Czech media retract unverified article about Romani quintuplets and organic food
The online news servers Blesk.cz and KrajskéListy.cz began the start of last week with articles claiming that the family of the Romani quintuplets had rejected a gift of organic food from an unidentified farmer. The family was alleged to have returned the gift to the farmer without even thanking her for it.
After being contacted by both the ROMEA organization and the family's legal representative, both articles, which lacked any kind of proof or verifiable information, were retracted. The family had hoped to get a break from media coverage after the documentary serial about them broadcast by Czech Television finished at the start of December 2014.
The initial wave of racism against the family when the children were first born did seem to have slowly subsided. Then an unfortunate interview with a former patron of the quintuplets launched a second wave of racist invective and has literally sparked a media lynching of them.
Some of the smaller online news servers have now begun to outdo each other in how much absurdity they can write about the family. KrajskéListy.cz, evidently inspired by the "success" of the interview's claims that the family wastes food, published an article claiming that a certain farmer had sent the family "organic food".
"Our editor overheard a story in a restaurant in an East Bohemian town that he couldn't believe. If he hadn't heard it directly from the person concerned, and then heard it again separately from an acquaintance of hers, he would not have repeated it," wrote editor Zdeněk Svoboda on KrajskéListy.cz.
Svoboda then proceeds to describe the tale told by the anonymous friend of the farmer, who does not want to be named because, according to the news server, she is afraid Romani activists and media outlets might "take revenge" on her. The anonymous friend claims the family of the quintuplets sent the donated food back to the farmer without a word of thanks.
The form of the article was all too reminiscent of an infamous fabricated article published in the Parlamentní listy tabloid about a (non-existent) Romani political party being robbed by its own (non-existent) treasurer. Svoboda's article violated several basic principles of journalism in a fundamental way.
In the first place, there was not a single relevant piece of evidence included in the article to show that the words defaming the quintuplets' family were true. The article was completely insufficiently sourced - nothing in it can be verified, it is pure hearsay.
To our great surprise, the article was reprinted by the tabloid news server Blesk.cz. ROMEA then contacted editors at both publications by e-mail.
"According to our information, the parents of the quintuplets, Alexandra Kiňová and Antonín Krosčen, say the information in that article is a lie. We are hereby requesting that you either supply us with clear and relevant proof that the information presented in the article is true, or that you retract the article, which is inciting hatred toward the family of the quintuplets, from your website," ROMEA wrote to both news outlets.
Blesk.cz reacted rather quickly and unequivocally. The article was retracted.
"Hello, the article has been stopped," editor Eva Šimková from Blesk.cz wrote us back. The publication deserves thanks.
Mistakes can happen, it is important to try to correct them, Blesk did so and did so rapidly. Anna Vančová, the Editor-in-Chief of KrajskéListy.cz, ultimately promised after exchanging several e-mails with us that if the farmer would prove unwilling to reveal her identity, she would retract the article.
In the interim, Klára Samková, the family's legal representative, contacted Vančová. KrajskéListy.cz ultimately retracted the piece.
The following statement has been posted online in its place: "This article has been removed at the request of the quintuplets' family and their legal representative." It would seem that our request and the pressure from the legal representative have succeeded, and Vančová also deserves our thanks, even though we know that other articles published by her media outlet are anti-Romani.
The article, however, is already living a life of its own irrespective of its veracity. It has joined the long line of other unverified news items and hoaxes shared by thousands of people online that have nothing to do with reality.
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