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September 25, 2021



Czech Republic: Prima TV station told reporters to depict refugees as a risk and a threat or they would be fired

31.5.2016 13:31
The TV Prima building in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO:  Kacir, Wikimedia Commons)
The TV Prima building in the Czech Republic. (PHOTO: Kacir, Wikimedia Commons)

The Czech NGO Hlídací ("Watchdog") has testimonies from several sources inside Prima TV stating that the television station's management gave producers there clear instructions during a meeting on 7 September 2015 about what angle to take toward the refugee "crisis" in its news reporting. The station's reporting on the issue took center stage this spring because of how it chose to report on the arrival of Christian refugees from Iraq to the Czech Republic.

After one particular reportage was broadcast there was much discussion over whether one of those refugees had actually compared the accommodation he was offered to a "cowshed". There was debate and reporting on whether the interpretation of his words from Arabic had been correct or distorted in some way.

Crisis, problem, threat

Thanks to several months of investigative work, has acquired information and proof confirming that the management of Prima, together with the chief producers in the newsroom, have long advocated for the refugee issue to be presented primarily as a crisis, problem and threat. That is the spirit in which reporters are instructed to produce their news reporting.

Both an analysis of the Prima's news broadcasts undertaken by Hlídací and an analysis of its news reporting commissioned by the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasts (see below) confirm those suspicions. Prima is an influential media outlet because it is the third most-watched television station in the Czech Republic - 23 % of the 15 and older age group watch it at some point during the day.

The station is half-owned by the Swedish company MTG, which is listed on the Swedish stock exchange in Stockholm. The instructions to reporters are said to have been designed directly by a representative of one of the owners, vice-chair of the board of FTV Prima Holding Luboš Jetmar, as well as by the Editor-in-Chief of the newsroom, Jitka Obzinová.

Prima management does not respond

What went on inside Prima last year? Hlídací spoke with several members of the FTV Prima staff who attended meetings from the beginning of September 2015 and were part of subsequently fulfilling those instructions.

Given the nature of the topic, everybody quoted by Hlídací Pes asked that their anonymity be preserved, as they feared possible retaliation from the station management. "The atmosphere inside the newsroom is very tense. Most reporters are aware that there are not many other places they could go work, so they stick to the established line and accept the working conditions. Resistance to them is not accepted," one source told Hlídací

It is easy to reconstruct the events from the beginning of last September. Station management, led by Jetmar and Obzinová, called an extraordinary meeting on Monday, 7 September 2015.

During the first part of the meeting they spoke to the broader newsroom staff, then chose specific editors and reporters to cover the refugee issue and held a more detailed meeting with them on the second floor. The basic message from the first part of the meeting was unequivocal:  A clear approach to the refugee "crisis" must be taken by reporters, namely, refugees represent a threat,  "we" are concerned about Islamization, and "we" do not want to receive refugees.

The message was also sent that editors and reporters must identify with this approach and that anybody who did not intend to accept it would be unable to work at FTV Prima any longer. During the second meeting the instructions in this regard were even more concrete.

Some editors objected during that meeting that to clearly dictate head of time what their reporting should sound like would contravene the code of journalistic ethics, but those objections were rejected with the message that there was to be no balance in the reporting and that ethics or objectivity were not to be raised as issues for several months to come at least. One reporter quit immediately after the meeting, while another left this spring in connection with this "migration edict".

Hlídací sent three requests by e-mail to the management of Prima asking for a response to these allegations but never received one. Prima has signed on to the Code of Ethics of the Association of Television Organizations in the Czech Republic, which states, among other things, that:  "Objective information is information that is true; that means it is a description of facts during which reporters make their best, most conscientious efforts to use all of the information that is available at the time the reportage is broadcast."

Negative reports: 72 % , Positive reports: 0 %

Hlídací focused its analysis on the content of the main news program of TV Prima and given this information about the September meeting decided to compare the coverage from August 2015 to that of September 2015. The change in the tone of the news reports is obvious.

During the first period monitored (1 August to 7 September 2015), news reports with a positive slant regarding refugees constituted 9 % of the output, negative reports 27 % and neutral ones 53 %, but in the second period (7 September - 30 September 2015) that changed. Positively slanted reports disappeared entirely, 27.6 % of the reporting was neutral and 72.4 % was negative.

In terms of content, both the number of commentaries included during the news reports as well as the emotional nature of the language used by the anchors introducing the reports increased. For example, news anchor Voříšek introduced one report as follows:  "I don't know about you, but I don't feel well when I look at what is happening right now in Europe. However, finally at least something is being done, there are increased police controls at the Austrian-German border, controls at train stations, and that has all significantly restricted the influx of refugees who have been heading in their thousands to Bavaria and Munich."

The reporting began to emphasize both stereotypes and the alleged threat represented by the refugees. The "wealth" of the refugees was illustrated by footage showing them with smartphones and by allegations that they do not appreciate Europe's hospitality, are leaving a mess behind them as they pass through, etc.

Refugees as a health risk

The difference in the approaches between August and September is illustrated by a reportage about the possible health risks connected with the arrival of the refugees in the country. At the end of August 2015 a Prima reporter drew the conclusion that there was no evidence of any risk of infectious diseases spreading here because of the refugees arriving.

That reportage was introduced by the news anchor as follows:  "Opinions are being expressed that the refugees who are making their way on foot through the Czech Republic might represent the risk of infection from contagious diseases (...). Daniela Klívarová, however, has found out that official numbers from the Czech Interior Ministry tell a different story."

It was that particular report, according to sources inside Prima, that sparked the disputes between the editors and reporters and was the reason for convening the September special meetings that outlined clear rules for how to report about refugees in future. The "last straw" prior to the meeting was said to have been a report broadcast that weekend about how the Klinika Autonomous Social Center in Prague was organizing aid for refugees.

The choice of interviewees also visibly changed after the September meeting. Commentators were given significantly more space in the news reporting - frequently political scientist Petr Robejšek and attorney Klára Samková.

"More or less, whoever shares the anti-refugee opinion of [Prima] gets room to speak. That's why bizarre characters from [the tabloid] Parlamentní listy frequently appear in the news reporting, or politicians from Dawn of Direct Democracy and fans of [Czech legislator] Okamura," explains one insider.

Metaphor of a natural disaster

Similar conclusions to those drawn by Hlídací were also reached by an analysis of Prima's broadcasts on the refugee "crisis" commissioned by the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting. That analysis covered the period of 24 August - 13 September 2015 and found that all of the news reporting stuck to the following interpretations of the events being followed:

1)  That migration in its current form is reaching unheard-of dimensions.
2)  That it is a "crisis" that is getting out of control and destabilizing society.
3)  That the situation is escalating ("Refugee Crisis Intensifies"). 
4)  That this is, therefore, an extraordinary (significantly dangerous) state of affairs that deserves enormous attention from the media.
5)  That everything essential is playing out in the Czech and European contexts in particular and that migrants (refugees) who are on the move in countries outside of Europe "don't exist" in the reality depicted by Prima - until they begin to head to Europe.

From 25-28 September 2015, blocs of reporting in these veins were introduced under the series title "Refugee Crisis Intensifies" and augmented by clips of a crowd of refugees moving about on foot. The essence of the "crisis", from the perspective of the reporting analyzed, consisted of the sheer number of refugees arriving in Europe, or rather, in the possible (frequently unspecified) potentially devastating consequences of the presence of this "mass" of people.

The metaphor of a natural disaster was very frequently used to describe these events, comparing the situation to a catastrophe ("Refugee Wave Floods Europe"). The entire issue was portrayed through a particular "discourse of catastrophe".

We can understand this discourse to constitute a certain meta-frame that colored and eventually shifted all the rest of the lenses through which the issue was viewed. Emphasis usually was not placed on the catastrophe that had forced people to leave their home countries, but on the threat faced by the states (and their inhabitants) through which the refugees were passing.

Most of the reporting analyzed especially accented the problems the refugees are causing (or might cause) for locals by their mere presence. The problems of the refugees themselves were touched upon by a minority of the reports, with a negligible number of the reports focusing exclusively on the refugees' experiences.

Because the refugees were primarily resented as part of a mass, a large part of the reporting was accompanied by footage of large groups, usually in the form of a crowd on the move. Frequently this was wire service footage used repeatedly as illustrative material.

All of the reporting that primarily mapped the moods of locals in the Czech Republic (people living near refugee facilities) was framed by questions of security and threats and did not contain even the slightest hint of there being any distance between the reporters and the attitudes expressed by the residents interviewed. During the period under review only one reportage was captured that could be assessed as unequivocally positive about the refugees, one that paid attention in particular to the humanitarian level of the issue and mapped the collection of donations for the refugees.    

This piece was written for the Institute of Independent Journalism (Ústav Nezávislé Žurnalistiky), an independent nonprofit organization and  registered institute in the Czech Republic that provides information, journalism and news reporting. The analyses, articles and data produced by the Institute are offered to all for use without precondition.

Robert Břešťan,, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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