Commentary: Tabloids are based on stupidity, with racism as a side effect
The main idea of the 1 April article on the topic by the Czech daily Mf DNES and its online news server iDNES.cz is exactly that: Look out - the Roma are all the same. There are no guarantees with them and you just can't rent to them.
Only the ombud would lease to Romani tenants
The article seems to be a striking response to Czech ombud Šabatová, who has repeatedly criticized discrimination against Romani people in the Czech Republic and who has recently criticized landlords and real estate agents who refuse to lease apartments to Roma. A wave of criticism followed her remarks, with people claiming that she wants to limit ownership rights, that she has used "provocateurs", or that her office is operating as "an organ of state terror against individual citizens."
Well, now the "truth-lover" has her response: Even when a Romani person is an actor, that is no guarantee the rent will be paid. It's also no guarantee when someone "basically doesn't even seem Romani", as Dudová recently characterized herself in an interview for news server Novinky.cz.
All this work is simply in vain: You can be successful, you can play a role in a film, you can make some money, you can be mistaken for a non-Roma, but when all is said and done, a Rom is a Rom. It's just too big of a risk to let one into your apartment.
Tabloids are tabloids - nothing less, nothing more
This particular media outlet has used a classic method for its manipulative, racist depiction of Roma - namely, presenting a quote by one person and then never reporting the other side of the story. Nevertheless, I think the article is primarily not a work of racism, but of tabloidism.
I agree with those who note that any tabloid would write such an article about any "Czech" star, especially one about whom not much is known, whose career is on the rise, and who is an attractive young woman. They would publish this kind of thing about a Canadian or a Polish star, for that matter.
They might not put such a piece on the front page, as Mf DNES did - but then again, they might just. I also agree with those who reject the criticism of the follow-up articles about Dudová - a celebrity must simply be prepared for the tabloids to take an interest in her.
Such attention is part of an actor's profession. The racism in the coverage is merely a sort of added value, a bonus to the content of this tabloid piece.
After all, Pavel Novotný, that classic purveyor of Czech tabloid journalism, claims that the word "Rom" in a headline guarantees an increase in readership of 25 %. Is there any point in paying attention to the tabloids, though?
Why should even we respond to them at all? It still make sense to respond in the case of Mf DNES, which is playing at being the "most-read serious newspaper" on the Czech media market.
A considerable number of readers still believe what they read in that paper. That's why it does makes sense on this occasion to say, once again: Mf DNES (and iDNES.cz) is a tabloid paper.
The paper has been grappling with creeping tabloidization for 13 years now. A rational reader interested in "serious information" should not take it too seriously, at least when it comes to some of the information and material it publishes (not all of it, of course).
Mf DNES and the decimated Czech media elite
The basic tabloid approach was introduced into the Czech mainstream "serious" media by Vladimír Železný, the co-founder and first director of the private TV NOVA station. His original grandiose intention to build a television station full of documentary and other films and educational programs was very soon transformed into a television station that "gives viewers what they want".
The basic presumption was that viewers want rather "quick" entertainment that is relaxing and undemanding, a mix of beautiful young people, celebrities, crime shows, soap operas and thrillers. It worked - TV NOVA earned the greatest audience share and Železný has successfully managed to keep lowering the bar on what "viewers want".
In 2002, Mf DNES was still actually relatively "serious", and it was experiencing a crisis in its sales. Readers "wanted" what the tabloids, primarily the daily Blesk, were offering.
A new Editor-in-Chief, Pavel Šafr, came to this "serious" paper to save it. His work there was comparable to the legacy of Železný: He began to rebuild a new Mf DNES based on "what readers want", and the tabloidization was underway.
That was when the paper experienced its first mass exodus of journalists, some of whom went to the daily Hospodářské noviny, while others later established the online news server Aktuálně.cz. At the time one colleague said: "This is typical creeping tabloidization, so you have to leave quickly. Otherwise one day you'll wake up and find you've been working for a tabloid without even noticing."
I left Mf DNES at that time for the weekly Reflex - yes, I admit, my view of Šafr is not unbiased. What's more, five years later he became the Editor-in-Chief of Reflex, so I had to get away from him again.
Naturally, I am not claiming that there are no good journalists left at Mf DNES or iDNES.cz, or that new professional young journalists never worked there after that, but the exodus of experienced "old school" editors left its mark on the paper. Recently Mf DNES has experienced a second wave of "emigration" after another set of experienced, professional editors refused to work under the paper's new owner, Andrej Babiš (who is also now the Czech Finance Minister).
People with experience from advanced tabloid media outlets have now taken up leadership positions in the Mf DNES newsroom and in the media group as a whole. Jaroslav Plesl, who previously worked with Šafr at Reflex and then led the tabloidized Týden weekly, is now the Mf DNES Editor-in Chief.
František Nachtigall, who also led Týden and before that, the tabloid daily Aha!, is now directing all of the magazine supplements for the paper. The Slovak branch of Babiš's media group is being led by the former Editor-in-Chief of the tabloid Blesk, Vladimír Mužík.
What do readers want?
The media scene in the Czech Republic has naturally changed significantly since the "Šafrization" of the media began here, thanks to the much more powerful rise of online media and diverse social networking sites. The pressure to work fast and keep things simple is even higher today.
It seems impossible to return to a concept of "more serious", more sophisticated reporting that provides analysis, context, and pieces longer than a tweet. Readers (and listeners and viewers) just want information that is entertaining and fast-paced.
Does this mean that more or less hardcore tabloids are irreversibly winning across the Czech media spectrum? I am not an idealist on this question, but a sceptic, which is why my answer is: Yes, they are gradually winning.
Nevertheless, that does not mean journalists must lose all of their ethical defenses. It also does not mean there is no point in creating or seeking out "islands of positive deviation" - media outlets that will do their best to provide analysis and context, and that will not resign themselves when it comes to honesty - and it definitely doesn't mean that all listeners, readers or viewers correspond to the constructs or imaginings of Nachtigall, Plesl, Šafr or Železný.
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