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Together to School Coalition protests use of the term "inadaptables" in Czech media

Prague, 3.1.2012 19:44, (ROMEA)

The Together to School ("Společně do školy") Coalition of domestic and international nonprofit organizations has joined the motion sent recently by human rights activists Anna Šabatová and Petr Uhl to the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting (Rada pro rozhlasové a televizní vysílání - RRTV) regarding the use of the concept of "inadaptables" ("nepřizpůsobiví") in the Czech media. News server Romea.cz was the first to report on the motion.

In the context of the recent debate about unrest in the Šluknov foothills, there is every reason to believe the term "inadaptables" (which is usually used in the plural) is being used to label Romani people living in great poverty in excluded localities and that such labeling is serving as a key concept in anti-Gypsy, prejudiced discourse. The Coalition believes it is unacceptable for the media to uncritically use this degrading term and to contribute thereby to the stigmatization of Romani people and to reproducing and strengthening prejudice against them in Czech society. News server Romea.cz publishes the text of Together to School's open letter in full below.

Together to School Coalition joins the motion filed by A. Šabatová and P. Uhl with the RRTV on the use of the concept of "inadaptables" by the media

The Together to School Coalition hereby officially joins the motion filed by Anna Šabatová and Petr Uhl with the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV) requesting that organization concern itself with the fact that both private and public radio and television media are using the degrading label "inadaptables" to refer to part of the population.

In their motion, the authors point out that this label is often used without news anchors distancing themselves from the term at all, as if it were a neutral designation. Šabatová and Uhl argue that in the context of the recent debate about unrest in the Šluknov foothills, there is every reason to believe the term "inadaptables" is being used to label Romani people living in great poverty in excluded localities and that such labeling is a key concept in anti-Gypsy, prejudiced discourse. The authors also point out that because Czech Television and other media have taken up this concept uncritically, they are contributing in a fundamental way to the stigmatization of Romani people and to the reproduction and strengthening of prejudices against them in Czech society.

The Together to School Coalition officially joins the motion as filed by Šabatová and Uhl. The Coalition also considers the response to the motion that was released by Michal Heldenburg, the acting director of Czech Television's legal department, to be so inappropriate as to be offensive. In his statement on the use of the concept of "inadaptables", Heldenberg said the term "essentially could be used to label anyone who does not uphold the laws of the country, who does not behave as he should according to generally recognized rules, and that could be any minority unable or unwilling to adapt to the majority society. There is nothing racist about it. Human society functions in such a way that the minority adapts to the majority. Anyone who does not grasp that is inadapatable, irrespective of ethnic origin or skin color."

We consider this statement unacceptable. It proves that Mr Heldenburg does not sufficiently understand the issue of the blanket use of the term "inadaptables" and that he is therefore unaware of the results of the uncritical reproduction of this term in the media.

We also appreciate the approach to this issue taken by the chair of the board of Czech Television, Milan Uhde, who called Heldenburg's statement "monstrous" and expressed the opinion that "the expression 'inadaptables' unequivocally implies that the person who is so labeled intends to be inadaptable. This simply does not describe the situation of the people whom the media are labeling with this expression. A socially excluded person has not chosen his situation, but has been forced into it by circumstances and ended up in social exclusion for concrete reasons. A criminal who intentionally does not adapt his behavior to the rules is inadaptable, not a socially excluded person."

In addition to radio and television media, the concept of "inadaptables" is also sometimes used in this problematic way by popular news servers, such as the country's most-read news server, novinky.cz (such as in an article on 4 September 2011 entitled "Ústí Region wants to address inadaptables, proposes legislative changes"), or news server idnes.cz (in an article on 12 September 2011 entitled "Housing estate in Cheb to get center for inadaptable families") or tn.cz (in an article on 10 October 2011 entitled "Opava REINFORCING POLICE! Inadaptables are the reason"). We consider such media practices to be neither objective nor professional.

In our opinion, a broader societal debate on the meaning and use of the concept of "inadaptables" is currently more than necessary. The purpose of such a debate is not to hold an academic polemic to achieve a linguistic definition, or to institute corrections by creating some new concept after difficult negotiations, the use of which would have to be forced or promoted through the media. The purpose of such a debate is rather to draw attention to this issue and to the pitfalls associated with this term, which is frequently used not in an objective way, but as an imprecise shortcut which does not always constitute an actual, justifiable description of a particular group of people.

While such "labeling" is not always necessarily done with ill intent, it can have markedly negative impacts on the social climate and on society's attitude toward the persons who are being generalized about and uncritically labeled "inadaptables." By taking an individual approach to the reporting of each case and situation, this label can be simply replaced with more precise descriptions. The influence of the media on public opinion and the public intake of information and opinions from the media is so enormous that we gave no choice but to make a strong appeal to journalistic ethics, particularly in cases which have a significant influence on the creation and strengthening of negative prejudices and stereotypes.

Society's prejudicial opinions in relation to various population groups naturally result in intensifying those groups' social exclusion. This has a significant influence not only on the life and social position of entire groups of people, but also on the lives of specific individuals. The Czech Republic is, in comparison to other countries, a country with one of the strongest correlations between family background and educational achievements. Czech society, however, generally does not perceive this fact to be a problem.

The Together to School Coalition is an umbrella institution for 17 non-governmental, non-profit organizations working in the field of educating socially disadvantaged children. Its mission is to advocate for equal opportunity in education for Romani children and to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ruled in the case of "D.H. and others vs. Czech Republic" in 2007 that discrimination against Romani children in their access to education on the basis of their ethnicity was happening in the Czech Republic. A more general intention of the Coalition, whose member organizations perform analyses, educational projects, and research, is to contribute to the desegregation of the Czech educational system and to thereby contribute to seeing the principle of equal opportunity applied for all children irrespective of their origins, social position, or skin color.

On behalf of the Together to School Coalition,

Mgr. Anna Pechová, Coordinator

Coalition members:

Český helsinský výbor (Czech Helsinki Committee)

DROM romské středisko (DROM Romani Center)

Envi-a

Equality

European Roma Rights Centre

IQ Roma Servis

Liberecké romské sdružení (Liberec Romani Association)

LIGA - Bruntál

Liga lidských práv (League of Human Rights)

Open Society Fund Praha

ROMODROM, o.s.

Romské sdružení Čačipen (Romani Association Čačipen)

Sdružení Romano Jasnica (Association Romano Jasnica)

Slovo 21

SPOLEČNĚ – JEKHETANE (TOGETHER)

Step by Step ČR

Vzájemné soužití, o.s. (Life Together)

Z§vůle práva

Gwendolyn Albert, Open letter from the Together to School Coalition (Koalice Společně do škol), translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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