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Analysis (part one): Polls show media largely responsible for Czech dislike of Romani people

Prague, 15.5.2012 23:41, (ROMEA)

The standards for conducting public opinion polls are not so high that their results should be considered certainties or reliable truths. We can, however, consider polling results to be helpful indicators and take them into account along with other data. That holds for the most recent research published by the CVVM agency on the relationship between Czech and Romani people. More than four-fifths of respondents (82 %) said relations are bad, with 40 % even calling them "very bad". From this poll we can indirectly conclude that public opinion here is very influenced by the media's anti-Romani bias.

We often do not have detailed information about the social situation of those responding to these polls, their age distribution (how many respondents from which generation) or their geographic distribution. For polls on political issues, we often cannot even find out who commissioned them. More than once we have witnessed the phenomenon that polls paid for by a particular political party are more favorable to that party than polls on the same issues not commissioned by a political party. However, it is primarily necessary to realize that polls do not determine the actual state of matters, but how respondents view them. The substitution of subjective perceptions for what is true - for reality - is very frequent, both among individuals and media outlets, and is the cause of many misunderstandings.

CVVM claims that during its poll on the coexistence of Czechs and Romani people, conducted during one week through personal interviews with respondents, they managed to complete the questionnaire with 1 048 respondents from all over the republic. Assuming that was the case, we can see the results of hastiness in their work. The poll copies the superficial approach to the topic of Romani people that we are familiar with from the media. It primarily follows the evaluation of coexistence between Czechs and Romani people and the view of Czechs on the options available to Romani people in several selected areas, such as employment, housing, etc. Of course, we do not learn comparative data from these polls, such as Czechs' views of the options available to Czechs, or their views of the activity of the state, towns and villages in relation to Czechs.

It is also not certain what is meant by "dissatisfaction" with the coexistence between the non-Romani and Romani population. There is a lack of follow-up questions from which it would be possible to infer what percentage of respondents are intolerant of Romani people, what percentage of Romani people are intolerant of Czechs, or where such "dissatisfaction" is actually more a sighed wish that coexistence might improve, etc.

Primarily, what is lacking here is a deeper search for the causes of the state of affairs reflected in polling results. The media is of cardinal influence, or to be more specific, the way in which the media reports on Romani topics and on the coexistence of Romani people with others greatly influences public opinion.

In addition to our everyday experience of the media, we can indirectly support our claim as to its primary role by two recent findings of the CVVM polls. More of the respondents who evaluated the standard of living of their own household as "good" also gave a favorable evaluation of the coexistence of Czechs and Romani people. Thanks to the fact that they are well off, they are less influenced by the actual events and warped images offered by the media. On the other hand, Czech people with low social status or those afraid of falling into poverty are much less open toward Romani people.

Respondents who have Romani acquaintances or friends evaluate coexistence markedly more often as "good", as do those respondents who give positive evaluations of coexistence with Romani people in their neighborhoods. Those respondents who reported that Romani people live near their neighborhoods (46 %) were also asked questions about coexistence with Romani people in those locations.

The polling results on the coexistence of non-Romani and Romani populations were more positive for respondents who actually have Romani neighbors than they were on coexistence in general. About two-fifths (41 %) of respondents who said Romani people live near their neighborhoods said coexistence between Romani and other people in their own neighborhoods was "good" (4 % said this coexistence was "very good" and 37 % called it "rather good"). In the overall poll results, however, only 14 % of respondents called the coexistence of Czechs and Romani people "good" (1 % - "very good", 13 % - "rather good").

It is evident, therefore, that those who have personal experience with someone Romani, who know Romani people and are in daily contact with them, are less influenced by the flood of negative events and news reports about them. Based on this, we can argue that the real situation (as people in their own neighborhoods know) is significantly better than the media, including online social networking sites and "discussions" of various kinds, tells us it is. Let's review how the media contributes to this distorted reality.

We have already reported on the intentional anti-Romani campaign being conducted by the country's most-watched television station, TV Nova, and the tabloid news server Parlamentní listy (PL) and its affiliated websites. That news server is responsible for much more than just the hoax about a non-existent Romani political party allegedly "robbed by its own treasurer". That article was written by a certain Václav Prokůpek, previously a candidate for the neo-Nazi Workers' Party. From the start, however, Prokůpek was far from the only such contributor - he was just a cog in a well-oiled machine. Other such cogs are contributors to and editors of Parlamentní listy and its affiliated websites such as Radim Panenka (previously with the extremist National Party), Adam B. Bartoš (the person in the Czech Republic who is most frequently called an anti-Semite) and Lukáš Petřík (the "link" between the D.O.S.T. organization, Czech presidential adviser Petr Hájek, and the editors of PL, as well as a participant in actions organized by the extremist Patriotic Front organization).

PL is essentially conducting an openly anti-Romani campaign. The editors will make use of literally anyone willing to write anything that comes into their heads against Romani people. Prokůpek's hoaxes - and there have certainly been more than one of them - were always gladly accepted by the PL editors. They accepted them without any of the editors, including the editor-in-chief, ever meeting Prokůpek face-to-face. According to the PL management, he never even signed a contract with them, because he never went to their offices.

The other extremists mentioned above have somewhat stratified themselves away from PL and onto its affiliated websites, which are stylistically reminiscent of the tabloid Vlajka (Flag), published by Czech fascists during the interwar period. There is a deeper background to this whole affair. The people behind PL evidently want a group of extremists - primarily the anti-Gypsyists, anti-Semites, ultra-Catholics and ultra-conservatives gathered around Czech presidential advisers Hájek and Jakl, the D.O.S.T. organization, the journal National Idea (Národní myšlenka), and the Patriotic Front (Vlastenecká fronta) - to increase their social prestige.

Of course, the saddest chapter in this case was the fact that several media outlets republished the hoax about the non-existent Romani political party and its treasurer without verifying it at all. The editor-in-chief of Týden magazine even justified this by claiming that PL is a serious media outlet (sic!), which is why there was no need to verify the report from the start. This case is the best proof that the Czech media are much more concerned with readership and viewership than with journalistic ethics and professionalism.

TV Nova's news reporting intentionally seeks out criminal cases involving Romani people. Its reporting on crimes allegedly committed by Romani suspects is disproportional to the actual number of crimes committed by Romani as compared to Czech suspects. It is therefore creating the mistaken impression that Romani people commit more crimes than do people from the majority society. There are countless examples of this, as well as examples of how TV Nova exploits this topic.

In October 2011, a clash occurred between two Czech people and some Romani people in Ústí nad Labem. TV Nova broadcast completely one-sided information about this event, reporting the Czechs' claims as true without even trying to get a statement from the other side. However, most importantly, the reporters broadcast no information on the incident that preceded the clash on which they focused. The clash had been preceded by an attack committed by the two Czechs against the Romani people.

"I saw a Romani woman, her husband and their son running away from a man who was chasing them with a knife and yelling at them: 'You black assholes, I'll kill you, you're going to die here, you black guys'. The Romani people were yelling for help and as they fled inside the building, the lady fell down. Her husband ran back for her. The assailant was waving his knife in the face of the prostrate woman. Her husband pushed him away and they managed to hide inside the building... After about three minutes I saw a crowd of people in front of the building," an eyewitness said. After this incident, a brawl using knives and machetes took place between the Romani people defending the assaulted family and their assailants.

"I was angry and shocked when I saw the report on TV Nova, how they described the whole incident. They turned it against the Romani people, but that's not what it was like at all," the witness said.

On 20 April of this year, TV Nova broadcast a report by Ivan Berka about an assault committed against a young girl in Liberec. The report was put together so as to achieve the purpose of prompting negative emotions aimed against Romani people - not just in Liberec, but in northern Bohemia in general. The reporter based his story solely on the claims of the allegedly assaulted girl without verifying them at all. It turned out that the claims of Nova's "crown witness" had been fabricated. The station knew that one never relies 100 % in news reporting on the testimony (allegations) of a victim, because there have been many such fabricated cases.

The report said the following: "In Liberec it is the first time Romani people have attacked a young girl. Two held her down while a third used a knife or razor to slice the clothing she was wearing... they demanded cash and food from her... the girl is injured and her family does not want to comment on the case. She had various cuts to her throat and her upper and lower limbs."

Berka then linked the case to that of another victim, a 15-year-old whom he says was assaulted by Romani people in Šluknov. We then see video footage of one of the assailants charged in that case, said to be named Tomáš Dzyry, who neither looks Romani nor speaks with a Romani accent. We then cut back to the studio, where the moderator asks a suggestive question of the mayor of Šluknov, putting the words in her mouth that there will definitely be more unrest because of this in Šluknov district.

What is the reality of the situation? Police in Liberec shelved the case because the girl confessed to police that she had cut herself and made up the story of the assault. TV Nova has not apologized for its disinformation, and the case unleashed strong emotions. "Parents in particular panicked and called the police with all kinds of questions about the security of their children. Given the girl's age and the seriousness of the behavior of the alleged perpetrators, detectives made the case a big priority," police spokesperson Vlasta Suchánková said.

Such fabricated cases, however, are nothing new. "It's not possible to calculate the number of cases invented, so the data I am providing you is only approximate. I managed to determine that there have been approximately eight fabricated cases. Five were supposed to have been robberies and three were supposedly muggings," police spokesperson Vojtěch Haňka told news server Romea.cz.

Any Romani topic whatsoever is considered good enough for Nova to increase its ratings. In March, on its website Tn.cz, the broadcaster published both a video and written report about parents supposedly rising up against a school in Chomutov because the cafeteria had planned a "week of Romani cuisine".

"The kitchen has prepared traditional Greek, Italian, Mexican, or Slovak food for the children. They only got into trouble when the Romani week was announced. For some parents the idea that their children would be eating traditional gypsy food is so shocking that they told them not to eat in the cafeteria that week," TV Nova reported. The video footage first shows two people who say they like the week of Romani cuisine. Then the reporter says: "In northern Bohemia the situation around inadaptable citizens is so exacerbated that some of the parents were offended by the well-intentioned action and forbade their children to eat lunch in the cafeteria that week."

Then we cut to a woman, who says: "They eat in the cafeteria, they always eat there, but not this week." "The reason is?" asks the reporter. The woman responds: "It's questionable." Then we see a man who says "it bothers me" and another man who says he is bothered by the name of the event, not by the fact that it is taking place.

TV Nova usually draws an equivalency between "inadaptable citizens" and Romani people in its reporting. On the one hand, it is making untrue claims: The situation around Romani people is not exacerbated throughout all of northern Bohemia, only in some places in Šluknov district. The main thing is that the "parents" who are rising up against the week of Romani cuisine turn out to be just one mother.

This was confirmed to news server Romea.cz by the head of the cafeteria at the school, Václava Bublová. "We prepare 380 lunches a day. Among that many people you can always find one who doesn't like something. The people from TV Nova told me this is just one mother, who has forbidden her child to eat in the cafeteria during Romani cuisine week. Supposedly she complained that we are cooking Romani food at a time when there is unrest in Šluknov district connected to Romain people. I told them I don't care. There's no unrest here, and Romani cuisine is part of our strategy. We usually hold weeks where we feature the cuisine of various nations," Bublová told news server Romea.cz.

The next part of this analysis will cover the daily newspaper Právo and the website Novinky.cz, the group of media outlets under the news server Deník.cz, public broadcaster Czech Television, and other media outlets.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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