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November 21, 2018
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Civil society members of Czech Govt Roma Council call on public broadcaster to hold a real debate about Romani issues

16.10.2018 10:58
Edita Stejskalová (right) and Petr Torák (center), Romani civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs (PHOTO:  František Bikár, Romea.cz)
Edita Stejskalová (right) and Petr Torák (center), Romani civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs (PHOTO: František Bikár, Romea.cz)

The civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs have issued an official declaration about the upcoming episode of the Czech Television program "You Have the Floor", ("Máte slovo"), moderated by Michaela Jílková, which is scheduled to discuss the insulting remarks that have recently been made repeatedly by Czech President Miloš Zeman about Romani people. "Neither the format of the debate nor the way it is moderated will facilitate any discussion, there will be no room for analysis, the aim is just to ridicule the speakers in a populist, sensationalist way by inciting an argument among them that escalates into shouting. It is the duty of Czech Television, according to its status as a public broadcaster, to cultivate the Czech discussion environment. We frequently witness coverage of many social subjects through different program formats that are presented, for example, on your ČT 24 channel. We are asking why such an essential topic as that of these constantly repeated, already-refuted lies about Romani people does not receive any space in your programming other than on the 'Máte slovo' program?" their statement asks.

The Romani civil society members also call on Czech Television to facilitate a genuinely professional, serious debate on this subject with Romani experts in the areas of employment and social exclusion through one of the broadcaster's already-existing discussion or feature formats and, in accordance with the law, that the public broadcaster actually fulfill its public broadcast function in relation to Romani people. "We believe the aim of Czech Television management is to fulfill their lawful, public broadcasting services in relation to Romani people as citizens of the Czech Republic and that the program management of this television station will respond to our call and create room for an actual debate," the civil society declaration states.

The first to respond to the opportunity to appear on "You Have the Floor" was the ROMEA organization, which had already thoroughly objected to Zeman's remarks and refuted his allegations. ROMEA refused the invitation to debate the issue on that particular program.

"This discussion program turns everything into a tabloid scandal and the upshot is that it that makes communication impossible - its concept is to reduce everything to an attempt by those participating to humiliate, out-argue, and shout down their interlocutors," the organization said, adding that the program abuses people's desperation and misery and does not fulfill the basic standards of journalism, such as having a moderator who is able to respond when interlocutors make allegations that are untrue. ROMEA believes that this program incites aggression among those of different opinions and offers no constructive solutions.

Another Romani guest declines invitation to appear on "You Have the Floor"

Others have also refused invitations to appear on the program. "Today we were invited to 'Máte slovo'. We declined. We will not contribute to a program, the added value of which is just to shore up barriers between people and to disseminate hatred. We will not express our views about the unacceptable remarks made by elected representatives of our state (remarks protected by their immunity from prosecution) that will be defended on 'Máte slovo' by presidential spokesperson Ovčáček and Czech MP Foldyna. Everybody else should do the same. 'Máte slovo' does a disservice to public broadcast television," the In IUSTITIA organization said on Friday.

Dramaturgs for the program also reached out to the director of the Institute for Social Inclusion (IPSI), Martin Šimáček. "IPSI is neither the first nor probably the last institution to be bothered by the fact that such a serious subject as the President's racism is now meant to be the topic of a public broadcasting television program that has nothing to do with seriously-moderated discussion," said Šimáček, who will not be participating in the show.

Robin Stria, an activist and Romani community organizer who was previously invited to appear on the program, will also not be participating. He confirmed his decision not to appear in a statement issued yesterday, saying that he does not want to contribute to a program where the subject will just be opened without leading to a fair discussion.

"I do not want to be put in the position of defending the entire Romani community just to keep up the ratings for this public broadcasting television show. If we are to discuss the remarks that have insulted our whole community, then I decidedly would opt for a different format," Stria said in a letter to Czech Television.

"At this moment I do not perceive it as important to continue to divide society by being confronted with the kind of easy stereotypes you offered in the questions you asked me so that Ms Jílková could gather background material. I want to bring our society together and move toward mutual comprehension, which this program format cannot do. However, if you at Czech Television find the bravery to insist on balance and want to produce something about our subject matter in a dignified way, I would be glad to aid you with that, along with the many other experts on the media from our community," Stria wrote.

News server Romea.cz is publishing the press release from the civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani Community Affairs in full translation here:

Civil society members of the Czech Government Council on Romani Minority Affairs call on public broadcaster to hold a real debate about Romani issues

Czech Television is responding to the Czech President's recent repeated attacks on Romani people and the public debate about those attacks by adding the subject of "(Non)working Roma" to the "You Have the Floor" ("Máte slovo") program, moderated by Michaela Jílková. A large part of Romani civil society and representatives of various professions have already declined invitations to appear on the show.

ROMEA, o.p.s. has issued a press release and dozens of Romani figures are declaring their same rejection of this offer through online social networks. Neither the format of the debate nor the way it is moderated will facilitate any discussion, there will be no room for analysis, the aim is just to ridicule the speakers in a populist, sensationalist way by inciting an argument among them that escalates into shouting.

It is the duty of Czech Television, according to its status as a public broadcaster, to cultivate the Czech discussion environment. We frequently witness coverage of many social subjects through different program formats that are presented, for example, on your ČT 24 channel.

We are asking why such an essential topic as that of these constantly repeated, already-refuted lies about Romani people does not receive any space in your programming other than on the 'Máte slovo' program? We call on Czech Television to facilitate a genuinely professional, serious debate on this subject with Romani experts in the areas of employment and social exclusion through one of your already-existing discussion or feature formats.

Further, we call on Czech Television, in accordance Act No. 483/1991, Coll., "on Czech television" to actually fulfill your public broadcast function in relation to Romani people and:

"a) to provide objective, verified, balanced, impartial information for the free creation of opinions;

 b) to contribute to the legal awareness of the inhabitants of the Czech Republic;

 c) to create and disseminate programs and provided a balanced selection of shows for all groups of inhabitants in the country, taking into consideration freedom of religious faith and conviction, culture, ethnic or national origin, national identity, social origin, age or sex in such a way that these programs and shows reflect diversity of opinions and political, religious, philosophical and artistic trends with the aim of bolstering mutual comprehension and tolerance and supporting the cohesion of a pluralistic society."

"You Have the Floor" basically does not fulfill the wording of the law cited above - it has long been criticized as a discussion format and, after many years of frustrating experiences, it is today being justifiably boycotted, and not just by Romani people. We believe the aim of Czech Television management is to fulfill your lawful, public broadcasting services in relation to Romani people as citizens of the Czech Republic and that the program management of this television station will respond to our call and create room for an actual debate.

Signed by the civil society members of the Czech Government Council for Romani CommunityMinority Affairs:

Bc. Martina Horváthová

Bc. Edita Stejskalová

Mgr. Lucie Fuková

Nikola Taragoš

Mgr. Alica Sigmund Heráková

Petr Torák MBE

Čeněk Růžička

Doc. PhDr. et PhDr. Martin Kaleja

Ph.D. PhDr. Renata Köttnerová

Štefan Oláh

Josef Stojka

František Bikár

bau, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Česká televize, Jiří Ovčáček, Máte slovo, Michaela Jílková



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