On Saturday 14 May 2000, Czech public service television broadcast this four-minute report as the main item of its Main Evening News at 7:15 pm. This English translation below is verbatim:
Czech TV studio, newscaster Augustová: Some forty Czech Roma and their supporters demonstrated outside the Czech Embassy in London. This event, the first of its kind, was organised by the European Roma Helpline. On the anniversary of the day when a memorial was unveiled in Lety [a concentration camp in the Czech Republic; where many Roma were killed during the Second World War], Roma protested against alleged discrimination in the Czech Republic. [Czech TV's] Jiří František Potužník is in London:
A shot of the demonstrators, a male voice: The protest, organised by the European Roma Helpine, started shortly before four o'clock London time.
Ladislav Baláž, Chairman of the Helpline: We strongly appeal to Mr Zeman, the Prime Minister, who said two years ago that he would do away with the skinheads. And this has not happened.
A male voice: Nobody from the Embassy however could accept a letter addressed to the Czech government because it is the weekend and the Embassy is closed.
Baláž: We informed the Embassy and, simply, you can see this even here, even abroad, they simply do not want to deal with us.
Zuzana Bluhová, Embassy spokesperson: The Embassy was only informed by the local police.
Male voice: Not only the Czech Republic was criticised, but the United Kingdom's Crown as well.
Roma with banners. Signs such as SEGREGATION, EVICTION and PERSECUTION are visible.
Amanda Sebestyen, the Helpline Coordinator: In the last ten days...
Male voice translates into Czech: In the past ten days, when the [British] Conservative Party started using racism in the campaign for the local authority elections, several Romani families were attacked up and down the country.
Baláž: A few drunks came from a restaurant they broke windows, so we moved [the Roma] to a different area where it is better for them.
Male voice: According to Amanda Sebestyen the new British asylum law is literally a crime.
Three bobbies have surrounded demonstrating Roma, are telling them something, making gestures and one policeman points to one of the banners.
Male voice translates: For instance they demand evidence [of persecution] from people straight off the airplane, they are often tired and have children with them.
Baláš: The wife is allowed into Great Britain but her husband is put into prison.
A demonstrator in a red "circus" costume is speaking (a banner saying HARASSMENT is visible): I do repeat that it is a fascist nation.
Reporter Potužník stands in front of a group of demonstrators, drums are heard. He is saying gloomily: According to Zuzana Bluehová there is a danger that if today's demonstration is used in an improper manner by a reporter working for the tabloid press, the protest might in the end turn against the Roma.
Czech TV studio, newscaster Janeček: The view of the British public on the situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic has been partially influenced by the film The Way of the Roma, broadcast by commercial TV station Channel Four. This British film is very critical toward the Czechs and according to it, the Roma are in a desperate situation in the Czech Republic.
A shot from the film, filmed off a television screen. The Band Bílá síla is playing. Caption: "Filmed on 6 April 2000."
Male voice: The authors of the film document the life of Roma on the basis of human stories. Roma are, according to them, exposed to everyday discrimination. Also victims of skinhead attacks speak in the film.
A Romani woman (English subtitles, all individuals have their faces blurred): captions, speaks in Czech: ...met these skinheads and there they started to abuse us, calling us black swine and this... and one of them got up I do not know which one, and threw a beer glass at me.
Shots of groups of skinheads.
Male voice: Most of the Czechs are shown by the film as intolerant people who hate Roma.
An older man speaks from the screen: Here people would be glad if all of them moved away. It is terrible: they attack people, they mug pensioners...
A Romani band is playing.
A shot of a young man in a tee-shirt and a cap:
Question: What do you think should be done?
Answer: Well... eliminate them.
Male voice: The British documentary film was broadcast by the Roma Rights European Centre only for an invited audience.
A shot of a hall.
Ondřej Giňa, Chairman of the Association of the Romani Regional Advisers: I have seen many things in that documentary which I know from reality, of course, here it was put together in such a way that the impression on the viewer who does not have such experiences as I do may have been quite hard.
Laura Laubeová, Faculty of social sciences, Charles University: If this film were to be broadcast on TV in the Czech Republic, so, so, so it would end up badly because most of the population would become very angry.
The caption "Filmed on..." disappears, a male voice: The [Czech] Foreign Ministry regards this film as distorted and as taken out of context.
In front of the Czech Foreign Ministry, ministry spokesperson Aleš Pospíšil: The whole tenor of the film is that each and every Czech is a racist and every Romani who appears in the streets in this country must be beaten up or killed.
Male voice: And yet the Czech Foreign Ministry will not lodge an official protest.
Karel Rožánek, reporter, Prague: The British documentary film "The Way of the Roma" will never be broadcast in the Czech Republic. Its makers have promised all those individuals interviewed in the film, that broadcasting rights will not be sold to any television station in the Czech Republic. Karel Rožánek, Czech Television.
Duration: 4 minutes, 10 seconds.
Bad habits die hard: Czech TV in defence of hardened prejudice
Under Communism, the Czechoslovak regime and its propaganda machine were extremely defensive. They saw the country and its people as being under siege, constantly attacked by hostile, "imperialist" forces from the West, which were being aided and abetted by Czech traitors, the emigrés who had sold out and were bent on "damaging the good name of Czechoslovakia abroad." (It was, in fact, also a criminal offence, to "damage the good name of Czechoslovakia abroad.")
When Channel Four broadcast the film Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves about the plight of the Roma in the Czech Republic some weeks ago, I was very interested in people's reactions in the Czech Republic. I wrote to a high official in Czech Television, suggestiong that Czech TV should broadcast this film in order to spark off a national debate on this issue. It has taken until now for Czech Television to react – and it has reacted by hitting back at the Roma.
As you can see, in the above report, broadcast on Saturday 13 May, Czech Television has clrearly abandoned the principles of objective, impartial reporting (all sides must be heard and the views of all sides must be critically examined) and came down on the side of narrow, defensive, Czech nationalism, reminiscent of the defensiveness of the past Czechoslovak Communist regime.
In the television report, quoted above, Czech television systematically casts doubt, directly or indirectly, on statements made by the Roma and their supporters. It fully aligns itself with officialdom, Czech or British. The report uses the fact that Roma in Britain protest even against the British autorities, as further evidence of their illegitimacy. The subverting techniques are often quite subtle.
Channel Four is called a "commercial" TV station in the report. In the Czech context, "commercial" TV usualy means "tabloid, manipulative, unrealiable, unscrupulous." People in the Czech Republic are generally unfamiliar with Channel Four, which was set up as a commercial/cultural venture, whose task it is to publicise views that the conventional consensus often ignores.
When the film Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves was broadcast on Channel Four earlier this year, CER published a review of it here. It is disturbing that Czech Television has broadcast a one-sided evaluation of this film, without allowing the Czech audience being able to judge for themselves. Why was no space given to the film makers themselves in the Czech TV report? Why did it only quote the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a Czech "media specialist" from Charles University? Does this mean that only "our" (ie Czech) views are deemed to be legitimate?
Freedom and human rights are indivisible. If human rights of a single member of a minority are infringed, this is a serious problem. The British media often work on the basis of individual examples, so called "human stories," in order to highlight a serious, although more abstract, problem. This journalistic method is fully justified and is very effective.
The Channel Four film ignored the fact that some Roma might behave in an antisocial manner in the Czech Republic. It also ignored the fact that the Czech government is doing various things to help the Romani minority. Quite justifiably, the film concentrated on the issue of collective guilt. It followed several quite drastic examples of oppression and rightly asked the question of why it is that these individual, decent, human people should be victimised only because the majority society is prejudiced against Roma as a whole? It also argued persuasively that the existence of these, three or four drastic cases is evidence enough for the Roma as a whole to be given asylum in Britain. It rightly criticised the British government on failing to adhere to the asylum convention.
The film did not insinuate that "all Czechs are racist". In the sequence which included grossly racist comments by four or five Czech individuals, there was also a short interview with one Czech man who thoroughly condemned Czech racism. This showed clearly that there are indivuduals in the Czech Republic who are anti-racist.
The comments, made by the spokesperson of the Czech foreign ministry Aleš Pospíšil are misleading. Pospíšil's words, are, in fact, absolutely shocking, when we consider that it is the role of the Czech Foreign Ministry not to represent ethnic Czechs, but to represent citizens of the Czech Republic, including ethnic Roma. That this Channel Four film was made purely from a Romani point of view is fully justified, although maybe some Czechs will not agree with such a point of view. However, in the ongoing dispute, an official spokesman of a Czech Ministry surely cannot make statements which are in effect hostile against a section of the Czech population. Czech Television failed badly when it neglected to point this out.
Similarly, Czech Television assumed a fully defensive, Czech nationalist position when reporting the Romani demonstration in London. The subtext was clear: "Look at these ungrateful subversives: they are besmirching 'our' good name abroad." Czech Television has not dealt with the issue fairly. It has not understood that the views of the Roma might be legitimate, even though many Czechs may not agree with them.
Rather surprising were also the comments of the spokesperson of the Czech Embassy in London, Zuzana Bluhová: "This demonstration may be misused by the British tabloid press against the Roma themselves."
Does that mean that people should not vent their grievances because some hack might distort its meaning? Czech Television has seriously failed to address the issue of coexistence between Czechs and Roma in this report and has just confirmed the prejudice of many Czechs against the Roma.
What are we supposed to think of the comment made by Laura Laubeová, a person from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University, which teaches media studies: "If this film were to be broadcast on TV in the Czech Republic, so, so, so it would end up badly because most of the population would become very angry." Is this how media specialists in the Czech Republic see public debate?
I have always thought that it is the task of journalists to open up the most serious and traumatic problems of the community and offer them to national debate, so that a solution might be found.
Obviously, I was wrong.
Jan Čulík, 30 April 2000
The author is the publisher of the Czech Internet daily Britské listy.