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Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights inserts himself into scandal over refugee interview

19.2.2016 19:01
Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček in a report broadcast by the Prima TV station in February 2016 (PHOTO:  TV Prima).
Czech Deputy Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček in a report broadcast by the Prima TV station in February 2016 (PHOTO: TV Prima).

According to Stanislav Křeček, the Deputy Public Defender of Rights, the Iraqi Christian refugee George Batto, who was offered an apartment in the Czech town of Jihlava and was then interviewed by TV Prima, did not compare that apartment to a "cowshed" or "barn for animals". In its first report about the refugees, Prima broadcast a misinterpretation of Batto's words that included a reference to a "cowshed" and juxtaposed the audio with an image of the apartments at issue.

"According to what I saw, Mr Batto was speaking generally about the conditions of his stay in the Czech Republic, naturally in the conditional ('if housing were to have been arranged...') but never, neither in the question nor in the answer, was it stated that he was discussing the specific apartments the Jihlava town hall or anyone else was supposed to have arranged. As I understand it, this was a general statement about the conditions in which the family is housed," Křeček told news server Romea.cz, "and logically he would not have mentioned living in a building for animals (or a cowshed) if he had been satisfied with his housing."

Prima's initial reporting alleges refugee is commenting on apartments offered by Jihlava

"The Jihlava town hall has offered the Iraqis two-bedroom apartments in the center of town, but they didn't like them at all. They and the people taking care of them were the only people able to see them," is the literal translation of what reporter Bohumil Roub says in Prima's initial report.

That statement is followed by a quote from Dana Fiedlerová, the director of the Center for Multicultural Education:  "Those are beautiful apartments, I'd love to live there myself." Immediately after those two statements about the apartments in Jihlava, George Batto's statement is shown and interpreted for the audience as follows:  "We would like to remain here and later even to work, but the most important thing for us is housing. We would prefer to return to Iraq rather than live in a repainted cowshed."

Prima accompanied its interpretation of Batto's words with footage of the buildings where the apartments offered to the refugees are located. Therefore, in its report, the station was alleging that this particular refugee was comparing the apartments offered to them to a "repainted cowshed".

What's more, Prima has since repeated those allegations in its teasers advertising its main news broadcasts. "Critics still don't want to accept the fact that a refugee with whom we spoke called the apartment he was offered a repainted cowshed," says anchor Karel Voříšek in a video clip published on 15 February to the Facebook profile of FTV Prima.

In his statement for Romea.cz, Křeček has confirmed what was previously said by translator Adam Homsi, who was hired by Prima and whose translations were used in a follow-up report intended by the station to "prove" its allegations were true. Homsi later repeated his assertions in an interview for DVTV.

Homsi believes Prima put the refugee's utterance into the wrong context, as it was spoken in the conditional mood. "I expressly pointed that out to them, but they did not broadcast it that way," Homsi said, adding that he believes the station devalued his work and then publicly distorted it.

Deputy Public Defender of Rights backs Prima 

Křeček, however, gave Prima his backing in its reporting broadcast on Thursday 18 February. He then published his own standpoint on the matter on Facebook, where he states: "What's bad about the fact that someone does not want to live in a little house for animals or a repainted cowshed? That, after all, is an absolutely legitimate requirement that many of us, apparently, might formulate the same way. Why is there a need to call all this 'thunder and lightning' down on TV Prima, why do we have to convene the translators and research what was or was not said? The main point of this frequently distasteful campaign has been lost:  It's not at all important whether something was said or not! What is important is something absolutely different."

The Deputy Public Defender then explains that what is important, in his view, is who the speaker of the alleged statement is. "If it is presented to us that this is being said by a refugee who has been impoverished by war, who has saved the bare lives of himself and his family by fleeing a war-torn country, then such a remark was certainly absolutely unacceptable and worthy of condemnation. It would definitely be appropriate to investigate whether something so unheard-of could be said at all by a refugee who is grateful for the aid he has received," Křeček writes, before also reminding readers that the refugee said in the interview that he had been economically well-off in his homeland, "and then, of course, such a remark is absolutely understandable and TV Prima had no reason to falsify it."

Czech Public Defender of Rights: Křeček was not speaking for this institution and may have broken the law

Because Prima presented Křeček as her deputy in its report, Czech Public Defender of Rights Anna Šabatová has now issued her own statement about his remarks explaining that they are not the official standpoint of the institution of the Public Defender of Rights. "Irrespective of the content of this statement, it is regrettable that my deputy is assessing the entire scandal publicly at the same moment when a group of senators has just filed a complaint about it with the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting, which is to investigate the matter in detail. The assessment of this scandal is not part of his agenda and was, moreover, performed for broadcast by the very media outlet that is the subject of the senators' complaint," her press release states.

Šabatová believes it is even possible that Křeček's remarks may have broken the law. "It is also a question whether, by specifically assessing this problematic reportage instead of the Council, which is the authority entrusted with that duty, and by doing so before that authority has even reviewed the case, JUDr. Stanislav Křeček may have violated Section 1 paragraph 9, which forbids both of us from interfering with the activity of the authorities in any way other than the ways established by the law on the Public Defender of Rights," she said.

The Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting will review the Prima report at its 1 March session. It has already received "up to 10" complaints about the report, including a complaint filed on Wednesday, 18 February, by 17 members of the Senate of the Czech Republic.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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manipulace, Média, Prima TV, refugee



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