Analysis: Czech news outlet misleads readers by mastering Photoshop
Have you always longed to become a regionally-recognized journalist whose articles will be read by many? Do you not know how to go about attracting that many readers? The Prostějov Evening News (Prostějovský Večerník) can advise you. Its editors have developed an effective system for achieving this. They have also demonstrated that they are more than proficient at working with Photoshop and have become first-class users of this technology in their field.
After two years of relative calm, Czech society has begun once more to seethe with anti-Roma sentiment, caused in particular by long-unresolved problems on the territories of towns out in the regions. The Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS), naturally, is glad to feed off of this sentiment, and has long done its best, under the guise of patriotism, to frustrate the frustrated even further and add fuel to the many fires that have been set.
The editors at the Prostějov Evening News have evidently made the same resolution. Until this summer, most people in the Czech Republic had never even heard of them, but during one day their practices became a hit with many internet users, as well as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the editors of statewide dailies.
The first recognizable indication of the indisputable investigative capabilities and objectivity of this edition of the Evening News (Večerník) franchise was displayed by its editors in an article with the modest headline "Gypsy attacks are multiplying!" (Cikánské útoky se množí!). In the opening paragraphs of this article, we have the opportunity to read the exclusive testimony of "a young woman who understandably does not want to be named." She gives a brief, clear statement: "When I see them, I prefer to cross to the other side of the street." This piece further excels in stylistic maturity when it uses phrases such as "the 47-year-old woman is already a basket case of nerves" or the neutral term, "victim of gypsy terror".
Sarcasm aside: The article, which was published on 25 August, draws attention to a series of assaults on citizens of Prostějov which allegedly were perpetrated by Romani people during the course of August. If those assaults actually happened, there is no doubt they are reprehensible and the Police of the Czech Republic should punish those responsible, without exception, as per the relevant laws.
However, the article quotes Jana Adámková, spokesperson for the Prostějov Police, as saying the following about one of the attacks: "I can confirm that we are handling the incident in the restaurant on Dolní Street as a misdemeanor against civil coexistence. The protocol shows a verbal assault on the family you describe. Physical assault has not been confirmed."
Even though this entire incident (just like the other alleged assaults reported) is still being investigated by the police and no verdict has yet been handed down about it, the editors, naturally, are completely clear about what is really going on. They name only a few sources in the piece (which is otherwise full of eyewitnesses who "understandably don't wish to be named"). Those that are identified by name are one of the alleged Romani assailants, a Romani woman who was present at an interview and whose nickname is mentioned, and two local police spokespeople. The names of victims and witnesses to these events are not given. No testimony from the Romani people who allegedly participated in any incident in the role of an assailant is included, nor are the statements of any other Romani people. The entire piece targets all Romani people in Prostějov without exception, claiming they are all responsible for a handful of allegedly disorderly members of their community.
Several members of the Žít Brno ("Living in Brno") initiative noticed the problematic piece online, contacted the editors, and demanded it be removed. The editors refused to do so, saying they had committed no errors and that the piece would be updated by the end of the week with more information. The editors kept their promise on 30 August when, among other updates, they first gave the name of a victim of one of the alleged assaults (doubtless because their lack of objectivity and professionalism had been brought to their attention).
The photographs that dominate this article are also extraordinary. They show a group of men angrily kicking a dark blue car. In and of itself that is not a surprising image, but what is remarkable is that this photograph was downloaded from an Asian news server and depicts Chinese sports fans on a spree of violence (the source of the original photo is at http://www.theoffside.com/asia/angry-mobs-a-flying-kick-in-china.html). Prostějovský Večerník, with the aid of a photo editor, substituted the face of a Romani man onto one of the figures (see above). Josef Popelka of the news server has since said he believes such behavior is in order because the photograph is just an "illustration".
Last Friday afternoon, as an answer to the editors' response to this criticism, a meme began to spread online from the HateFree Culture initiative drawing attention to this unethical manipulation of the photographs and the work methods of Prostějovský Večerník. This prompted many internet users to respond, either directly on the news outlet's website or on its Facebook profile. Some of the comments posted:
"Liars falsifying photographs... Gentlemen, this kind of editing makes me sick..."
"Dear Mr Anonymous Author of this article, I consider it it to be truly a dirty trick when, as a picture for your hateful article about Romani people, you post a photo of Chinese sports fans in Qingdao on the rampage with a couple of the faces Photoshopped so we can't tell they are Chinese. This is really pathetic."
The editors, however, are continuing to defend the photograph, and it remains online with the other material as the story is updated. It is also a question whether the news outlet purchased the rights to the original photograph and has the permission of whoever took it to alter it.
The discussion forum beneath the article contains not only contributions criticizing the media outlet's work, but also many xenophobic commentaries. For example, a user called "EL" posted the following: "as long as the state protects the black filth, nothing will change. I am still waiting for a political party with a clear aim to come on the scene!!!!!! and it will get my vote!!!!!" Some of those commentaries directly break Czech law, such as this one from user Tomáš: "I would rub and rub them until they are completely rubbed out..."
This is not surprising. The editors have not only indirectly incited such statements through their generalizing discourse, but also through numerous formulations such as "That's a classic gypsy 'fair fight'!"
The way in which Prostějovský Večerník is handling information and presenting it to its readers is scandalous. It is even more scandalous because it is happening at a time when hundreds of frustrated people are marching through Czech towns and blaming so-called "inadaptables" (understood to mean Romani people in general) for their problems.
It is solely up to us, the citizens of this country, how long we will stand for this kind of manipulation and conscious stirring-up of ridiculous conflicts which will not bring about any effective solutions. That goes double when the manipulation comes from the media.
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