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Czech Republic: Another TV Prima insider comes forward, says producers want "only negative voices" from interviews on refugees

16.6.2016 7:33
The Prima television station in the Czech Republic is defending itself against criticism of its manipulative reporting on Christian refugees from Iraq. (PHOTO:  TV Prima)
The Prima television station in the Czech Republic is defending itself against criticism of its manipulative reporting on Christian refugees from Iraq. (PHOTO: TV Prima)

The decision last year by the management of TV Prima to depict refugees as a threat had its specific impacts on the work of their reporters in the central newsroom and in the regions. "I can confirm that I actually, several times, received the instruction to film 'man-on-the-street' interviews with people about refugees and to use only the negative reactions. Or I was instructed during the stand-up to say that people do not want refugees in their community and are afraid of them, without anybody verifying beforehand that it was actually true," says a woman who contacted investigative news server HlídacíPes.org ("Watchdog") with her testimony after reading their series of articles on the issue.

Self-censorship

The editors at HlídacíPes.org know the identity of the TV Prima worker who has contacted them. "You of course have my consent to publish everything I am writing to you. While I know it would be most fair to speak out publicly somewhere, I must cowardly confess that I don't want to do that. I would do it if somebody else were to join me, but the position of lone soldier on the battlefield isn't for me. I hope you understand," the insider wrote along with her request to remain anonymous.

"In one case where the topic was not even about refugees, the management sharply instructed me to film the piece so that one side of the dispute would look bad. When I objected that I didn't have enough information yet and that I had to first speak with the people involved to see what would be filmed, the answer was 'No, you'll do as I say and that's how it will be, otherwise I won't use it'," the woman said.

This new source of information about what is going on inside TV Prima also confirms the original reports published by HlídacíPes.org about two meetings held on 7 September 2015, writing that "Some of the editors, those who were involved most in reporting on the refugee crisis, went into another room, where they were explicitly told by management that refugees are evil, and a threat, and that Prima would be reporting about them in that way. In other words, they broke the journalistic code of ethics."

This new source sounds very much like the previous sources quoted by HlídacíPes.org. "Self-censorship began to work in the newsroom, people wouldn't propose topics that they knew management would disagree with. You can really tell from the pieces which editors were involved in producing the final results. The approach to the issue isn't black and white, it's more like 50 shades of gray," one of those sources told the website.

Another 150 million people

The specific form of the news reporting about refugees and how it was dealt with by the producers at TV Prima will be assessed by a new analysis that the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting has commissioned. It will cover the period from 28 March 2015 to 17 April 2016 and should be ready in September.

Prima management now says it also will be publishing its own assessment of its own newscasting, based on an analysis by "three independent experts". Sources from inside the station have pointed to several specific reportages that show signs of manipulation:  "The editors ordered how the reportages would sound ahead of time. One of the foreign correspondents, for example, was instructed to report that tens of millions of people were planning to come to Europe."

It is actually still possible to find a news report online from 5 September 2015 in which reporter Bohumil Roub ends his piece from the Hungarian-Serbian border by stating:  "When the refugee invasion will end, nobody can guess. Reportedly as many as 150 million people are planning to come to Europe."

A remarkable reportage was also broadcast by TV Prima from Octoberfest in Germany last year, during which Roub connected that famous celebration of beer to bomb attacks and the refugee crisis as follows:  "The risk posed by big concentrations of people are what concern German security forces in particular. They still remember the bomb attack of 1980. Now they have fears about the hundreds of thousands of refugees who might show up here, too."

The instructions from the management of TV Prima were also reflected in who was chosen for interviews. "It more or less applies that if a person shares our anti-refugee opinion, he will get room to speak. That's why in the reportages there are frequently these bizarre figures from [the tabloid] Parlamentní listy or politicians from Dawn of Direct Democracy and Okamura supporters,“ explained one insider at the station.

The change of course in Prima's reporting on the issue can be illustrated by its use of political scientist Petr Robejšek, who makes no secret of his harshly critical perspectives on the EU and on the refugee crisis. From January to the end of August 2015 he was neither featured (nor quoted) in Prima's broadcasts, but from September 2015 through the end of May 2016 his name has turned up a total of 21 times.

Responses for iMediaEthics in the USA

Prima management keeps repeating that its broadcasts are balanced, independent and objective. According to the responses TV Prima sent to questions asked by the iMediaEthics news server in the USA, the station even believes it is the first mass media outlet in the Czech Republic to have begun reporting objectively about the refugee crisis in September 2015.

In its responses, the station also repeats the message that the objectivity of its broadcasts has allegedly been confirmed by the Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting (RRTV). The RRTV itself, however, has publicly objected to that interpretation of its statements.

The responses sent by Prima to iMediaEthics also include several interesting theses that have not yet been communicated by their management to the Czech-speaking public. "Prima TV news definitely never haven't [sic] misinterpreted any facts in any area in any way... TV Prima owners have never been controlling daily news content," reads the English-language statement, which calls the audio recording of the editorial meeting on 7 September 2015 a misleading montage of various parts of the discussion.

"That's absurd. The recording is precisely as long as that first meeting was," the person who made the recording told HlídacíPes.org when asked about the allegations of manipulation.

In its "raw form", the recording included a section roughly five minutes long prior to the meeting beginning that captures ambient noise and sounds from the room in which the meeting was held. That is the only part of the recording that HlídacíPes.org cut prior to publishing it online.

According to the statement sent by Prima to iMediaEthics, the recording was "made public on purpose only now, when Prima TV News has begun to uncover the background of some activist organizations." The station also asserts it is "obvious that someone with a specific views [sic] on the refugee crisis is attempting to discredit the newsroom now." 

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.

Robert Břešťan, HlidaciPes.org, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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censorship, manipulation, Média, Prima TV, refugee



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