Commentary: Czech tabloids spark antigypsyism online and off
"A good gypsy = No gypsy. Or ZYKLON B" writes Facebook user Jiří Buldok Hrubý.
A few comments later, Facebook user Alex Jirka produces the following reflection on history: "I DO NOT WANT something like the Holocaust during WWII to ever be repeated, but when I read articles like this one, sometimes I say to myself - Why not?" His post was "liked" by 19 other readers.
These and dozens of similar reactions were sparked by Monday's article on the tabloid news server Blesk.cz entitled "The horrifying confession of Dagmar (32): Romani gang beat us unconscious because we didn't want sex". The piece describes an incident that took place in a gaming room, the Hong Kong, in the town of Česká Lípa around midnight on 22 February.
"It started when a drunken, 28-year-old male customer accosted a 40-year-old female customer with vulgar, sexual innuendo. The woman complained to her 32-year-old boyfriend, who went to have a word with him," Ivana Baláková, spokesperson for the local police, stated in her report on the incident at the start of March.
"Right now police officers are not clear on who struck whom first, but what is certain is that a brawl began in the bar in which a total of seven people participated," Baláková said. The offended woman's partner ended up with serious injuries in a local hospital, while she ended up with a bruised face as a result of the brutal attack.
The case was reported last Wednesday by news server iDNES.cz as a pub brawl. The initial Blesk article about the incident was based on that reporting and was written in a similar vein.
Neither of these first reports mentioned the ethnicity of either the assailants or the victims, but it was emphasized several times that the incident was not racially motivated. Why then, did the website of that same media outlet (and later, of others) decide to publish a follow-up piece five days later in which readers learn from the headline that the assailants were Romani and that they were allegedly forcing the woman to have sex?
Why do we read in the opening paragraph that the case is reminiscent of last year's attack on a married couple in Duchcov? Does such information provide some sort of added value for the reader, or is this really about shaping the mood of society and feeding readers' cravings for such headlines?
In order to expand the article and give it more news value (and it naturally began to spread like wildfire online), the tabloid media evidently decided to use material from last Thursday's reportage by the commercial TV Prima station on the incident. That station reported immediately in its introduction that four "inadaptables" (= Romani people) had committed the assault and that it was reminiscent of previous events in the town of Nový Bor.
If one searches on the name of the town "Česká Lípa" in the Blesk.cz news server, one finds a wide array of articles about atrocious assaults and murders there. For example: "Mother slits her four-year-old daughter Darinka's throat and evades punishment!" or "Murderer of 51-year-old esotericist caught: Motive for brutal murder now known" or "Pervitin addict with an IQ of 90 stabs mother and grandmother, gets nine years!"
However, in not one of these headlines do we learn the murderer's ethnicity, and the body of these articles doesn't reveal it either. Ethnicity simply is not interesting in those cases.
Ethnicity only becomes a lucrative commodity when a Romani person (= an "inadaptable") is involved, or when a member of another disliked national minority is involved, or a member of a different religion. On that basis, an entire story which would otherwise not interest readers can be easily set up and the newspaper (supplemented with photographs of the bruises and scars of the victims) will sell brilliantly.
Yesterday the police spokesperson confirmed the police's view of the matter to me by phone: "There was no racial motivation. All of it was personal. The woman happened to encounter a man in the bar who said something vulgar to her. She complained to her partner and it turned out badly. Once again, I insist there was no sign of racial motivation. That conflict could have happened between any group of people who were drunk. It doesn't matter what their nationality is. A big role in the whole incident was played by the high level of alcohol in the blood of the assailants."
The spokesperson went on to say that police officers in Česká Lípa respond to calls at the Hong Kong gaming room rather often. Brawls and scuffles between customers happen almost daily there.
"There really are a lot of them," the spokesperson told me - and yet none of those daily brawls have made it onto the pages of Blesk. Why is that?
Almost one year has passed since the horrible attack on the married couple in Duchcov. Almost three years have passed since the so-called "machete attack" in Nový Bor.
The tabloid media, which places its bets on sensationalism, is momentarily experiencing a death of material. The situation in Ukraine and political shenanigans are boring to their bloodthirsty readers.
This is why they are very glad to grasp at any opportunity to create a media bubble, and they will blow into their bubble wand until the last drop of soap is used up. They will do this irrespective of the facts, and irrespective of the ramifications that this kind of targeted manipulation might produce, in particular in the frustrated northern part of the Czech Republic.
Both the Nový Bor attack and the one in Duchcov launched a wave of anti-Romani marches in this country. The couple who were attacked in Duchcov, however, have stood up against this.
Considerably exhausted by the manipulative, unending media merry-go-round, the couple sent a message to the media several weeks ago through their lawyers: "We do not want the attack against us to be interpreted as an attack by the Roma against whites or to serve as a pretext for hatred and the incitement of racial intolerance. Our perception is that we were assaulted by a group of violent thugs, and such people exist in every nation."
Many commercial media outlets are not interested in this. They are not interested in how they are successfully feeding the public's xenophobic attitudes, which lead to attempted pogroms against innocent Romani people.
Most of those targeted by such efforts have nothing to do with the specific cases that spark them (just as I have nothing but my citizenship in common with [fugitive businessman] Radovan Krejčíř or with those who trade in adulterated alcohol). TV Nova was even charged with inciting hatred against Romani people in 2012 by the Czech Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting, precisely during the events launched by the incident in Nový Bor in the summer of 2011.
That TV station, however, is doing nothing at all about those charges, and together with the editors of other tabloid media is evidently still playing the old Abba song "Money, Money, Money" for its employees on a daily basis. These media don't take much interest in their social responsibility, or in the fates and feelings of the victims of these attacks - and they are not concerned in the least about the innocent Romani people who are subsequently strongly impacted by this society's response to their reporting.
Money is money, after all. What else is new?
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