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Jarmila Balážová says ParlamentníListy.cz case not the only one in the Czech media

Prague, 25.2.2012 17:53, (ROMEA)
Jarmila Balážová, Editor-in-Chief of Romano Vod'i (Romani Soul), reporter for Czech Radio 6, chair of the ROMEA association. PHOTO:  Archive Romea.cz .

The case of the invented anti-Romani article published by the tabloid news server ParlamentníListy.cz is continuing to shake up the media in the Czech Republic. Rádio Česko's "Week in the Media" program focused on Romea.cz's revelations that several media outlets had made the mistake of republishing the false news. Jarmila Balážová, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Romano Voďi (Romani Soul), who is also a reporter for Czech Radio 6, said on the program that this wasn't the first such case and reminded listeners of the "Tomcat Mikeš" scandal.

"When the Czech media report on the Romani minority, they do not always do that reporting with total impartiality, or they use information that is somehow not completely true. For many people, however, what happened last week crossed the line," said reporter Dalibor Zíta, who went on to remind listeners that a false news item, about a Romani political party robbed by its own treasurer, was shared by thousands of people on social networking sites. The article was also republished by the main Czech news servers, such as Deník.cz, Tn.cz, iDNES.cz and Týden.cz. Daily papers reprinted the false news, which was also included in the broadcasts of the North Bohemian news desk of Czech Radio. None of these media outlets ever verified a single claim in the article or a single source quoted in it. Investigative reporting by news server Romea.cz then revealed the entire falsehood and fraud of the story.

"When we look at how the article was taken up by the main media outlets, paradoxically it did not start appearing until the weekend. This I attribute to the weaker weekend services, which don't review every news item that comes up, and the basic failure there was in editorial control. In the original article it is clear to see that the claims were not properly sourced, such as where the event was supposed to have taken place, and the main thing is that the party that was allegedly being created at the event doesn't even exist. That should have made it easy to confirm that the report was complete fiction," Filip Rožánek, head of Czech Radio's online editing desk, told "The Week in the Media".

Rožánek said that verifying sources should never be sacrificed to publishing news quickly. However, the reported "information" proved too seductive for the media to resist: "It had a certain touch of absurdity and a certain latent racism to it."

Rožánka said he believed the fact that the fallacious news item was published by the main media outlets is more of a problem than the fact that those using social networking sites shared it with one another. He said the editors should take responsibility.

"News server iDNES.cz published the information that Parlamentní listy had apologized and in that same text mentioned that they themselves will better verify third-party information in the future. Týden.cz removed the original article from its website completely and published a new one reporting that the case unfolded completely differently than originally reported, but what is interesting is that they quote the author of the original article in Parlamentní listy, who insists the event really took place and claims he can prove it with audio recordings and photographs. Nevertheless, he hasn't done that yet. It is 99.9 % probable that the piece is a total hoax," the head of Czech Radio's online editing desk said.

Jarmila Balážová, Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Romano Vod'i (Romani Soul), a reporter for Czech Radio 6, and chair of the ROMEA association, which is behind news server Romea.cz, said this case was not the first: "We try very often to do something about these cases. For example, I might remind you of the case of 'Tomcat Mikeš' [a children's storybook character], where once again a large number of majority-society media outlets did not correctly estimate the situation. On the basis of complaints and information from just one person, who had established a nonprofit organization of three people total, the media published headlines saying the Romani community in the Czech Republic was generally against 'Tomcat Mikeš'. The Parlamentní listy case, however, was much more serious. We originally didn't want to spend any time on it because we already know that tabloid publishes anti-Romani sentiment. However, we became a bit upset that the article was republished by other majority-society media and we wanted to prove it wasn't true."

Karel Holomek, chair of the Association of Roma in Moravia, explained the purpose of Romani media outlets as follows: "News, commentary, and not only for Romani people themselves, but also for the public. It is still obvious that the opinions of Romani people and those close to them are different from generally prevalent opinions, and they contribute to the general discourse, which should be closer to reality, closer to the truth than it would be through the majority-society media aone."

"Romani people are not big readers, but because we are doing our best to publish Romani magazines and newspapers, the circle of readers in the Romani community has expanded. We are adjusting our content to that and we are also focusing more on the graphic side, which often says more than the written word. We want these newspapers to serve not just the Romani public, but the majority public, professionals at local authorities, ministries, town councils, etc," Holomek said.

The case of the fallacious information about the Romani party and the mainstream media's responsibility for spreading it will be the topic of the next "Studio Stop" program on Czech Radio 6 this coming Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 22:00. Guests of the program will be František Kostlán, a reporter with news server Romea.cz, and freelance correspondent Patrik Banga.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, rozhlas.cz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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