Commentary: CNN Prima begins its Czech-language broadcasting with stereotypes about Romani people
From the first indications of the journalism being done by the Czech edition of CNN (CNN Prima News), I had the impression that the news reporting by what used to be the Czech commercial television channel TV Prima, now wearing its new CNN uniform, was more objective than what Prima used to broadcast before it recently got this American partner - but when I chose an article to use as an example of the new approach, several stereotypes in it immediately leaped out at me, ones that will do nothing but aid those who are ignorant of these issues with maintaining their years-long prejudices. Ivan Motýl is the author of that article, which is headlined "Roma in the time of coronavirus: Debts are growing, the accordions are silent and face masks are disappearing" (Romové v čase koronaviru. Dluhy rostou, harmoniky mlčí a roušky mizí z tváří) wherein he presents readers with the problems of specific Romani people in Ostrava who have been afflicted by the pandemic of the novel coronavirus - and his perspective is in fact a knowledgeable, not a racist, one.
Compared to the racist programs and reportages that TV Prima used to produce, Motýl's approach is decidedly a change for the better. Despite the improvement, however, even he has unfortunately not avoided using recorded material that will be confirming for those who do not know Romani people and do not want to get to know them because they have created their own prejudices about them on the basis of their dislike of any difference and otherness.
Face masks are missing
Yesterday I took a trip on the outskirts of Prague, during which I encountered dozens of cyclists and people out for a walk, at least half of whom were not wearing face masks. I'm not just speaking of the cyclists riding past, but also the little groups of people drinking alcohol or sitting on the bank of the fish pond.
It did not occur to me to write an article, however, entitled "Czechs aren't wearing face masks". A growing number of people here are already simply sick of that limitation on their personal freedom.
"Even though it violates government orders, the Roma are slowly getting rid of their face masks," Motýl has written in his article. Yes, some Romani people are getting rid of their face masks because they are already sick of them, just like other Czech citizens are.
Some Romani people, as the article further points out, are saying this illness has nothing to do with them. "It wasn't an illness of the Roma, it was an illness of the gadje. They spread corona here. The Roma don't go anywhere, they were sitting at home on their butts, or they go to work, but they don't need to go skiing in Italy. The gadje are very well off, and money is spoiling them. Then they become false, and God has sent this illness to them," Romani community member Valerie Podraná is quoted as saying.
It is good to know what kinds of opinions predominate among Romani people in socially excluded localities, and Motýl deserves our thanks for reporting it. However, in my opinion, it is also necessary to familiarize readers (viewers, listeners) with the origins of those opinions.
The impoverished Roma did not exclude themselves from this society. If some Roma believe that they and the gadje are not living in the same society, it is not the Roma who are to blame - the gadje (some of them, maybe most of them) who do not want Roma in "their society" and who say so loud and clear are the ones responsible.
Roma = musician
The idea that all Romani people are musicians is a rather widespread stereotype - some Romani people do genuinely have a God-given gift and their talent aims itself at different corners of the art world, but it is just through music that they have been able to make a living here. Most Romani people, however, have made their livings otherwise and still do.
Romani people who are not socially excluded live ordinary lives in this country. We must recall this so that when we write about Romani musicians, that content does not become just a stereotype.
This stereotype makes it impossible for us to get to know Romani people as they actually are. Some Czech people will buy the claim that "as musicians [the Roma] are still good, but otherwise they're not worth anything".
The same goes for the endless discussion on the subject of whether we should use the term "Cikáni" or Roma. Motýl uses the term "cikánský part-time workers" in his piece.
Some Romani people are insulted by the expression "Cikáni", they consider it pejorative, it offends them. Some Czechs use the expression "Cikáni" abusively, it gives them an erroneous feeling of self-confidence because they believe themselves somehow superior to Romani people.
Maybe you have noticed that some gadje write the word "Rom" as a capitalized word but write "Cikáni" with a lower-case "c". All of these facts are the reasons why it is more professional to speak of these people as Roma when reporting on them in the media.
What do nonprofits live on?
"Why aren't Milan, Simona and their children being aided by some of the many nonprofits in Ostrava that live off of subsidies and concentrate on working with the inhabitants of excluded localities?" the author of the CNN article asks. This journalistic approach is right on the edge of what is acceptable, many journalists (and politicians) weigh in on nonprofits exactly with the aid of the stereotype that they draw money from municipalities or towns but "don't do anything".
Do nonprofits live from subsidies, though? Or do they live from providing aid to those in need with the assistance of grants and project funding?
In my experience, for the vast majority of nonprofits, the latter is the case. That also applies to the little NGO called JEKHETANE - SPOLEČNĚ ("Together") which is mentioned in the article and which has provided aid to many people.
In each such nonprofit the people there work for low salaries, very often doing the work of two people because very few people here want to do this work, and despite all the "subsidies", the money for this work flows slowly. If their activity were to be performed by municipalities or the state, it would be much more costly, because nonprofits have volunteers available to them, since those who work in them consider their jobs to be a calling, not just a way to earn their keep.
An objective idea
This article from CNN Prima News contains a great deal of necessary information about the problems of the poorest of the poor in this country, which is good. The debt trap from which there is no escape, the slot machines, the drugs - all of this and more is good to know so readers can create an objective idea about the lives of people living in such places.
However, in the interest of that objectivity, it would be correct to familiarize readers and viewers with the causes of this state of affairs. Otherwise, the people suffering from prejudices will just choose what they want to use from this reporting, and then they can use it to say: "As musicians [the Roma] may be useful, but otherwise they're a bunch of drug addicts and criminals."
We're right back where we started, at the division of this society into two parts. Those parts are the one that is fatuously termed "the majority society" (which is fatuous because there is only one society here) and the other part, those who "don't belong among us".
Maybe the error is on my side because the demands I place on a single piece of reporting are too high. That could be, I have been involved with this subject for a very long time and there is no doubt that I am biased in my own way.
Motýl might write about everything I have just discussed here in his other articles - I don't know. If he does, I would welcome it.
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