Czech Republic: TV Prima managers caught on tape telling reporters to "obey orders" about how to report on refugees
On Monday, 30 May, the organization HlídacíPes.org ("Watchdog") published essential information about the fact that the management of TV Prima instructed its news reporters last year to always present the topic of refugees as a crisis, problem and threat. The station has since responded, calling the information mere speculation.
On Tuesday, 31 May, HlídacíPes.org published key evidence of its claims, namely, an audio recording from the meeting where the decision was announced. In the recording from 7 September 2015, Jitka Obzinová, Editor-in-Chief of the FTV Prima newsroom, tells her staff that "We are all employees here, we have an employer who has taken a certain position on this. If I, as head of broadcasting, accept that, then you will simply obey the orders of the head of broadcasting. If not, then basically you are not accepting what it means to be employed here, and that means there is no point in employing you further."
News to fit management's opinions
HlídacíPes.org is convinced it is in the public interest to publish the recording. Prima is a media outlet with a great deal of influence when it comes to shaping Czech public opinion.
The recording confirms that the coverage of the topic of the refugee crisis is not being conducted according to journalistic standards enshrined, for example, in the code of ethics that Prima has signed. Instead, reporting on this topic must be produced in accordance with the opinions of the station management.
In the recording, Luboš Jetmar, Vice-Chair of the board of FTV Prima Holding, representing one of the station's owners, even emphasizes the media outlet's influence over public opinion and its significance to the newsroom staff as follows: "You are working in the newsroom of a television channel that is a rather influential, strong media outlet and we influence majority opinion in this country." Prima is the third most-watched channel in the Czech Republic, with 23 % of viewers age 15 and older watching it at some point in the day, every day.
The recording from the extraordinary meeting that was convened to discuss how to report on the refugee crisis was secretly made by somebody who was in the room. Before its release earlier this week it had never been published before.
HlídacíPes.org acquired the recording on the condition of perserving their source's anonymity. The authenticity of the recording is beyond reproach - several other persons who participated in that meeting have confirmed its authenticity to HlídacíPes.org independent of one another.
Prima, Nova, Česká televize
Balance and objectivity is required of those operating radio and television broadcasts by Czech law. "The operator of the broadcaster will provide the balanced, objective information essential to the free creation of opinions. Evaluative commentary or opinions must be kept separate from news information," the law reads.
HlídacíPes.org has published an analysis of the broadcasts produced by the FTV Prima newsroom prior to these official instructions last September compared to the broadcasts produced after the order on how to cover this topic was handed down. That analysis confirms there was a change in the approach taken by the newsroom toward the refugee topic - for example, a growth in the number of commentating elements inside news reports, a change in who was chosen to be interviewed, and a change to the focus and tone of the reporting.
The Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV), which regulates broadcasting, reached similar conclusions through an analysis of Prima's reporting on the migration crisis that it commissioned. That analysis also assessed the performance of competing television stations.
For the sake of comparison, in the case of TV Nova's reporting on this issue, the RRTV analysis came to this conclusion: "We believe that [Nova's] broadcasting, as a whole, did not intend to one-sidedly influence viewers' opinions. We could not identify any moments in the programs that might have been assessed as violating the principles of balance and objectivity."
RRTV also analyzed the news reporting of public broadcaster Czech Television for the same period (24 August 2015 - 13 September 2016). "In the programs broadcast by the Czech Television channels 1 and 24, it was not possible to identify any moments that could have been assessed as violating the principles of balance and objectivity," the RRTV analysis found.
In the case of Prima, however, the RRTV analysis says the following: "The broadcasts as a whole did not pay much attention to the perspectives of the refugees themselves and depicted them rather as a source of problems for Europeans. This markedly Eurocentric perspective can implicitly bolster an attitude of rejection (anti-refugee) among the Czech public."
However, the RRTV also said it does not believe that "in and of itself such an approach forms the basis for a violation of the regulations of the law on broadcasting". In their licensing conditions operators do, however, pledge to provide objective information.
HlídacíPes.org has asked RRTV for a statement on how and whether it will now take further steps regarding FTV Prima's broadcasts on the basis of the new information that has come to light. The organization has also contacted the Swedish media group MTG, which owns 50 % of the stock in FTV Prima Holding, asking to what degree the position presented by Jetmar and Obzinová aligns with the opinions of the Swedish co-owner of the station.
Conformity of opinion required
HlídacíPes.org sought a statement from Prima on three separate occasions about this issue but never received an answer. It was not until the Mediahub news server repeatedly asked Prima for a statement that a Prima spokesperson called the HlídacíPes.org article "speculation".
Jana Mrákotová of Prima told MediaHub.cz that "We never comment on speculation, and we will not in this case either." In the recording, however, Jetmar warns the newsroom that Muslim refugees, "once they are here and once there are a lot of them", will want to advocate for "their truth, their vision of the world, their religion, their rules."
"You will all naturally get room to say something about this, but I would be very glad if we as a television channel could create a shared opinion on this issue and respect it," Jetmar says in the recording. Because the quality of the roughly 12-minute recording is low, HlídacíPes.org has published a complete transcript along with it, which news server Romea.cz provides in full translation here.
During the meeting, reference is made to an article from another media outlet that was shared with the Prima staff as articulating the management's position on the issue of refugee reception. News server Romea.cz will be sharing a further, separate report by HlídacíPes.org on exactly who wrote that article and what it said.
RECORDING OF THE 7 SEPTEMBER 2015 FTV PRIMA MEETING
(The colloquial nature of the language used has been preserved - Editors)
FTV Prima Chief News Editor Jitka Obzinová: So we won't keep the entire newsroom from its work long we're gonna say some general stuff here and then I'll ask the people working on the refugee issue to come up to the second floor with us for a more concrete meeting, including the producers.
Voice of a female reporter: I'm interested too.
Obzinová: Whoever's interested, plus the people immediately concerned, on the second floor. Plus the people who have done this occasionally, like Daniel, Filip, Patrik, the producers, naturally the foreign correspondents. Plus the people who are, like, interested. I'm not calling today's meeting just because of the refugees. I'd like to thank the people from the Top Star segment and congratulate them on their very successful pilot yesterday, it turned out well, everything looked perfect. I think the music was ultimately good too. I really congratulate you, it turned out well, and I hope that that the premiere of Top Star as such will turn out well also. That's about yesterday. Otherwise, we also have our fellow compatriots here by teleconference. I was satisfied with yesterday, completely, you have that in the production report. We don't have to return to that, we'll make our plans very briefly later and then move upstairs. Why I've called you all here is the topic of the refugee crisis. This situation, as you well know, has developed over several months into a real crisis that we must, number one, take a position on and, number two, stick to that position somehow. I believe you all know there is a hierarchy here, that's been reiterated more than once. I believe it's always been the case that editors and reporters obey the orders of broadcast management. You all know very well that the custom here is that the broadcast management is God, and one just doesn't talk back to God. I would be glad if last Friday's deviation from this rule, when there was an argument here between the editor, the producer, and several reporters that resulted in what I'd call an imprecise broadcast - I'd be glad if that never happened again. I must be absolutely harsh in my position on this. My offer to those who will not take direction from the producers is that you do not have to work here. That's the only possible way out. We are all employees here, we have an employer who has taken a certain position on this. If I, as head of broadcasting, accept that, then you will simply obey the orders of the head of broadcasting. If not, then basically you are not not accepting what it means to be employed here, and that means there is no point in employing you further. It sounds harsh, but you all know that once in a while we have conflicts here, and sometimes we must revisit them. This is a very serious situation. At the general level, I gave you all an article to read, one to which I fully subscribe. Did all of you read it? Do you all know what it is I'm talking about? I believe that article captures the position of the management of this television station. I see it exactly the same way, and I want us to take a stance on the refugee crisis in that way. Why am I a convening a meeting about this? Because there is a historical development happening that apparently will be so extensive that it's necessary to simply explain this position. Because to tell you the truth, those of us in this room did not experience either the Second World War, nor '68, nor, for example, the enormity of a conflict similar to the creation of the state of Israel, situations where it is absolutely clear that the public just spent a long time searching for its position. Now this refugee crisis is beginning to acquire the kind of dimensions in which it is clear that society, the media, and the individual media outlets will probably take a stance on it, and as far as our television station is concerned, I want to take one. So that means that at the general level, I have to say it will be necessary for you all to accept this.
Vice-Chair of the board of FTV Prima Holding, Luboš Jetmar: I've come here to chat with you all about this as well. We're repeating the term refugee crisis... [inaudible]... Jitka and I agreed that she'd give you that article to read. In my opinion it is brilliantly written and unequivocally ...
Voice from the teleconference: If you could speak up, we can't hear you on the telephone, thanks.
Jetmar: … I'll try to be louder. It unequivocally describes that this could be the beginning of the end. We may not be aware of this today...
Obzinová: The compatriots have the article in their e-mail.
Jetmar:… we're not absolutely aware of all the consequences. However, I am aware, or we are aware, of one thing. You are working in the newsroom of a television channel that is a rather influential, strong media outlet and we influence majority opinion in this country. We have a situation here, if we look at the polls, in which the majority opinion apparently exists, but naturally there are people among us who are proud of having a different opinion than the majority one. I don't at all want to take that away from anybody, I am also basically a humanist. Nevertheless, I don't know who among you has ever lived in an Arab country. I have [inaudible]. As far as I am aware, Jitka has been to Somalia and I have been [inaudible]. If you experience it for yourself, then you ascertain that you basically can talk about our values, about democracy and stuff like that, for as long as you want, but because the development there has been different, and those millenia of ancestral and tribal traditions, their stance toward [inaudible] male and female sex is absolutely different. They just don't grasp what we say to them. Either they don't want to grasp it, or they don't grasp it. Now I'm speaking from my own experience, from the interviews we did there. They mainly insist that their values are correct. They're not willing to accept that ours exist [inaudible]. What is happening now is... in Libya a million other refugees are waiting for somebody to bring them to Europe. Once they are here and once there are a lot of them, then they will have the tendency to actually, really advocate for their truth, their vision of the world, their religion, their rules. To tell you the truth, I don't know if any of you would want to live to see that - I don't know how old your children are, but I have a nine-year-old girl, and I wouldn't want her to have to wear a burka in 20 years, once she's 30, and to have no rights whatsoever. I really don't. Naturally, I'm aware that the refugees who are [inaudible] are victims and we should aid them. However, on the other hand, what is in that article is also true, that the state is not fulfilling its function, and the state is here to defend its borders and protect [inaudible]. At this moment, that is what the European Union should do and protect Schengen. However, we're just concerned that there can be a much bigger problem arising from this than we are aware of today. For the time being there are a couple hundred thousand of them here, maybe a million, I don't know, but in the moment when there will be many of them here, then they actually won't respect our rules. You all know yourselves that if you go to Saudi Arabia, it doesn't exist that you'd go outside without covering your face. That's what they will advocate here. They will want us to [inaudible]. That means... I'll end here, let's go into the conference room and let's talk about it a bit more. You will all naturally get room to say something about this, but I would be very glad if we as a television channel could create a shared opinion on this issue and respect it.
Obzinová: So once more, just to repeat, the position of the management of this television station determines your work. These are rules that it would simply be good for us to revive here. The producers are guided by this position and the editors take direction from the producers and do not project their personal opinions into the broadcasts, yeah? That's, like, the most essential thing we wanted to say here. We'll now move to the concrete meeting about concrete matters...
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.
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