Commentary: Czech TV Prima broadcasts manipulative report about Roma returning from Britain en masse
The Prima television station in the Czech Republic must have some sort of "anti-ethics code" obligating it to constantly incite the public against minorities. Previously, for example, it was revealed that its news editors were instructed by their superiors to report about refugees in exclusively negative terms.
Now those editors seem to have switched their attentions back to Romani people. What Prima actually produces is not news reporting, which by law is supposed to be balanced and objective, but a ceaseless campaign against minorities.
Prima packs Romani people's bags for them
The producers at Prima never leave their viewers in any doubt about what they are "supposed to think", but instead make that clear from the very beginning of each reportage. The moderators in the studio introduced the recent reporting as follows: "As many as 2 500 Czech Romani families could be returning to the Czech Republic from Great Britain. Authorities there are tightening their belts and significantly reducing or even completely cancelling some forms of social welfare. They want to turn the tables on those who don't work and therefore don't pay taxes. Some Roma, therefore, are choosing to return to their native countries. The atmosphere among immigratnts is even more tense because of the questions surrounding Brexit."
The reportage, of course, does not feature an interview with a single Romani person stating a desire to return to the Czech Republic because of Brexit, or because welfare benefits have dried up - instead, it reports as fact something that two Romani interviewees heading to the Czech Republic for vacation overheard or saw being discussed on Facebook. Reporter Kristýna Vedralová kicks things off with the following allegation: "Even though the consequences of Brexit are unforeseeable and new rules for migrants in the country would not begin to apply until two years from now, some are already packing their bags, including Czech citizens."
Miroslav Milo, a resident of Glasgow, then tells the camera: "People are afraid now because they don't know what will happen after Brexit. Many people are complaining that they don't know what to expect. On Facebook there's been a panic and some people are considering going back home."
Notice what Mr Milo says: "On Facebook ... some people are considering...". He is not speaking of thousands of families who will "flood" the Czech Republic tomorrow.
Since Vedralová's attempt to intimidate us with Brexit isn't exactly successful, she quickly hastens to another gold mine to dig up something juicy. "Not everybody, however, is responding to Great Britain's departure from the European Union. The cause actually lies somewhere else. The British authorities have begun denying welfare to unemployed immigrants. Apparently there is nothing left to keep these families in the country," she tells viewers.
Paul Millar, the honorary Consul-General of the Czech Republic in Edinburgh, then tells the camera: "There are people who are going back home because their social benefits were taken away. I had a family here who came to say they are returning because their so-called housing benefit, social support for housing, has stopped."
Welfare benefits are individually reviewed
The upshot: The Consul confirms for Prima that one family has returned because they were not awarded housing benefits - and we don't know why they weren't because Prima has not attempted to ascertain that at all. From the single piece of confirmed information that Vedralová has in this reportage, she deduces that the British authorities have begun taking benefits away from unemployed immigrants and that 2 500 families therefore have no reason to stay there any longer.
Millar was very willing to answer follow-up questions about this issue for news server Romea.cz. "I do know of one or two cases where migrants have lost their housing benefits. I am speaking of migrants in general, not Roma specifically, because personally I don't distinguish the ethnic origin of those who come here. In one of the cases the reason was that the Czech citizen hadn't paid taxes because he was working under the table at a car wash. On the other hand, I do know that in general there have been generous allocations of various benefits to other migrants, for example, to single mothers," Millar told news server Romea.cz.
The disbursal of benefits, according to Millar, is decentralized by region and dealt with by the relevant social benefits administration. "As far as I know, no
official declaration about cutting benefits has been made and the Parliament in Westminster has not discussed it. This could be an administrative measure by a particular local administration - they sometimes review the disbursal of benefits on the basis of the applicable regulations, which take into consideration, for example, whether the person under review works or is actively seeking work," the Consul said.
So the facts are these: In the one place where Prima has asked around, they found two cases of benefits being stopped, and we don't know whether those involved were ethnic Czechs or Roma. The British authorities review the disbursal of benefits individually, not in the thousands, so for that reason there is no risk that 10 000 Romani people will be returning to the Czech Republic overnight.
Let's take a look at what Prima considers fact-checking to involve. Vedralová tells us that "The situation is confirmed to us by 38-year-old Lucie, who came to the consulate to arrange travel documents for her children. She traveled 400 kilometers to get to Edinburgh. Elsewhere she wouldn't be able to get the
passports as quickly. She is allegedly only going to the Czech Republic for vacation, though."
Lucie Demeterová of Liverpool then tells the camera: "People are going home in droves, they've basically all headed that way, so everything's full and I'm glad I could find this [ticket]. Anybody not working is basically going home. They have to go, they have no other choice. They won't be getting anything...".
Vedralová still hasn't proved her claims about 2 500 families yet, not even from the impression made by this interviewee, which is presented as verified information. It is clear that the reporter has exploited this Romani woman, who apparently did not know what the story would be about, to get a statement about these discussions and reflections among the Roma living in Britain as if they were firm decisions.
This is evident from the fact that the first part of Demeterová's answer on camera is about her vacation. "TV Prima turned up randomly here at the consulate when they were doing a travelogue report. Their crew met here with two families for whom we had just arranged documents for their travel to the Czech Republic," Millar told Romea.cz - and those families were both going there on vacation too.
The problematic Kristýna Vedralová
Now comes Vedralová's peak moment as a television journalist - and TV Prima's as a broadcaster. We next hear her say: "In Great Britain there are about 2 500 Czech Romani problematic families. If all of them were to decide to return, the Czech Republic wouldl have to suddenly deal with approximately 10 000 new inhabitants. Does it seem realistic to you that these 2 500 families who have basically lost their benefits will now pick themselves up and decide to return to the Czech Republic?"
Paul Millar is then shown answering: "Not everybody, but those who have some backup at home might certainly consider it...". So we contacted Petr Torák, a Romani man from the Czech Republic who works as a police officer in Peterborough, about 120 kilometers north of London, to ask his opinion - and he was absolutely disgusted by the TV Prima reportage.
"Before I left for vacation, a couple of people told me they're afraid they will have to leave Britain, but nobody was planning to return to either the Czech Republic or Slovakia. This reportage is based on biased, untrue allegations. Both the reportage itself and the reporter have left a bad taste in my mouth," Torák told news server Romea.cz.
Last year the police officer became a Member of the British Empire. That high civilian honor was bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II primarily for his community work.
After reviewing the reportage we tried to figure out where the Prima reporter got her data about 2 500 Romani families and how she ascertained that they are all "problematic". We sent the editors of the TV Prima newsroom an e-mail asking those questions, but we have not yet received an answer.
Millar believes the data on the number of Romani familes might come from social charities involved in the issue. "For example, Riverside Centre in Newcastle upon Tyne produced similar statistics roughly a year ago - allegedly in their area there are approximately 6 000 families from the former socialist Czechoslovakia. However, the northeast of England is not part of my consular area, which is limited to the borders of Scotland," the Consul said.
The origin of the allegations that these families are "problematic" was something Millar could not explain. "I disagree with that generalization of Romani families as 'problematic', because I know many such cases where both parents or at least one works, the children attend school, and overall they live here normally, like everybody else," Millar said.
Prima disseminates fear and should lose its license
The management of Prima instructed its editors in September 2015 to depict refugees solely as a risk and a threat to the Czech Republic. News server Hlídací pes did extensive reporting on the issue.
The editors obeyed those orders, as the Czech Government's Hate Free campaign, run by the Agency for Social Inclusion, has also warned the public. We don't know whether a similar order from above was handed down in the case of the Czech Roma living in Britain, or if the editors of the newsroom at Prima just include them among the "refugee" category.
One thing, of course, is clear: TV Prima is continuing to disseminate fear by manipulating the "information" it broadcasts. We must wait for the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV) to decide whether Prima will get away with it this time or not.
The RRTV has already said that it does not believe the law on radio and television broadcasting was broken by the Prima management de facto ordering editors to not be either balanced or objective. By law, however, balance and objectivity are basic conditions for the issuing or the rescinding of a broadcasting license.
The broadcasting authority has commissioned a follow-up analysis of TV Prima's news reporting, so we'll see what position they take next. The station is intentionally doing harm to our democracy and should have lost its license long ago.
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