RENÁTA SEDLÁKOVÁ Presentation of the Roma ethnic minority in the Czech media 1 - PDF

RENÁTA SEDLÁKOVÁ Presentation of the Roma ethnic minority in the Czech media 1 The article presents and compares the basic findings of two surveys focused on the presentation of the Roma ethnic minority

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RENÁTA SEDLÁKOVÁ Presentation of the Roma ethnic minority in the Czech media 1 The article presents and compares the basic findings of two surveys focused on the presentation of the Roma ethnic minority in the Czech media: 1) the research on Czech nation-wide daily newspapers: Mladá fronta Dnes, Právo, Lidové noviny, Zemské noviny, Moravské slovo published between 10/1/2000 and 3/31/2003, and 2) the research on main news programmes on Czech TV Události, and on a commercial channel Nova Televizní noviny, broadcast in the calendar year The article is looking for common features of the studied minority presentation in these media. It finds them mainly in the news values (on whose basis the events to be presented are selected) and in the content embedding of the presented events. It directs attention to the risks connected with such presentation of the Roma minority that accentuates stereotypes the Czech population has of this ethnic group and that can lead to its social exclusion. The question of integrating ethnic minorities into the majority society has gained in urgency over the last two decades, not only in countries that were formerly politically isolated and thus closed to inflow of immigrants. As research shows, the attitude of Czech society towards various ethnic minorities shows xenophobic features 2. The majority population approach is undoubtedly influenced also by the media whose role is growing in the contemporary information society. Television today belongs among the most important agents participating in socialisation. In addition, for many participants media is often the only source of information about certain events, phenomena or persons. The Roma minority undoubtedly belongs among such unknown quantities because the majority of Czech population lacks any personal experience covering the knowledge of their life style, standards or values, and culture. This is why it is necessary to know which reports the media present to their readers, but also the context in which they inform about this minority, the genre or programme, and also the broadcasting time or the page. It is also important to realise the risks and pitfalls connected with these ways of presentation, because through presented images the media can accentuate the prejudices and stereotypes concealed in the subconscious of the Czech population. Eventually, they can in this way contribute to discrimination against members of minorities or in the least fail to explicitly deprecate it, thus taking part in their social exclusion from the majority society. We cannot span the whole above-outlined problem in this article. On the contrary, we shall focus only on the main features of presenting the Roma minority living in the territory of 1 This paper is a short version of the article Media as a tool of social exclusion an example of presentation of the Roma ethnic minority in the Czech media printed In: Sirovátka, T (ed) (2004): The challenge of social inclusion: minorities and marginalized groups in Czech society. Brno: MU. in print. This article presents the findings of the research projects supported by the MŠMT grant. 2 According to the Bogardus scale of social distance tested in a representative research by the Focus agency, (only) 7 percent of citizens declared affection towards members of the Roma ethnic minority and admitted the possibility to accept them into the narrow circle of friends and family. Most respondents accept the Roma (only) as fellow citizens. Almost one third of the population, however, refuses any closer contact and one tenth believes that it is necessary to exile this group [Skotnica, Volek 2001]. Similarly, see Navrátil 2003, Rabušic, Katrňák 2002. the Czech Republic in countrywide daily newspapers and television. We shall point out the common features of their representation which we encounter across the Czech media scene. Possible risks of presentation of ethnic minorities in the media In his book Communicating Racism the Dutch author Theun A. van Dijk outlines five basic features characterising the presentation of the race in the printed media: 1/ ethnic minorities are minorities also in the press. They are presented marginally and their life receives less coverage than is the case with the majority population. 2/ A wide range of dominant themes are being directly or more delicately associated with problems and difficulties or with jeopardising the dominant culture, its values, interests or aims. 3/ Ethnic minorities are consistently described from the viewpoint of the white majority population, whose authorities receive more space and are presented in a more credible manner than minority speakers. 4/ The themes which are relevant for everyday life of ethnic groups, e. g. work, housing, health, education, political life and culture, as well as discrimination in these areas, are discussed only seldom in the press unless they lead to the problems of the society as a whole or cause a stir. 5/ Racism towards these groups is systematically underrepresented, reduced to instances of discrimination by individuals or attributed to small right-wing groups, and situated in poor areas. Racism by the elite or institutions is discussed rarely [1987: 45]. Van Dijk sees one of the sources of this state in routine conditions of producing news and in news values, because negative and sensational events usually draw more attention, and every poorly organised group with limited power and influence always has a worse access to the media. Christopher P. Campbell in his book Race, Myth and the News [1995] shows how under-representation of minorities in news and their invisibility contribute to marginalisation of non-white Americans. Their existence is not ignored any more, as it used to be 25 years ago, but the lack of perspective and depth of media coverage can encourage dangerous perception of the life of minorities. In such cases J. Hartly speaks about the myth of marginality, referring to such coverage that overlooks the complexity of the existence of minority communities and hungers for the culture of the majority. It reflects general beliefs about lives of minorities and positions them to the margins, outside the social mainstream. It is the kind of thinking that creates the impression of the society margin as something irrelevant and peripheral, possibly disruptive and threatening. Because people of colour are found on the margins of the social mainstream, they do not deserve the same attention as is devoted to the whites. Such a journalists approach indicates that what is happening on the boundaries does not count as if it did not exist at all. Because it is exactly the margins of the majority society where minorities in America, and in other parts of the world as well, are usually found, the media are only minimally interested in their coverage [Hartley In Campbell 1995]. Thus not only that the themes related to minority groups living in the given society are neglected, but above all the social exclusion of members of these groups is reinforced and intensified. S. Hall and M. Pickering works with the concept of the Other. According to Pickering, stereotypes function as a method of locating persons within the universe. This always happens from a certain privileged perspective and it always involves an aspect of evaluation. The process of defining othering is no different. Labelling a person as other is an act of evaluation and a symbolic exclusion used to control ambivalence and create boundaries [2001:48]. In fact, it is a process of social exclusion that is a process of forcing out to the margins of the unimportant and, from the perspective of the cultural norm, secondary and at the same time potentially dangerous and therefore outlawed. Labelling a person as other is done through his/her objectivisation, separation and exclusion. This is facilitated by constructing dissimilarity/otherness as a deviation from what is considered to be important, safe, normal and conventional [2001: 49]. Through presenting images working with dissimilarity/otherness the media can take an active part in the processes of stigmatisation of minorities and thus become an instrument of social exclusion of their members. The mass media participate in defining the socially acceptable and unacceptable, normal and pathological, our and different/other. They become not only an instrument of labelling and exclusion, but also an important promoter of such exclusion. The presentation of the Roma in Czech daily newspapers and television news We shall now focus on our own research findings. The presented data are based on two surveys carried out by the Department of Media Studies and Journalism, School of Social Studies, Masaryk University. 3 The first project was devoted to monitoring printed media, specifically the countrywide daily newspapers Mladá fronta Dnes, Právo, Lidové noviny, Zemské noviny and Moravské Slovo 4 published between October 1 st 2000 and March 31 st During the research period we noticed 289 such articles 6 in the five selected newspapers. In total, the dailies published in average 11 articles with the Roma themes in a week. However, the articles were not published on a regular basis. On the contrary, while some days there was a cumulating of news, at other time we did not find anything at all about the Roma ethnic group. It was the fans of the daily newspaper with the greatest readership, Mladá Fronta Dnes which was bringing information about the studied minority approximately every other day -, who had access to the greatest number (77) of articles. The readership of the other newspapers were informed less often. Considering the volume of individual dailies the share of published articles about the Roma ethnic group is very small and can be regarded rather as an exception than a systematic coverage of the problem. 3 Details see Sedláková 2002, Sedláková Zemské noviny and Moravské slovo, that were to merge later, had a joint editorship at the time of the survey and most of the materials they published were identical. Their readership differed, however, and therefore we included articles published in both periodicals in the survey. 5 We are aware that the collected data can be subject to seasonal variations and that during summer months other topics may be presented. However, we believe that they do not differ fundamentally. 6 The basic research unit was an article. The inclusion of an article into the analysis was governed by the occurrence of the key word Roma in it. The second realised project was devoted to countrywide television channels. In Czech audio-visual media space there exists a duality of two operators of commercial channels Nova and Prima and the public service media represented by two Czech television channels (1 and 2). From the wide spectrum of available contents, the main news on Czech TV 1 (Události) and on Nova (Televizní noviny) were selected for monitoring the presentation of the Roma. All news broadcast in 2000 were processed. 7 In the calendar year 2000, 105 reports about the Roma ethnic group were broadcast in the Události and Televizní noviny news. Most of them 61 (58 %) were broadcast by the Czech television and formed over one percent (1.3 %) of the Události news broadcasting time. Over the given period, the Nova television station broadcast 5333 reports, of which less than a percent (44 reports) were devoted to the Roma ethnic group. The public service television broadcast about 91 minutes devoted to Roma themes in the main news over the concerned period of time. In the case of the Nova station it was 28 minutes less. It means that both the stations in question devoted less broadcasting time to the Roma ethnic group than would be appropriate according to the estimated proportion of the Roma in the Czech population. 8 Table 1. The number of articles in individual daily newspapers and television broadcast Printed media Absolute frequency Relative frequency Mladá fronta Dnes Zemské noviny Moravské Slovo Lidové noviny Právo Total Audio-visual media Události Televizní noviny Total The periods during which we monitored the newspaper and the audio-visual reports are not identical, and therefore we cannot simply compare the obtained results. However, our 7 The basic research unit was an item of news, usually a visual report introduced by the newscaster in a studio. All reports framed as Roma problems and reports concerning members of the Roma minority were included among the analysed material. These were reports in which the Roma or the Roma ethnic group were mentioned, and those where the Roma were presented as protagonists of the given events (although they were not termed the Roma). It proved to be the biggest stumbling block to decide which reports are relevant for our survey. In the case of audio-visual media working with images it was in some cases very difficult to recognise whether the displayed persons were Roma. This decision was then guided by the physical characteristics of the persons and their diction. The chosen criterion can undoubtedly be regarded as a stereotype. We used it because it is perhaps closest to the view of an ordinary viewer, who identifies members of the Roma ethnic exactly on the basis of these characteristics. But in addition, it is exactly the skin colour of the depicted people that also foreign researchers present in their studies as the criterion for the selection of relevant reports. 8 Only 11,716 citizens of the Czech Republic declared the Roma nationality in the Census of people, houses and flats in 2001 [Srb 2001]. However, it is estimated that there are between 180,000 and 300,000 Roma minority members in the Czech Republic (which means that they make 2-3 % of the Czech population) [Navrátil 2003]. objective is to point out the common features that are characteristic for the Roma minority presentation, because our principal aim is to give a picture of more general, long-term trends in depicting this ethnic group in the media. The analysed reports shall therefore be regarded from three perspectives: 1) what news values they reflect, 2) what topics are chosen for presentation, and 3) what information sources they quote. In the end, we shall briefly discuss the specifics of visual presentation of the Roma minority in audio-visual media. Events versus news News are not as much discovered or even collected as they are manufactured. [Fowler, 1994: 13]. Theorists of media studies conceptualise today s media as agents that consciously construct the image of outer reality. This holds true also for the news genres, which are generally considered to be objective sources and disseminators of information. Even a reported news is a representation of social reality (not reality itself) and always shows only a part of it. As W. L. Bennett states in his book News: Politics of Illusion, a news is a product that is continuously being modified by people and institutions that produce and consume it. Behind the illusion of objective news and independent media there are hidden factors influencing the production of news, such as for example the taste of the public, the method of collecting news, communication strategies of participants, and communication technologies. The reports presented in the media are not simply accounts of what happened. In order for an event to get to readers, it has to undergo a relatively long selection process that begins at getting over the so-called threshold of attention, which means that the persons authorised to make decisions about what is going to be presented must consider it to be newsworthy. Different approaches speak about possible factors that influence the production of news. The theory of news values by Johann Galtung and Mari Ruge [1973] elaborates in detail twelve criteria according to which the authors of reports assess the relevance of events for further processing. The criteria are: 1/ frequency or incidence in time, 2/ the threshold of attention, 3/ explicitness, 4/ meaningfulness, 5/ consonance, 6/ unpredictability, 7/ continuity, 8/ diversity, 9 10/ relation to elite nations and persons, 11/ personalisation, and negativity. We tried to identify what news values are presented in the analysed news. In most cases there were several possible explanations of why the given event was selected for publication. This reflects the fact that the more criteria an event meets, the bigger its chances to become an item of news. Some news values were impossible to reconstruct retrospectively on the basis of the given article. The most problematic turned out to be: the threshold of attention and composition, which were possible to determine only hypothetically. The category of frequency, reflecting news incidence in time, presented us with the same problem. In order to be able to determine it more precisely we would, in these cases, need to be present to the process of the news production or have information about other events that took place at the same time. The technique of contents analysis does not make this possible. That is why the resulting table (no. 2), that shows what news values the analysed reports reflect, does not comprise the three mentioned categories. Table 2. News values of news about the Roma NEWSPAPER ARTICLES TV REPORTS News value Absolute frequency Relative frequency(%) Absolute frequency Relative frequency(%) Total of reports Explicitness Personalisation Continuity Negativity Meaningfulness Unpredictability Relation to elite nations Consonance Relation to elite persons Table 2 reflects certain differences in the presentation of the Roma minority in the printed and audio-visual media. It is above all the greater emphasis on negativity in the studied television stations. Also the criteria assessing the links between an event and elite nations and persons were applied more consistently during the selection of events to be presented in the main news broadcasting. This was probably due to a substantial volume of information about the migration of the Roma to Western European countries in Further, the table shows that regardless the media type the events concerning the Roma ethnic group on which journalists decide to report are selected mainly on the basis of four criteria: explicitness, personalisation, negativity and continuity. This indicates a preference for attractive events whose interpretation is not ambivalent, events related to a known person and thus having their heroes and/or losers. They are events that are not positive and one-shot, which means that it is possible to report on them repeatedly. These are categories suitable for news of the narrative type that are typical of infotainment. The four identified criteria that are applied most frequently correspond also to Bennet s statement, according to which the contemporary reporting is characterised by four main features: personalisation, dramatisation, fragmentarisation, and normalisation [1996: 42]. Moreover, the high frequency of the category of explicitness shows that for the presentation of the Roma minority, non-problematic and clear events are deliberately chosen. This can suggest that journalists are aware of the fact that this is an area on which they have to inform very cautiously. On the other hand, it undoubtedly leads to simplifying and flattening the problems of the Roma ethnic group. The other criteria were applied less often in the selection of articles about the Roma minority and some of them can be considered entirely marginal. This concerns particularly references to elite nations or persons and consonance, that is news awaited by the readers. This indicates that neither the public nor celebrities are much interested in Roma topics. 9 The total number of published articles in this table does not correspond with the total number of the analysed articles, because in this case we only worked with articles of the reporting genre. Thematic fou
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