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Image of Roma in the Czech media during 2013

Prague, 1.11.2013 1:19, (ROMEA)
ROMEA held its second round table with journalists on the image of Romani people in the Czech media on 31 October 2013 in Prague. (PHOTO:  Jan Čonka)
ROMEA held its second round table with journalists on the image of Romani people in the Czech media on 31 October 2013 in Prague. (PHOTO: Jan Čonka)

A second round table for journalists organized by the ROMEA association was held in Prague on 31 October. Ivan Vodochodský, an analyst with the Newton Média company, and representatives of ROMEA presented their analysis, entitled "Stereotypes in the Media Image of Roma during 2013" (Stereotypy mediálního obrazu Romů v roce 2013 - available in Czech only here).

The first such round table took place earlier this year on 8 April 2013 on the occasion of International Romani Day. Both round tables were held at the office of the Journalists' Syndicate of the Czech Republic (Syndikát novinářů).

According to the analysis presented, the Czech media are no longer giving as much space to extremists, even though a large part of the news about Romani people is comprised of reports from anti-Romani marches. Positive reports about Romani people are mainly featured in the area of culture.

"Gypsy", "inadaptable" and "gypsy"

The analysts compiled a total of 4 094 news reports during the first eight months of this year from the main daily newspapers (including their various regional editions), online news servers, public broadcasting media, and weeklies. A comparison of these news items shows that the number of reports about Romani people depends mainly on specific incidents, such as the attack in Duchcov or the unrest at the Máj housing estate in České Budějovice earlier this year.  

"The authors of this analysis did their best to be balanced and unbiased, as did the people who were interviewed and surveyed," Vodochodský said. The vast majority of the news items reviewed used the term "Roma", although the labels "Gypsy", "inadaptable", and "gypsy" also showed up.

Vodochodský said incorrect usage mainly gets into the media as part of quotes from people interviewed on the street, such as during anti-Romani protests. In the context of this anti-Romani sentiment, the media have also begun reporting deeper insights into issues such as crime prevention assistants or social housing. 

Crime and social problems

Most of the negatively-phrased news items about Romani people concerned crime and social problems, while news items about Romani culture were mainly positive. Vodochodský pointed out that the ethnicity of alleged perpetrators of crimes is frequently reported even when there is no reason to do so and the information is not essential to understanding what is being reported.

"The extremists have created their own PR strategy, and those media outlets that have learned how to recognize it have not succumbed to it," Vodochodský said. A favorite extremist tactic is reportedly to send editors a notification that tens of thousands of protesters from all over Europe will be gathering for a particular event, even though ultimately only a few dozen people actually do show up at the scene.

Journalist Jarmila Balážová, who works in the media and is also chair of the ROMEA association, moderated the round table. Each section was followed by a discussion of the specific topic involving the director of the ROMEA association, Zdeněk Ryšavý. 

Balážová reminded those present that there is still no institution in the Czech Republic that systematically involves itself in monitoring the media with respect to Romani issues. "The media influence public opinion in a fundamental way, including in the case of specific minorities. That is precisely why a commissioner or other competent person should be directly entrusted by the government with putting a working group on the media together. The group could be given a certain amount of financing so it could publish regular analyses of the media on this topic and meet regularly about it with journalists from the main media outlets," she said.   

Improving the media

František Kostlán of the ROMEA association gave a presentation at the start of the second half of the round table (see below) in which he discussed negative and positive examples of the media's work on the topic of Romani people. The two examples of negative work were the scandals this year involving the E-mostecko news server and the Prostějovský Večerník publication.

Kostlán said ROMEA has recently noted an improved approach by some media outlets toward Romani topics. "It was with great pleasure that we were gratified to see the recent series of erudite, fact-based articles on the topic of social exclusion recently published by news server Aktuálně.cz," Kostlán said.

František Kostlán's presentation

I will start with two negative examples of marginal media outlets publishing articles that were, in my opinion, intentionally, tendentiously anti-Romani. This is best illustrated by two of many examples, the scandal of the E-mostecko news server and the scandal of the Prostějovský Večerník publication.

E-mostecko news server scandal

This first scandal might be more appropriately called the scandal of journalist Jan Vraný, who established the E-mostecko news server and runs it. This is the same journalist who recently filmed an intervention by the municipal police and social workers against a Romani family living at the Janov housing estate in the town of Litvínov.

The local police illegally entered the family's apartment and the social worker with them did not communicate with the family as she should have, groundlessly threatening to take their children away from them. The League of Human Rights has evaluated the intervention as an unethical one.

"It is obvious that from the start there was no legal justification for this monitoring visit, but that it was rather a random check featuring elements of harassment that violated the family's privacy during the evening hours, including with the presence of a 'squad' of police, all of which was recorded on video," Zuzana Candigliota of the League said at the time. The Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion has also discussed the intervention as an example of harassment.   

Jan Vraný was invited by the municipal police on that occasion, as he had been many times before, to film their action in the field and then to write about it. He not only filmed it, he published matters that were the private concern of the family, and in my view he only did this because they were Romani.  

I base that claim on the overall focus of the E-mostecko news server, which I would characterize, with only slight exaggeration, as a "crusade against Romani people". I described this example in an article for Romea.cz earlier this year.

Another article by Jan Vraný, entitled "Volunteers report first thefts, complaints about food" describes Romani people residing in an evacuation center at a nursery school in the municipal department of Vaňov in Ústí nad Labem  during the floods this summer. The entire article is written in a spirit that suggest the Romani people accommodated at the nursery school spent the whole time complaining about everything and were unwilling to pitch in to help; I quote: "While the volunteers, including young women and girls, worked day and night throwing away contaminated fixtures from the flooded apartments and houses, the evacuated Roma drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes in front of the nursery school. Why should they pitch in? They had their own 'volunteers' there at the nursery school..."

The article goes on to describe the Romani people turning up their noses at the beverages and food brought to them by volunteers, allegedly saying the tea was too sweet, the soup was inedible, etc. It took just a few phone calls and a few minutes of surfing the internet to determine that nothing of the sort actually happened.

The evacuated family did complain, but it was about something else. When they left their apartment, they were told that everything was already prepared for them at the evacuation center and that they just had to bring a change of clothes.

"There was nothing there. On Monday we waited 12 hours for them to bring us groceries. How can small children go without food for that long?" one of the evacuees asked me. The unpreparedness of the evacuation center was also confirmed to me by the nursery school's director when I spoke with her by telephone. 

Vraný's article and its allegations prompted many hateful reactions online, such as the following comments:

Mirek Cech Mašek:  Hitler unfortunately didn't finish the job

Jiří Zachrla:  He could have completed it and we wouldn't have to deal with these scum

Lenka Viktorová:  Them again - shoot the vermin, right?!! I don't understand why we keep special-ordering them up welfare when they are incapable of working in such a crisis situation (and not only this situation, but anytime). On top of it all they're gonna steal? We should do like in the Middle Ages! Cut off their hand and it's done!!!!!

Jana Šerková: Will it help to cut off their hands? On the contrary, we'll be paying for two more of them, one because he doesn't have hands and another to be his assistant. Only one thing sticks with them – if you don't work, you go to prison. There you will work until you work off the damage you have done.

The scandal of the Prostějovský Večerník

The Prostějovský Večerník has published many articles that should be considered anti-Romani, misleading, and unethical. An example of their behavior recently made the rounds of many media outlets after Lukáš Houdek of news server Romea.cz drew attention to it. 

In an article entitled "Gypsy attacks are multiplying!" the paper used phrases such as "the inborn violence of our Romani fellow-citizens". Its editors also used a photograph that had been taken abroad to accompany the article, replacing the face of a Chinese football fan with one of a Romani man.

prostejovsky-vecernik_1.jpg

In this case a positive factor was that the mainstream media (Czech Television, E15, iDnes.cz, Lidovky.cz, Novinky.cz) covered the scandal and emphasized how negative this was, thereby fulfilling their societal role. The Journalists' Syndicate also criticized the article and said it was illegal.

"Such a procedure must be labeled conscious, intentional manipulation, and the impact of it is even more serious because the image accompanying the article is not based on fact and incites negative emotions," Adam Černý, the chair of the Journalists' Syndicate, and Barbora Osvaldová, chair of its ethics commission, wrote in an official statement. The RESPEKT weekly even stated directly that the paper had intended to spark an anti-Romani pogrom by publishing the piece.      

In neither of these examples, however, has there been any practical impact on the authors and media outlets that have behaved unethically. Both of these media are continuing their crusade against Romani people and the reporter for Prostějovský Večerník even defended his claim that Romani people are "born violent" on camera.

The first question for discussion, therefore, is this:  I have given you just two examples, but there are many similar articles published here daily. I haven't even mentioned the internet, which is buzzing with calls for violence against Romani people. Racism in many forms is unfortunately an ordinary part of public discourse today. From a journalist's perspective, what can be done about this? Should it be ignored, or regularly condemned? Which of those tactics would be more likely to bring about the desired decline in this wave of intolerance and racism? Are there other paths to take? If so, what are they? 

Recently we have also noted an improved approach to Romani topics by some media outlets (by which I mean an improvement from our perspective, of course). In my opinion this turnaround began with the scandal of a completely fabricated news item about a non-existent Romani treasurer of a non-existent political party being recirculated even by mainstream news outlets - during that experience the media discovered that their usual carefree sloppiness when it came to reporting about Romani people had crossed the line.  

Romani people are now being given the floor more frequently than they once were, and sometimes there are even positive stories about them. One-sided information is no longer being published, and the testimonies of one side of a dispute are not being reported as the truth as often as they once were.

I also have the feeling that since the last round table, which we held together with the Czech Government Agency on Social Inclusion, the collaboration of the ROMEA association with the media has also improved, as has the media's reflection of the information we can offer them. The Czech News Agency recently picked up some of the more detailed information about Romani political candidates first published by our monthly, Romano voďi, and then by news server Romea.cz, and most of the mainstream media used that information as well.  

In the run-up to any particular election there is never time to cover everything that is going on, and we are glad we could contribute to broader coverage in this way. We will be glad if this positive collaboration develops further and if you all will continue to reflect the information we publish - we understand that good news is not considered news at all, but we do also publish positive examples of successful Romani people relatively often.

It was with great pleasure that we were gratified to see the recent series of erudite, fact-based articles on the topic of social exclusion recently published by news server Aktuálně.cz. One such example is the articles describing the situation in the residential hotels of Ostrava, the situation of the people living there, and the problems related to their residency.

The headline of one those articles was "State turns impoverished Roma into exceptionally attractive clients". Even one or two months earlier such a headline in the mainstream media would have been unthinkable - these matters were instead being written about as problems brought about by the Roma themselves.

From my perspective, Aktuálně.cz is attempting something similar to the Slovak daily Sme, which has devoted a column on its online news server directly to Romani topics. Here we can very well recognize the difference between a media outlet reporting only about what happens (which is also frequently done by whoever happens to have time, or by someone who doesn't understand the topic), and a media outlet where someone methodically, systematically is involved in covering the whole spectrum afforded by this particular subject.  

I believe the road to improving inter-ethnic coexistence is precisely through these kind of erudite articles, where the authors do their best to show the causes and the essence of these problems. Ms Zuzana Kubátová does reporting of this kind.

The example of news server Aktuálně.cz raises another question for discussion:  Why, across the mainstream media, does the other kind of article turn up, i.e., articles that are not erudite and that do not describe root causes, but that do repeat various clichés and stereotypes? In other words, shouldn't only journalists who are well-familiarized with a subject be writing both the analytical and the informational articles about that topic? Do journalists have the time and the willingness to write more in-depth pieces? After all, journalists are sometimes unbelievably busy and have neither the capacity nor the time for deeper involvement. 

fk, ROMEA, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Média, Roma, Czech Republic, Events



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