true and not verified. Thus they also violated a rule of the Journalist’s Code of Ethics according to which “the journalist shall seek the opinions of all parties relevant to the topic.”
More partially true information presented in the majority of news stories that should have been verified was that, “None of the patients sued the hospital.” It was again a statement made by Mihai Moldovanu. No one made the effort to find the patients and ask them whether they intended to sue the hospital in order to seek compensation. In the news story aired by Pro TV, a woman patient said she had already found a lawyer and was preparing documents to start a lawsuit against the hospital.
Also, none of the journalists dug deeper to verify the statement about the substance that caused the infections. Mihai Moldovanu said that the patients’ eyes were infected by the disinfectant (!) used to sterilize medical instruments that had been insufficiently cleansed from those instruments. The fact that the disinfectant is used for surgical instruments both in Moldova and abroad raises the question: What amount of disinfectant could have harmed the eyesight of 10 people? No one asked Mihai Moldovanu about it or tried at a later time by means of reconstruction or video experiments to explain with the help of professional surgeons and anesthesiologists approximately what amount would have produced such a disaster.
In conclusion, the requirements of quality journalism and the Code of Ethics say that a journalistic product is the result of a journalist gathering information, evidence, testimony, etc. In this case we were offered nothing but a repetition of statements by an interested party that was even something of a PR event for the head of the Health Department of Chisinau Mayor’s Office. Mihai Moldovanu appeared as a “just person,” and his statements were not questioned in any way. Thus, reality was distorted and media consumers were manipulated and misled.
The case study has been produced within the project "Freedom of expression and media development in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and South Caucasus", implemented by IJC with support by Deutsche Welle Akademie and financed by German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The opinions expressed in this material belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the financer’s opinion.