How Czech tabloid Parlamentní listy fools other media and the public
On 9 February, as was later revealed by news server Romea.cz, a completely false report was published online in the Parlamentní listy tabloid and subsequently republished by many mainstream media outlets. The dissemination of that report contributed to further harming the reputation of the Romani minority, which is why news server Romea.cz decided to investigate. The article was written by Václav Prokůpek, who once ran as a candidate for the Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS). Romea.cz discovered that his article about the alleged robbery of the non-existent "European Romani Party" by its own (non-existent) treasurer had been completely invented. Parlamentní listy first claimed to have audio recordings of the party's reported constitutional meeting which would prove the article's claims. In the end, they were forced to apologize for the article under the weight of overwhelming evidence that it was fiction.
The following is a translated transcript of a discussion of this scandal. It was broadcast on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 by Czech Radio 6's "Studio Stop" program.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: This case has opened up a much broader discussion. Who is behind Parlamentní listy? Is this a unique case, or has Parlamentní listy been programmatically manipulating public opinion? Did the Czech media fail by automatically reprinting the original article without verifying it? How did the media then respond? This case, which could have been ignored - as many other articles published by Parlamentní listy are - has started a discussion that has lasted for two weeks, in an attempt not only to get the Czech media to reflect on their own actions, but also to bring more scrutiny to Parlamentní listy itself - a political tabloid which has no connection whatsoever with the Parliament of the Czech Republic.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Today's program will be moderated by Jarmila Balážová ...
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: ... And Jana Šmídová.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: We hope you are able to listen without being interrupted. Our invitation to the studio today has been accepted by František Kostlán of the civic association Romea.cz, which administers news server Romea.cz, which has been quoted so much during the past week. Good evening.
František KOSTLÁN, civic association Romea.cz: Good evening.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Another man who played a significant role in revealing the false article on Parlamentní listy is Patrik Banga, a blogger with news server iDNES.cz. He will speak with us by telephone during this first half hour. Good evening.
Patrik BANGA, blogger, news server iDNES.cz: Good evening.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: I'm glad the line is working. I would like to introduce another man who accepted our invitation to the studio and who will be here with us until the end, and that is media analyst Jan JÜPTNER of the NEWTON Media company. Good evening.
Jan JÜPTNER, media analyst, NEWTON Media: Good evening.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: We naturally also invited a representative of Parlamentní listy, Editor-in-Chief Marek Bláha, but he refused in the following words, I quote: "Hello, Ms Balážová, we greatly appreciate the invitation to your studio, but I have already given a statement about the fraud concerning the treasurer of the European Romani Party to your colleague Tomáš Bystrý. I would just like to add that ParlamentníListy.cz does not disclaim responsibility for having published untrue information, but on the other hand we too became the 'victims' of this fabricator. Everyone has the right to throw mud at us now and we have to take it, I understand that. On the other hand, I don't have any desire to make any further statements about it or analyze it. Yours sincerely, Marek Bláha, Editor-in-Chief." We are sorry to hear this, because it means this discussion of Parlamentní listy will have to take place without Parlamentní listy.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderátor: There's nothing to but to respect his decision, of course. Gentlemen, let's discuss 9 February. František Kostlán, why did Romea decided to investigate this article at all? As far as I know, you've had a problem with articles in Parlamentní listy for some time now. Was it because this article was reprinted by so many mainstream media?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Yes, that was one of the main motivations. The first impetus was how the article itself was written. It was written such that one couldn't even determine, for example, where exactly the alleged meeting of this European Romani Party had taken place. The second motivation was that the article was reprinted by other media, evidently without verifying it at all. The third motivation was the behavior, the long-term behavior, of Parlamentní listy, which for quite some time has evidently been conducting an anti-Romani campaign.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Let's ask another protagonist. Patrik Banga, you were in an unenviable situation. You work for news server iDNES.cz, which at first reprinted this report directly. Then you continued to investigate the case in collaboration with František Kostlán for Romea.cz. Why? What was your situation and what was your experience of this case?
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: I guess I'd say the report seemed so awfully unbelievable from the very beginning that...
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Then why did you reprint it?
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: I don't personally work on editing news reports. I administer the blogs, more or less, and I only review news reports on the side. That's not my main job, we seem to have a misunderstanding here. I believe what happened was a mistake, which we have addressed, and I hope we have completely put it to rest. In any event, there were many things in the article that were unclear when you read it. For example, they claimed to have photographs from the scene of the crime, or rather the scene of the event, but they used an illustration photo of a completely different event. The lack of credibility of the report pushed both of us, Franta and I, to start investigating.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Try to describe for us, both of you, how you started working on uncovering this case. There were three marked moments, three levels to it. The first was that the article was written by Václav Prokůpek, who is infamous because of other, similar cases of peculiar headlines that are anti-Romani. What is interesting is that in many of those cases, there is always one specific Romani person quoted, with a full name, but if you investigate further you learn that no such person of that name lives in the place that the article says he is from. That's one dimension. The other is that you knew, at a certain point, that this Václav Prokůpek is the same Václav Prokůpek who ran for the Workers' Social Justice Party. How did you divide the work between you and how did Parlamentní listy communicate with you at the start?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Patrik communicated with Parlamentní listy, so he can comment on that. I would just like to add to what he said about iDNES. IDNES is basically one of only two media outlets that have managed to apologize for reprinting that report. I believe we should greatly appreciate that. I would not blame Patrik in particular or iDNES so much for this. We split up the investigation, Patrik communicated with Parlamentní listy, and I communicated with people from Ústí, from the Krásný Březen neighborhood, and with others who asked around for us to find out what was going on among Romani people there. They tracked down the names of the people listed in the article, whether they live there and if so, where, etc., and I spoke with the people from the House of Culture, with the police officers, I basically collected all the usual information.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: So František, you did a pretty good piece of investigative work. Was it complicated? Were the people forthcoming? You mentioned the police, did they provide you will all the necessary information?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Yes, I must say the police officer with whom I spoke, First Lieutenant Dlask, was not only forthcoming, but had a great overview of the situation in Předlice and the adjacent neighborhoods in Ústí.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Did it make it easier to investigate inside the Romani community itself because you were there from a Romani news server that has been in existence for 10 years and has a very good connection to the Romani community, including to the Romani intelligentsia? I know you communicated, for example, with a Romani town councilor who works for a civic party in a certain area - did it help, was it simpler to communicate with people?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Well, of course.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Did they also take an interest in collaborating with you because they felt harmed by the report?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Well, there are several questions here. Naturally Romani people work better and more with us than with someone else because they trust us, thanks to the fact that Romea is objective about things in its reporting on Romani people. Also, because we have long been involved in monitoring extremism among ultra-right parties, it didn't take us long to determine that Václav Prokůpek had been a member of the neo-Nazi Workers' Party before it was dissolved and then ran as a candidate for the Workers' Social Justice Party. What else did you ask?
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: The harm, whether the Romani people themselves with whom you spoke felt harmed by the report, and whether you believe that the fact that the mainstream media reprinted it might contribute to harming the Romani minority's reputation?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Yes, I spoke with representatives of a real Romani party, the Equal Opportunities Party (Strana rovných příležitostí) - Štefan Tišer, Čeněk Růžička and others. They naturally felt harmed by the report, because they are a new Romani party and some people had already said to them "You see, a Romani party starts up and the first thing you do is steal from one another." Yeah, they feel harmed also, because they really are a new Romani party, and people thanks to this fictional "scandal" started to view them in that light, right? So they were very grateful that we investigated it.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: And that you corrected the record.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: The record has been corrected because there is no party with that particular name and its treasurer also never existed. The entire thing was completely invented.
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: It doesn't exist, it was all fictional.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: We can't forget Patrik Banga. A moment ago we said he communicated with Parlamentní listy. After he tried to unravel this case, what was the communication like, how did the people from Parlamentní listy justify the fact that Mr Prokůpek was essentially one of their rather frequent contributors?
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: I would like to add to what Franta said. I think we have succeeded in creating a communications channel between Prague and Ústí nad Labem that functions fairly well, essentially everyone cooperated. That rarely happens, but it turned out very well in this case. As far as Parlamentní listy goes, I first started communicating with Mr Polanský, who essentially handed the matter over to his assistant, who wrote us basically one brief, curt sentence stating that their Mr Prokůpek was not the same as the Mr Prokůpek who was a candidate for the dissolved party, the Workers' Party, but that it was a coincidence. We basically started working online in cooperation with Zdeněk Ryšavý and Franta and we found a great deal of information indicating that the two gentlemen were in fact one and the same. In the end, we communicated with Mr Holoubek, a higher representative of the Parlamentní listy management, who was very communicative by then, I believe he communicated with us in a very correct manner, despite the fact that he himself insisted the material was authentic. He literally wrote to me that they were insisting it was authentic. After we sent them the conclusions we had published on Romea and in my blog at iDNES, Parlamentní listy responded by running another article about the whole thing.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Hm, when did you crack the case? That's naturally a question for you, Patrik, and for František Kostlán. When did you feel you had enough evidence and that it was the right moment, that Parlamentní listy would have to recognize, under the weight of the evidence, that the report had not been documented, that it was invented, and did you hope at all that an apology would be published?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: We published an article at first where we described what we had learned and how. We called on Parlamentní listy to face up to, if only because they had promised in their e-mails to publish the audio recording and photographs of the event they had reported. Our second article was about the author of this hoax, Václav Prokůpek, that he was a member and had run as a candidate for the Workers' Social Justice Party. When Parlamentní listy were basically presented with the facts and the identity of the author, they were forced to respond in some way. The mainstream media saw it too, right? Other media started to investigate it on their own too, basically.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: We mustn't forget Jan Jüptner, whom we have here in the studio, a media analyst with the company NEWTON Media. Let' s just recall that you have performed several analyses in the past for your company that dealt with how the majority-society media reports on minorities in particular, how they carry out that reporting, on what sorts of cases, in what contexts. That is one of the reasons we invited you here. We want to know what this case looked like to you from a media perspective, both at the start and then how it took on the dimensions that it did.
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well, for the author, Václav Prokůpek, this was, let's admit it, a very successful story which had a significant impact on the Czech public. I don't know if we have already mentioned this, but on Facebook the original version of his article got 21 000 "likes", indications that it was a favorite. In a certain sense, it was a message Czechs wanted to hear. They felt attracted by it, it fit their image of the world, confirmed it. They did not like giving that up after it turned out to have been fiction. It's like the classic saying - the best news is what we already know.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: As we already said, Mr Jüptner, the article was reprinted by many media outlets, serious ones. So, did that in your opinion damage their credibility, and did it also harm the Romani minority in the end?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Certainly it did. The average recipient of this news in the Czech Republic latched onto the original report and the later denunciations of it had much less influence. In that sense the Romani minority was definitely harmed and the stereotype, their stigmatization, was confirmed. In a certain sense, it has been irrevocably confirmed.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Did the serious media, the so-called serious media, jump the gun here? Was this an isolated incident, just an episode, or is this a more widespread problem?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: No, I believe this was an exception. I don't know, I don't think this is a trend. Naturally, the Czech media only uses minimal control mechanisms, and Parlamentní listy uses even fewer than usual. We can talk about the staff of those editing online media, the speed of media operations, everything, everything eventually contributes to the news very often being received and published without much editing at all.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: František Kostlán wants to respond and I have another question. Whether - and naturally this applies to Patrik Banga too - whether the way in which the majority-society media took up this report and worked with it when the apology was made, whether you had expected an apology to the minority as well, who had been harmed the most.
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: I'd like to respond to Mr Jüptner. What is interesting is the moment where on the Internet, on the web pages of the big dailies, the readers are for the most part either directly racist [in their online comments] or are anti-Gypsy or xenophobic. The editors - at least according to what I have followed and monitored for quite some time - this is taking place within the framework of a general society-wide shift, as if the editors are doing their best to accommodate those particular readers. They prefer high circulation to any sort of ethics or professionalism. Yeah, for that reason, it's as if they are doing their best to accommodate those sorts of readers and bring them news of that type, even though they are getting it from completely unreliable media outlets like Parlamentní listy.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: And the question I asked, so we can move on to the next part of this. What did you expect - any one of you three gentlemen can respond, naturally. The response of the majority-society media to this, how they worked with it, the degree to which they were or were not willing to admit their own mistake and work with it - Mr Jüptner?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Mr Kostlán will correct me if I'm wrong. There were eight outlets that got suckered, shall we say, of which some have now erased the original version of the piece, and some like iDNES.cz have apologized. Others redirected the original article to link to the apology on the Parlamentní listy website. Of the statewide dailies, it was Mladá fronta and Právo who reprinted the fictional news item.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: As a media analyst, what was your impression of the media's adjustment to the fact that some of the journalists in the majority-society media jumped the gun on publishing this?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well, some of the media, some of those eight outlets, naturally responded in a cowardly way, and some faced up to it. The response of the director of Parlamentní listy Jan Holoubek was startling because he defended the veracity of the audio recordings and Dictaphone recordings even several days after the event without ever personally verifying them himself. He was completely uncritical, and that increased people's trust in the author.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: That was Jan Jüptner.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: What about Patrik Banga, who is still on the phone?
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: Well, I essentially can say that we, at iDNES, were very sober about this. We also know that we made the same mistake, and our Editor-in-Chief Michal Hanák wrote a commentary about it. However, I believe something else here is much more important, and that is that this case took on such dimensions that today we can be, I hope, certain that the next time time similar news items come along, editors will think about whether to republish them. At a minimum, for example at iDNES, it will not happen again that we would republish such news without verifying it. I think - or rather I hope - the media will think better of republishing this kind of thing. Because this was a chain reaction and I think those news servers took it from one another, some had it and others didn't. I believe this is the whole problem of Czech online news reporting in general.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: František Kostlán.
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: I would just like to add that the Ústecký deník also apologized. iDNES and Ústecký deník are the only two media outlets to have apologized. Právo admitted they made a mistake, but did not apologize. As far as iDNES goes, I liked the moment when the Edtor-in-Chief not only apologized, but basically described what they will do in future, that they are adopting stricter rules at the first level, right when they receive the news. Yeah, that was a thorough response. Otherwise there has been a lot else, we must say we expected an apology to the Romani minority, but unfortunately no one did that.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: And Studio STOP is continuing to debate the Parlamentní listy scandal right now. This case was also launched by a request from Czech Senator to his colleagues in the Parliament of the Czech Republic that they distance themselves from Parlamentní listy.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: We have Senator Jaromír Štětina on the telephone now . Good evening.
Senator Jaromír ŠTĚTINA: Good evening..
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: You initiated a letter in connection with Parlamentní listy and the scandal we are talking about today in which you turned to the chairs of both chambers of the Czech Republic. Why did you write that letter?
Senator Jaromír ŠTĚTINA: Yes. I sent that letter on 20 February to Ms Němcová and Mr Štěch. I warned them that even though Parlamentní listy, despite its name, has nothing to do with the Parliament of the Czech Republic, many readers and medial outlets, both at home and abroad, consider it an official publication of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. It is often cited as an official publication. I would like to achieve a correction so it is clear that Parlamentní listy, the political tabloid, is not a publication of the Parliament of the Czech Republic.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Why did you decide to send your request to the chairs of both chambers of the Parliament of the Czech Republic at that moment?
Senator Jaromír ŠTĚTINA: I would like to stress that I have nothing against what Parlamentní listy writes. A political tabloid has its place in society and they can write whatever they want. I just want it not to be connected with either chamber of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. The last straw for me was Parlamentní listy's claims, their false claims, that the treasurer of a certain party had run off with its money.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: That news turned out to have been untrue. Unfortunately, many Czech media outlets republished it. It was a bit of a lesson to Czech journalism as well. Do you believe that many journalists could have mistakenly been under the impression, working under time constraints, that Parlamentní listy was linked to one or both chambers of the Parliament of the Czech Republic?
Senator Jaromír ŠTĚTINA: I think journalists are not the only ones who believe it, a significant portion of the public believes it. Naturally, it's sad that journalists working for serious media do not realize it is not connected to Parliament. However, I believe that because they published [this false news], they will now warn their other colleagues who are journalists to be very careful when citing political tabloids like Parlamentní listy.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Have you already received an answer from Ms Němcová, or ...
Senator Jaromír ŠTĚTINA: I have not, but I believe there is still time. I think that in the Senate Mr Štěch, who is the chair, will pass my letter on to our Commission on Media, where Mr Töpfer and Mr Oberfalzer are members, and they both said they would give it serious consideration. By the way, the proposal was made that it would be good if Parlamentní listy would include the information that they are not an official publication of the Parliament of the Czech Republic in their masthead.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: That was Jaromír Štětina. Thank you very much and have a good rest of the evening.
Senator Jaromír ŠTĚTINA: Thank you, good-bye.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Parlamentní listy, the name of the news server we are discussing here, has a reliable sound to it. However, as Senator Štětina has mentioned, it has nothing to do with Parliament. It is interesting, therefore, to know who is behind it and who finances it. We asked our colleague Petr Holub to investigate.
Petr HOLUB, reporter: Well, it's not at all clear, because the ownership structure, like that of many Czech firms, is not very transparent. A company called OUR MEDIA has declared itself the publisher and of course up until last November its stock was in bearer form, which means basically anyone could hold it and not be linked to it. In any event, a rather well-known media company called Grand Princ did announce it was the owner of OUR MEDIA. Not much is known about that company either, for the simple reason that its owner was a Hong Kong firm, so it was difficult to track down the actual owner. Normally what is said is that the Grand Princ company is actually owned by the Prague lobbyist Roman Janoušek. Of course, he has never commented on that question. So the company Grand Princ was the owner of the OUR MEDIA firm until the end of 2010. Then other firms started showing up in the ownership structure, specifically, the controlling interest was held by a company called Colofonia, which of course also has its stock in bearer form, so the real owner cannot be tracked down.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: When we look, for example, at the content of the information published in Parlamentní listy, we might be able to trace it from that point of view. Whose interests are advocated for, whom does it serve?
Petr HOLUB, reporter: Well, that is really the essential question. It should be clear who is the owner of a particular media outlet so the rest of us can tell whose interests they are following. In this case it is naturally possible that the media, or rather the hidden publisher, is pursuing some aim, such as advocating for a particular political party or political direction. That is not possible to determine in reverse, though.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ moderator: In the borderless world of the Internet, naturally everyone has the right to present their opinions and standpoints, but elementary credibility and reliability still exist. Petr what should a user, in this case a journalist seeking information, for example, for the so-called serious media, be careful about if he or she wants to cite information or reports from news server Parlamentní listy?
Petr HOLUB, reporter: Well, I believe that in the end this doesn't apply just to internet media, but to all media. If the owner or publisher of the media outlet is unknown, if it's not a generally known and recognized figure, reports from that source should not be used.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Yes, you are listening to Studio STOP. Today we are discussing the scandal of the fictional article published by Parlamentní listy and how the Czech media dealt with it, what that means. Our guests in the studio are a media analyst with the company NEWTON Media, Jan Jüptner, and František Kostlán of the Romani news server Romea.cz. Mr Kostlán, together with iDNES blogger Patrik Banga, who is with us on by telephone, were responsible for revealing the truth about this case. Your moderators are Jana Šmídová and Jarmila Balážová. There is one interesting point here, that in the response sent to us by Parlamentní listy, specifically by its Editor-in-Chief, Marek Bláha, saying he couldn't be with us to day, that publication tries to evade the fact that they have apologized for this incident by claiming we must remember that Václav Prokůpek duped them as well. However, they let him horse around for quite some time, this is not the first such case - naturally, this is a question for Jan Jüptner.
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well, Václav Prokůpek as an author started publishing with Parlamentní listy in January and ever since he has racked up quite a few articles on his byline introducing Romani topics, so many, that I would call it an obsession with Romani people. Let me cite some of those new headlines: "Roma curse Agency for Roma as a talk shop doing no work", "Ultra-right laughing at Lessy, young police officers can't handle Roma", "Roma shout 'white swine' at commuters, kick them and spit on them". Two days after Václav Prokůpek published his master-work, which we have been discussing, another article by him came out with this headline: "Romani woman testifies: 'Help from the association? They just bragged they were making CZK 50 000' ". It's the story of a Romani woman who married into a doctor's family at the age of 16, gave birth to a boy and is in prison. Then on 17 February we have the article "Slackers from the north don't want [Labor Minister] Drábek's shovels, honest people are paying for them". Václav Prokůpek as an author, if we are to believe that name identical with one and the same person, has produced a total of 68 articles since 1998. A Václav Prokůpek is publishing at the start of the decade in the magazine Ring, Sport and in the dailies Mladá fronta and Lidové noviny. In that early phase there are no indications that Václav Prokůpek's world view is tending toward the ultra-right part of the political spectrum. The only piece worth mentioning in that regard is his interview with Jörg Haider, which came out in 2001 with the headline "Refugees are not to be pitied".
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: The question arises what the editor and the Editor-in-Chief of Parlamentní listy were doing all that time. They never discovered that in some of these articles, the same name of a non-existent person turns up very often. So is this scandal also revealing how - and František Kostlán wants to respond, so maybe he will say a bit more here - do you personally see an effort by Parlamentní listy here to somehow manipulate public opinion? Or is it just their journalistic neglect that they didn't notice what was going?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: There is no doubt that I see Parlamentní listy as trying to manipulate public opinion. When you read the response from Mr Bláha, I really almost was moved to tears [sarcastically]. Not only is a former member of the neo- Nazi Workers' Party working at Parlamentní listy, but other [right-wing] extremists work there too. News server Romea is preparing to publish an article on that topic now. In addition to the fact that other [right-wing] extremists work there, all, the entire, the whole blog of these websites, not just Parlamentní listy, but their affiliated websites like Eurabia, e-Portál, etc., there are several of them - these are all administered and written by a group that is so ultra-conservative as to be extremist, and through Parlamentní listy they have acquired a sort of official platform which some people are taking seriously. Yeah, these are people ranging from the from the ultra-conservative type, like Bátora, to anti-Semites, racists, xenophobes and a conservative who is Catholic-oriented.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Mr Jüptner, is it really as damning and serious as František Kostlán claims?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well, I might not be as acrimonious about this as František Kostlán. With respect to the media's intentions, in the sense of harming the reputation of the Romani minority: What is behind this is the fact that the operation of online news is under-financed to a great extent, understaffed. An acquaintance of mine works for an online news desk and he once told me he had written five articles that day, that they had all been taken from the Czech Press Agency, and in all of them all he had done was to make a cosmetic change to the first paragraph. When I asked him what they had been about, he said he didn't know, that he had already forgotten. That is an indication of how boringly automatic the internet operations are. It really has to do with the control mechanisms - but allow me to put this master-work of Václav Prokůpek into a broader context. Today the media speaks frequently, a great deal, of "inadaptables". Since January of this year that term has been mentioned in the media more than 1 000 times. Who do you think, in which media outlet did most of those references occur? In Parlamentní listy, which, with 133 such mentions, accounted for a full 11 % of that publicity. However, in their defense, I must also say that their platform churns out dozens, maybe even more than 100 articles every day.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Do you see in the other articles on Parlamentní listy the same tabloid style, the same journalistic dishonesty, the same shoddy work? So that we aren't so acrimonious and strict only with respect to their so-called Romani topics?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well, there is definitely a certain trend in their other reporting toward frivolousness, the kind associated with using exclamation points, dramatizing things, being extreme.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: We shouldn't forget Patrik Banga, who is still listening to us here and would certainly like to respond. I would like to expand the question for him as follows: When we listened to Petr Holub, he mentioned a very interesting element, and that is ownership, the hidden ownership of a wide variety of information channels, news servers, etc. You said, when you spoke a few minutes ago about control mechanisms, that today you too are giving this more attention. Will you also follow who is behind these news servers, will you try to unlock the secret of who owns them?
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: I'll start with your last question. I think that question is not for me, but for the broader management of the iDNES editorial board, so let's ask that of them next time, ok?
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: However, the question you can answer definitely is related to the fact that you continued to investigate who Mr Prokůpek is and to ask whether someone like him should be working in the media field at a university, for example.
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: I admit that while I have been listening to you all for the past few minutes I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, because essentially there is one simple answer to many things you raised, and that is, where there is no demand, there is no supply. If people did not read Parlamentní listy, and if they didn't read reports like Prokůpek's about this fictional political parties, then Parlamentní listy would not be able to publish them. That's my response to what has been said here. As for Mr Prokůpek himself, I did actually find out that he teaches mass communications and social communications at Jan Amos Komensky University in Prague. I found this out completely accidentally, because my sister is studying there, and she told me, on the basis of an article she read on iDNES or Novinky or somewhere, she told me that he was the professor who gave a lecture last year that she attended and had to leave because it was too unbearable to sit through. That's why we started looking him up, and the Rector of that department, Mr Chaloupka, I believe his name is, I apologize if I've got it wrong, but he actually confirmed to me that Mr Prokůpek taught at the school but no longer teaches there. It is highly probable, therefore, that they have parted ways with Mr Prokůpek. What is important about that is the fact that a person who manages to invent stories in this way and essentially use a serious-looking medial outlet to release them, whatever we think of it, and I also think it's a tabloid - well, in essence he has been influencing students too, teaching them his ideas, right? I am not sure how that person is even able to teach, it would be like me teaching criminal law on the basis of having served time in prison for armed robbery.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Now you will hear another piece reporting on the other articles authored by Mr Prokůpek.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: This is an article by Flip Rožánek of news server Mediář.cz, read by Libor Dvořák.
Libor DVOŘÁK, reading an article by Filip ROŽÁNEK, Mediář.cz: "News server Romea.cz has done brilliant work in revealing the completely invented article published by Václav Prokůpek on Parlamentní listy about the alleged robbery of the European Romani Party. Parlamentní listy eventually printed an apology under the weight of the evidence, saying they had been taken in by an author whose previous work had held up to scrutiny. What material produced by reporter Prokůpek held up? The archive of Parlamentní listy shows us. There are articles there with headlines like "Slackers from the north don't want [Labor Minister] Drábek's shovels, honest people are paying for them", or "Sudeten German drove to the Czech Republic for sex, now comes here for religion", or "Harsh life testimony of a Romani woman: Her own people put her in jail". The day before Parlamentní listy said good-bye to Václav Prokůpek, he managed to publish another fictional text on 21 February at 11:11. According to a sensational discovery - which of course took place only in the reporter's own head - he announced that the entertainer Josef Alois Náhlovský would run for President of the Czech Republic. Prokůpek did not hesitate to claim that Náhlovský had given Parlamentní listy and exclusive interview full of harsh messages such as: "Don't argue among yourselves, start doing something the people, otherwise we will die out here in the north of Bohemia, and evidently not only in the north". The Ústecký deník, unlike Parlamentní listy, actually spoke with the famous comedian and learned something completely different. "What kind of nonsense is that? I haven't spoken with anyone, and definitely not about that subject. I don't even know the hack," Náhlovský told journalists in North Bohemia, adding that the basis of the report was probably a joke he made on the program "Všechnopárty" two years ago. Parlamentní listy erased the article; today all you will find when you search for it is an error message and a record in Google. You can read it on the screen shot inserted here. It is remarkable that the editors did not hesitate to publish this material and only verified it after it was published. They then started erasing Václav Prokůpek's other articles. His interview about microbreweries with Michal Rouč, for example, has disappeared from the world. It was originally published on 20. 2. at 7:08 AM, and here too, it did not occur to the editors of Parlamentní listy to verify anything until the scandal of the non-existent treasurer and non-existent European Romani Party broke. In his article "Roma shout 'white swine' at commuters, kick them and spit on them", Prokůpek cites the source as a press release of the Transport Authority in Ústí nad Labem which was exclusively sent to Parlamentní listy and links it to this alleged racist attack on a tram. He cites a citizen of the town whose existence is very hard to verify. In that article, by the way, the name of alleged Romani activist Jan Horváth turns up, which is the same name as that of the treasurer in the fictional case of the European Romani Party. The poet Jan Horváth Döme is active in the north of Bohemia, but that wouldn't be him. Prokůpek claimed, in a response to the revelations of his fictional article, that this alleged treasurer wrote to him from a correctional facility. Another of his texts prompts the same doubts. Does 92-year-old Klaus Walter of Ústí nad Labem even exist? Who supposedly was a fan of Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera during the Second World War? Even though, according to his own story, he would hardly have had the opportunity to meet him and would have had to do so right at the time when Bandera was not in prison? he was imprisoned until September 1939 and then imprisoned again in September 1941. The Czech Interior Ministry does still keep a database of surnames, and that has stood up to scrutiny. According to that database, there is no one living in the Czech Rpeublic with the surname Walter who was born in 1920. Judging by what Prokůpek has managed to do at Parlamentní listy, there is one more person who doesn't exist: A responsible editor at that news server."
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: So we have heard very interesting observations by our colleague Filip Rožánek, who has also been following this scandal and publishing revelations about other articles by Mr Prokůpek. We've come to the end of our discussion with Jan Jüptner, who together with František Kostlán was a guest on today's edition of Studio STOP and discussed several of these cases. We say good-bye to Patrik Banga, who is still on the line. Thank you very much for your patience and in the final analysis you deserve the same congratulations as František Kostlán for revealing this scandal. Have a good evening.
Patrik BANGA, iDNES.cz: I thank you and wish you and your listeners a nice evening as well.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: We naturally...
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: I have one more thing to say, I'm sorry...
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Yes, please, František Kostlán.
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: ... on this occasion and that is that Zdeněk Ryšavý worked with us on this case and we haven't spoken about him yet.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: We can speak about him right now, František.
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: I'll do that right away. Zdeněk Ryšavý is basically the person who actually manages Romea's news server. Not only did he give us ideas, he was our base, he coordinated all of this. Without him we probably would not have gotten to the bottom of it, or it would have taken us a much longer time.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: When you mention news server Romea.cz, what sort of lessons did you take from this scandal? Does this prove that a team of just two or three people can make a significant intervention into Czech journalism and prompt this kind of discussion?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Well, first I would like to thank Filip Rožánek. The way he is taking up this matter is just brilliant. I believe that if there were more analysts and journalists like him on the Czech scene the media would look a little better. This scandal is by no means over for us. As I said, it's not just about Václav Prokůpek. He is just one cog in an entire machine of this anti-Romani campaign being intentionally waged by Parlamentní listy, for a purpose, in the way that has been described. So we are continuing, there are other [right-wing] extremists working as editors at Parlamentní listy and affiliated news servers. We are writing an article about them.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Such as?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Your listeners will learn more from news server Romea.cz in the days to come.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Maybe Czech Radio 6 also will mention this in future programs.
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Sure, yes.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Mr Jüptner, your observations? During this debate we have been enriched by this very substantive commentary from Mr Rožánek. He really did the work and got all of Mr Prokůpek's cases together, or rather his articles. You mentioned some of them as well, but go ahead please.
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: So, let's make it clear that these fables of Prokůpek's must be evaluated in the overall context of this society. They are showing up just after the events in the Šluknov foothills, just after the January announcement by the Mayor of Karviná of zero tolerance for "inadaptables", just after the event that the dailies are referring to, in their photo captions, as a "raid on the inadaptables". They are coming at a time when this magical little word, this term is becoming a fixed part of our jargon. The media are using this term, so to speak, in order to get around political correctness and identify the ethnic affiliation of Romani people without evidently committing a sin in terms of political correctness. In that sense, it is part of a conspiratorial jargon and we would be underestimating Czech listeners and readers if we were to deny the link between the inadaptables and Romani people. When the discussion is about the Vietnamese, the immigrants, and the inadaptables, troublemakers versus those who can adapt, they unequivocally mean Romani people. Czech people are very good at reading between the lines.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Is this again a challenge to the Czech media to work with these topics so as to prevent this stereotyping? Or not to commit an error by using those terms again?
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Definitely. So there is the topic of generalization, stigmatization, yesterday I looked at the curriculum for students of journalism here in Prague and they really do study philosophy, psychology, and sociology as well, so perhaps in that direction they should put more emphasis on this in terms of curricula. Naturally we can't forget that there are not that many graduates of journalism instruction from Prague working in your average online news server. These people often lack the necessary education, the necessary knowledge of social psychology, of the concrete mechanisms of how stigmatization operates, how the principles of identity and identification operate.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: František Kostlán, Mr Prokůpek may just be a foot solider in this crusade against Romani people. I would not like us to forget the findings or rather the information reported by Petr Holub, who spoke of the fact that it is impossible to trace who is behind all of these news servers, and you will keep tracking this down at Romea. So who is behind it all? Is Mr Prokůpek just a "militant" in the negative sense of the term?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: I've already discussed this from the political point of view. This is a group that is so ultra-conservative as to be extremist. From the business point of view I don't know, but this is in general a society-wide problem that it is possible here for stock to be issued anonymously. That option is here mostly likely so owners can conceal their identities. This does not concern the media only, naturally it concerns various firms and various fraudulent stocks as well.
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: Mr Jüptner, what do you think of these hidden owners? This really is untraceable, and that is very dangerous.
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well Mr Kostlán is absolutely right. We are one of only a few countries on earth where stock can be issued anonymously, I think only Nauru and one or two other countries have such an institution. Definitely, the ownership transparency of the media is another serious topic. The owners concretely represent the higher level which could be moved to take responsibility for their product when editors violate ethical codices, etc.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: Mr Jüptner, you mentioned a very interesting connection between the moment at which this societal demand for a certain stereotyping and information of a certain type is coming. You mentioned the situation at the moment of the so-called problems in the Šluknov foothills. Can we now expect, in relation to the upcoming elections, for example, in connection with some concrete dates, to once again see a wave of similar articles on similar topics?
Jana ŠMÍDOVÁ, moderator: The regional elections could be fertile ground for this, right? Mr Jüptner.
Jan JÜPTNER, NEWTON Media: Well, this is entirely an extremely situational phenomenon. We will see which political entities will play the Romani card or in general use the whole deck of populist cards. Last time we had the Public Affairs (Věci veřejné) party, we have the joyful memory of the "patrols" initiated by the party in some parts of Prague [sarcastically]. Definitely the mentality of the majority population is such that the population seems to be seeking out, feeling attracted to messages of the type that Prokůpek's manipulation involved.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: How can the voters work with this nature of their potential fellow-voters? Not just people like [DSSS chair] Tomáš Vandas, but others as well. František Kostlán, very briefly, are you at Romea expecting such waves of sentiment?
František KOSTLÁN, Romea.cz: Yes, we are expecting them. We have experience from the last elections, the municipal, parliamentary and regional ones, that even serious parties - the Social Democrats, the ODS - and others unambiguously conducted that sort of anti-Romani, nationalist campaign in several places and the leadership of those parties did not do enough to distance themselves from it.
Jarmila BALÁŽOVÁ, moderator: That was František Kostlán, who together with Jan Jüptner was the guest of today's edition of Studio STOP. For today we bid you good-bye together with Jana Šmídová. Good evening.
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