Commentary: The new era of the Czech tabloid martyr
During the past two weeks the Czech tabloid daily Blesk has undertaken a new practice that might be increasing its readership, but is also contributing to worsening the already bad relations between the majority society and the Romani minority. The editors at Blesk have published two articles in a brief space of time featuring detailed photographs of the faces of assault victims.
For a tabloid daily, this is not that surprising. What is startling is that it is being done only in cases where the alleged assailants are Romani.
In the articles published 18 February ("Roma beat up young couple: No one helped us, not even the cops") and 10 March ("The horrifying confession of Dagmar (32): Romani gang beat us unconscious because we didn't want sex") the lovers of blood and bruises can enjoy a close-up view of the details of the injuries suffered by those attacked (people who were evidently very willing to send such photos to the editors). A quick glance at the other articles published by Blesk in its crime section in recent weeks shows that similar photos almost never turn up alongside similar pieces.
Several articles about attacks were published during that time period, such as a piece reporting on the thugs who have been assaulting female runners in Brno, which included an illustrative photo of a girl running through a forest full of the colors of fall. The piece about a police officer who broke the jaw of a soldier at a discotheque, or the piece about a deaf and dumb man who wanted to assault another man with a kitchen knife (that man defended himself with a shovel) were accompanied by photos of a municipal police service vehicle.
It therefore remains for us to ask why assaults allegedly perpetrated by Romani people are so exceptional and specific that they require the publication of a photograph sent to the editors by the victim or published by the victim on Facebook? Why is there such a need to produce "modern martyrs" who have become the poor victims of "bloodthirsty Roma"?
The 10 March article is a very interesting story in and of itself. A news report about a pub brawl in the town of Česká Lípa was first published on news server iDNES.cz.
Blesk first reported the incident in an article on 5 March. That article was headlined "She refused sexual advances, they brutally beat her and her boyfriend" and described in detail the course of the dispute in the "Hong Kong" gaming room and the entire brawl - it is a clear exception in that it is accompanied by a photograph of the victims before their assailants were ever overtly identified as Romani (the suspicion that they were was evident from the piece mentioning that the case had not been racially motivated).
However, there is no mention of anyone's ethnicity in the 5 March article. Three days later, the brawl in the "Hong Kong" gaming room was the subject of a report by TV Prima's news show on crime.
The television station stated from the start that four "inadaptables" had assaulted the couple and that the skirmish was reminiscent of the "machete attack" in the town of Nový Bor. What did this finding meant to the editors of Blesk?
The tv report resulted in something all but unheard of. The tabloid daily returned to the story five days later, this time with the much harsher headline "The horrifying confession of Dagmar (32): Romani gang beat us unconscious because we didn't want sex".
In addition to reporting the alleged assailants' ethnicity in the headline and in several other places in the text, the article does not forget to warn of the alleged similarity between this incident and last year's attack in the town of Duchcov. The article also does not fail to mention that one of the Romani assailants was the first to attack, but for sure none of the investigating police officers ever made such a statement.
What we are seeing unfold before us here is how, with the aim of increasing readership, the Molotov cocktail of hatred is being mixed. Once it explodes, all of is will have to pay for it through the police measures required at the subsequent anti-Romani demonstrations.
When last year the Agency for Social Inclusion published the results of its research into the depiction of Roma in the Czech media, many examples demonstrated that the media are often not interested in Romani people unless they can connect news about them with a problematic, sensational (and preferably also negative) event. At that moment, several journalistic values intersect and the interest in publishing such a report is suddenly much higher.
Our analysis, which reviewed more than 6 000 articles (between July 2011 and the end of May 2012) showed that more than 60 % of the news reporting about Romani people is linked to crime. In 80 % of those news items, Romani people were portrayed as the perpetrators of criminal activity.
Ethnic data is not collected as part of crime statistics, but any detective or police officer could confirm to you that such a high crime rate has never existed among Romani people. We already know from their previous practices that the media (especially the tabloids) are interested in reporting on negative phenomema and do not often concern themselves with whether it makes sense to mention a perpetrator's ethnicity or not.
However, it is a rather new phenomenon that the interest in grabbing the reader's attention and depicting Romani people in this way (and in sparking compassion for the poor victims) might be so strong that it would lead editors to return to a story they had already reported in order to augment it and make it properly harsh. This time it smacks of intent... .
PS: Readers seem to have willingly taken the bait. The 5 March version of the article was shared on Facebook by only 261 people so far. The 10 March version has been shared by 1 119.
The author is in charge of PR for the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion.
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