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Commentary: You have the floor, so babble and manipulate people

21.11.2015 14:02
Bob Kartous. (Photo:  Personal archive)
Bob Kartous. (Photo: Personal archive)

News server is republishing in full translation the following commentary by Bob Kartous from the EDUin NGO, written after he participated in the episode broadcast on 9 November of the Czech Television talk show "You Have the Floor" (Máte slovo) as a guest. The topic of the program was inclusion in the schools.  

The Czech media frequently defend the interests of their owners quite openly, and they often just stick to the psychoses and trends of the mob because it yields them readers, online visitors, and therefore the potential of advertising revenue. The Czech Republic is also a country that expends no small amount of money on its public broadcaster so that society can access information that is objective, insofar as that is possible, and have the opportunity to create its own opinion about topics that go beyond the daily horizons of the average person.

The "You Have the Floor" (Máte slovo) program, which Czech Television produces, does not fulfill that definition of broadcasting in the public interest. Squabbling between neighbors about sensitive topics cannot facilitate the creation of objective opinion.

On the contrary, frequently this program very purposely affirms whatever demagoguery is being commonly shared at the moment, purely because following such a principle promotes its own ratings. What is this program good for?

Just like [Britské commentator] Daniel Veselý, I have also had a personal experience with this program. I do not share his too-intellectual characterization of it as a "surrealist circus."

In my opinion, this program is just a blunt quarrel between neighbors during which the moderator, who has the intellectual equipment of a building superintendent, intentionally heads the discussion toward conflicts in which it is possible to use any demagoguery, lies or manipulation without it being at all possible to effectively correct or refute such offenses in any way. I was invited on this program as a so-called "main guest", which gives one the privilege of access to the technology to interrupt any of the guests standing at the discussion podiums on the stage.

I received questions in advance to which the producers of the program wanted an answer. I have no idea why, because the links I sent them to the findings of scholarship about inclusion or to experiences with it from abroad were not used by the moderator at all to set the agenda for the program, and by all indications she didn't even read them (it is true that some were in English).

The program features three discussants standing on each side of the stage who are on opposite sides of an issue. The same proportion is supposed to be represented in the studio audience of approximately 30 people.

Speaking in a bizarre manner reminiscent of communicating with a pre-school aged child, the moderator calls on the audience just before the program begins to always applaud whenever they agree with what their ideological fellow-traveler says. It's really all the same whether the guests say "eee" or are babbling crap - from the perspective of the program every vocalization is a reason to reward the guest with applause and therefore display agreement.

Since the audience is intentionally composed of ideological opponents, its tendency is to strengthen its emotional influence over the viewer purely by frenetically applauding irrespective of what, precisely, their ally has said. This is heavy-handed media manipulation through which the moderator explains to the mostly media-illiterate studio audience that they represent "perhaps a million citizens of this society".

After the program I attempted to explain to the moderator that the way she is generating public opinion about whatever topic is under discussion is criminally burdened by her approach of degrading everything to the subject of a silly quarrel. It is difficult to say whether the moderator is capable of grasping the causality of the relationship between an opinion and the conditions that influence its reception, or if she is just playing dumb.

In any event, she attempted to convince me that she herself is not creating any opinions but is leaving it up to the viewers to form their own opinions. Now, if someone claims the earth is flat, you can show them the globe and photographs from satellites and argue about the horizon, the sunset, and the rotation of the planet causing the alteration of day and night - in other words, through argument it is possible to provide a pretty good proof that the earth is not flat.

Even so, a convinced denier does not have to believe you and can declare that each of your arguments is false. It is even more difficult to convince someone that for objectivity to be the outcome, it is not enough to have three pairs of opponents discussing something.

NB:  The moderator has a tendency to turn this program into an exhibition of her own and is not capable of assessing what the discussants are basically saying and whether it is true, not even at an elementary level. On the program where I was a guest, the topic of discussion was the inclusion of children with special needs (those who are mentally or physically disabled or socially neglected) into mainstream education.

The shorthand term for this idea is inclusion. In an international declaration adopted in Salamanca, 92 representatives of governments have agreed that inclusion is a generally beneficial principle, as opposed to segregating "abnormal" children into specialized institutions, as they still are segregated to this day, to a great extent, by the Czech Republic.

Many genuinely progressive education systems (in Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway or Ontario) refer to the Salamanca document has having made inclusion an objectively-acknowledged positive social vector. There are many studies supporting the principle of inclusion, and there is a wealth of experience available from those countries, most of which began inclusion 20 years ago.

Nothing of that was heard during this public broadcasting program. Instead, one opponent asserted that in countries where inclusion has been introduced there are much higher unemployment rates for the mentally disabled, while another claimed inclusion means holding back "normal" children's instruction, and a third claimed that there is no segregation on a racial basis in the Czech Republic.

The first assertion was made completely without any reference to a reliable source for such "information" and by all accounts was invented. The second claim is directly refuted by empirical evidence, as the highly pro-inclusive country of Finland decidedly does not suffer from children with special needs "holding back" the others.

On the contrary, the children in Finland are achieving much better academic results than children do in the segregated schools of the Czech Republic. The third allegation is refuted by the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (called D.H.), which found that the Czech Republic discriminates against Romani children by very frequently assigning them, absolutely without grounds, to schools where they are educated according to a program for the lightly mentally disabled.

The moderator was incapable of catching any of this, to say nothing of warning the viewers that these assertions were absurd manipulations. For each of these remarks, the speakers earned the applause of the claque, who had no idea whether the guests were telling the truth or not - and to whom it sincerely did not matter.

The meaning of what was said completely escapes the claque - the main thing is conflict and tension, which attracts the less thoughtful. The question is:  Where in the Czech Television code of conduct is there an obligation to produce these kinds of programs?

What mission is being fulfilled by this program? How is it contributing to the discussion of the topics chosen for coverage?

It is absurd that this type of program, on the contrary, is absolutely obscuring reality and, with the brutality of tabloid cynicism, is frequently inciting completely demagogic notions and prejudices. Paradoxically, this society is supporting a media environment that is harmful to it - and that is really difficult to understand.

First published in Czech on the news server Britské on 12 November 2015.

jal, Bob Kartous, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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