Earlier this week the Romanian media made a sensational announcement: medicinal marijuana was about to be legalised.
The story was launched by PRO TV, a big private TV station, with a story claiming that Romania has become the “10th EU Member State which allows the use of medical marijuana”. The news item quickly became international.
The Daily Chronic, an American news site, developed the rumour further by stating that “Romanian lawmakers on Oct. 4 moved to amend an across-the-board ban on marijuana in the country, allowing medical marijuana for treatment of cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and other diseases.”
But something didn’t seem right about this news: was there no public debate? Was it legalised overnight? Why didn’t we hear anything about this before? So we decided to check the facts by calling the government agencies responsible for drug policy.
We called Sorin Oprea, the director of Romania’s National Drug Agency, known by its acronym ANA (Agentia Nationala Antidrog). Mr Oprea told me “there is no change to the law, or proposed change, regarding the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and not one medicine containing cannabis extracts has been approved for pharmaceutical use in Romania.”
Then we called another government agency just to be on the safe side. My colleague spoke to Anca Crupariu, the press representative at the National Agency for Medicine, and this is what she said:
“In the EU there is only one medicine that is made with cannabis extracts: the mouth spray painkiller SATIVEX. This medicine has been authorised by the EU, is in use in several member states and could be authorised in Romania if the producer requests it. But we have not been contacted by the producer of SATIVEX.”
How can the media get it so wrong? How can a story that is so fundamentally erroneous be taken up by the media so readily? Don’t journalists check their facts? In order to find the answer to this puzzle, we spoke with a Western journalist based in Bucharest.
“Newspapers are incredibly short-staffed these days,” he explained, “often there are only one or two journalists doing the job that many more would have done in the past. As a result, what they often end up doing is just copying news articles from other media websites. With the speed at which stories are proliferated and copied online, a mistake by one journalist can snowball into inaccurate coverage very quickly.”
The last thing we did was to issue a press release for the Romanian media setting the record straight. The press release was picked up by a lot of media channels, including a TV station that is an arch-rival of ProTV.