4 December 2023

Misleading: Journalist took cover during an air-raid alert in Israel; it was not a ‘staged act’

The air-raid siren was edited out in the misleading video. It also cut out the scene in the same broadcast showing a civilian taking cover under a bench behind her.

A video showing a Romanian journalist taking cover during a live broadcast in Israel, with people walking and cycling “as usual” in the background, has been widely shared recently.

Various social media posts claimed that a Digi 24 TV journalist “staged a scene” to appear terrified of Hamas attacks near Gaza (here, here and here). Some users referred to the news report as “propaganda” and commented that “she deserves an Oscar.”

The video also became a political issue after Victor Ponta, the adviser of Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu and a former prime minister himself, mocked the journalist through social media posts for exaggerating the danger on the ground.

However, the claim is misleading.

The video in question starts right after the air-raid siren rang and ceased, which was in the original broadcast. It was this public warning that prompted the reporter to take cover with her camera crew.

Annie Lab traced the original footage to a live broadcast from Ashkelon, a coastal city about 10km away from Gaza. It began airing at 11:02 in the morning of Oct. 22 during intense fighting.

The source footage of the misleading videos is a TV journalist’s standup during the 12:00 newscast.

The archived live stream of Digi 24’s news contains a 36-second report by Cristina Cileacu. In the report, she lay down and took refuge next to a white car nearby when the siren went off (at 1:04).

The journalist was standing when her live reporting began.

The videos used in misleading claims left out the siren and also cut out the part in the same broadcast, at 1:28, where a civilian was seen taking cover under a bench behind her.

Archived footage of the newscast on Digi 24’s website shows a civilian also taking cover when the siren went off.

An account on X, which posts Israeli Home Front Command’s alerts, tweeted about the siren in Ashkelon on the same day that lasted for one minute from 11:03 to 11:04 a.m. — the siren heard in the live broadcast. Romania and Israel are in the same time zone.

News reports from the Times of Israel and NBC News indicate Ashkelon is under Hamas rocket threats.

According to the Home Front Command’s instructional leaflet, people in outdoor areas are advised to lie on the ground and protect their heads when an alert goes off.

According to the instructions issued by Israeli authorities, people should take shelter when they hear the security alert.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Cileacu has more than 20 years of field experience as a journalist and is currently a senior producer at Digi 24.

Responding to similar claims about ‘staging’ on her Facebook page, she wrote that she and her crew got down because that’s what they could do.

Digi 24, meanwhile, also responded in an online editorial the next day, saying Cileacu complied with an Israeli security protocol that everyone must follow within seconds whenever they hear an airstrike alarm.

It also mentioned some passersby who walked past the journalist in the footage as if nothing was happening during the air-raid siren and said some people “who live under bombardment every day” may react differently.

The TV station also referred to Ponta’s attack on the journalist and posted the original clip of the live standup.

As of Oct. 30, at least 31 journalists were killed when covering the Israel-Hamas war, which began in early October, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

AFP also published fact-checking reports about this claim in French and Romanian.