Romea.cz: Media watchdogs are not censors - here's the proof!
One of news server Romea.cz's activities is monitoring the media, fact-checking the correctness and veracity of the information journalists use, and then attempting to get misleading, tendentious or untrue information corrected. We play this watchdog role not only with respect to the media, but also with respect to municipal or state officials and politicians, etc.
Frequently those who post to the online discussions at Romea.cz argue that the ROMEA organization and news server Romea.cz are trying to censor the media through this pressure to get the content of articles changed, or that we are attempting to influence the media not to write negative things about Romani people and to keep information about them from the public. This argument indicates that the issue has not yet been understood.
News server Romea.cz understands this kind of auditing of the media as assistance - we are doing our best to make it possible for the media to communicate (and consumers to receive) truthful journalism. We are concerned about quality news reporting, not censoring news reporting.
The Czech media most frequently have a negative influence on public opinion about Romani people in the following ways:
- Publishing completely fabricated news reports about Roma.
- Publishing statements by public officials, most often politicians, who verbally attack the Roma without giving members of civil society or Romani people themselves the opportunity to respond.
- Reporting on specific events in a biased way (e.g., about clashes between people from the majority and minority parts of society), publishing the claims of a majority-society member as true while giving no space to Romani claims.
- Journalists often generalize, most often when reporting on cases of a crime committed by a Romani individual, which they exploit as an opportunity to make statements about the Romani minority as a whole or when editors allow those posting online to make similar statements.
- Some media report on the ethnicity of a crime suspect when it is irrelevant to the crime itself.
- Journalists use expressions to refer to Romani people that are usually used pejoratively, e.g.: "gypsy", "inadaptable", "untouchable". Most of the time these terms are used in the context of negative events.
Romea.cz performs its role as a media watchdog in several ways:
- Open criticism of media outlets that violate journalistic ethics, that are not objective, and that take an unprofessional approach to news reporting. We publish this criticism is in the form of analyses, articles and commentaries on news server Romea.cz in our "Roma and the media" section.
The most famous example is the case of the tabloid Parlamentních listy (PL), which completely fabricated several news reports about Romani people. One involved allegations that a (non-existent) Romani treasurer had robbed a (non-existent) Romani political party.
We asked the editors at PL for details and through our own investigation proved this was a journalistic hoax, a fact which we published in an article on news server Romea.cz. PL was forced to admit it had published a lie.
Several mainstream media outlets that had republished the false news item without fact-checking it at all also learned their lesson from our work. Another example is that of the TV NOVA report about the verdict in the case of a Romani man who died in Teplice.
At the initiative of news server Romea.cz, the IN IUSTITIA and ROMEA organizations filed a complaint with the Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV) about the tv report. The organizations complained that TV NOVA's reportage included untrue claims, and that the station had harmed the reputation of the victim of the fatal attack.
The RRTV agreed with the NGOs and warned the operator of TV NOVA that it had broken the law. The court ruling on the man's death had concluded that he had not committed the theft he had been accused of, but TV NOVA had reported that he had committed it anyway.
Another example is the recent scandal regarding the family of Romani quintuplets, in which news server KrajskéListy.cz first reported that the parents had rejected a gift from an unidentified farmer in the form of organic food, a news item later republished by the tabloid Blesk.cz. Allegedly the family had sent the entire gift back to the farmer without thanking her.
The article did not mention sources of information and we challenged the editors to either prove their claims or retract the piece. Both news servers ultimately retracted the article.
Under no circumstances is this an example of censorship. If the news servers had been able to prove the truth of the claims they published, we would not have opposed the publication of the article.
- If we determine that information that is incomplete, tendentious or untrue is being published by the media, or that photographs that are unrelated to the article but are misleading are being published as part of a piece, we bring this to the attention of editors and ask for a correction. Because we know the Romani milieu better than the average journalist, we offer them our contacts and information, including contacts to people qualified to discuss a particular issue on the radio or on television.
In this context we can mention the scandal of Tomio Okamura and his statements about the WWII-era "gypsy camp" at Lety by Písek. News server Romea.cz has published a series of articles on this topic, and on the basis of our information and at our request, the Czech News Agency has now updated the background information it uses for most of its reports about the camp.
Again, this is not about censorship. This is about readers receiving true information.
- We research hoaxes and other abuse or slander of Romani people making the rounds online to verify the veracity of these Internet memes. We then inform journalists and the public of our findings.
One of the staples of this genre is a faked quote, supposedly from 15th-century religious reformer Jan Hus, that has even been used by some high-level politicians in their anti-Romani crusades. In our own reporting on this issue we have proven, through the commentary of experts and historians, that Jan Hus never wrote anything about the Roma and that the existence of any such quote is a mythical untruth.
Another example is the abuse of the names of a famous Romani band and a Romani civic association on Facebook. Someone established an Islamophobic Facebook page called "Roma against Islam?" that maligned the names of the Dživipen association and the popular band Terne čhave.
Once again, we unequivocally proved that the claims of this Facebook page were untrue. However, if either the band or the organization had actually been supporters of that Facebook page, we would have published that information as well.
We can also give the recent example of our reaction to an interview given by former Czech Senator Pavel Lebeda to the tabloid server PL. Lebeda claimed that Romani children who enroll their children in high school receive CZK 1 000 per month from the Czech Education Ministry and that the ROMEA organization was giving them CZK 21 000 annually in addition.
Lebeda also said he had received statistics about the Romani crime rate from the Office of the Czech Government. However, all of these institutions objected to his claims and we published an article about his untruths.
The Office of the Government, for example, never provided the Senator with any data about Romani crime and published a statement to that effect. Again, if the Senator's information had been true, we would not have objected to it being published.
ROMEA doesn't want censorship, but the truth
Our work clearly demonstrates that we have never attempted censorship. We are not trying to silence media outlets that write about the problems that actually exist with some Romani people.
We at Romea.cz also do news reporting on those problems. However, we also do our best to get corrections of news reporting and other pieces that are either evidently biased (about Roma without them) and therefore misleading, or that are untrue.
Lastly, we openly criticize journalists and politicians inciting hatred of Romani people. Whether they do so out of ignorance or intention, we call them on it.
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