Media Discrimination against Roma

Dates: 26 June – 1 July 2016

Country: Hungary

MDI_at_Tom_Lantos_InstituteThe Media Diversity Institute (MDI) contributed to the European Summer School on Prejudice, Genocide,  Remembrance in Budapest by holding a workshop on responsability of the media with a special focus on Romaphobia. MDI Communication manager Dasha Ilic presented several cases of discrimination against Roma in the UK and European media offering advice and tips on how to report diversity in responsible and professional way.

“Journalists and reporters coming from marginalised and socially deprived background should be given space to report on topics that are not related to minorities’ issues. Our newsrooms always have to have journalists coming from marginalised communities so that they help us learn and understand those communities better. But they shouldn’t be given a task to exclusively report only on the communities they are coming from but also on any other topic such as Brexit or the proposed state budget,” said Ilic.

The third European Summer School on Prejudice, Genocide, Remembrance was organised by the  Tom Lantos Institute and the Eötvös Loránd University Faculty of Education and Psychology. This year the summer school organised for 25 participants paid particular attention to old and new prejudices, radicalisation and the role of human rights in preventing and countering prejudices.

MDI’s session on responsibility of the media was described in the blog written by Miranda Wolford from the Tom lantos Institute.

Tom_Lantos_Director„Carefully evaluating the power and influence of the media in human rights, we respond to the compelling lectures and discussions led by Dasha Ilic of the Media Diversity Institute and Anna-Mária Bíró of the Tom Lantos Institute as apart of the European Summer School on Prejudice, Genocide, Remembrance.

Racist and discriminatory slurs have become an expected feature in the headlines of the mainstream media. In the wake of the tragic Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Daily Beast’s leading headline read “Paris’s Muslim Suburbs Blame Jews for Charlie,” highlighting one Muslim witness as representative of the entire community. In the midst of a heated presidential election race in the United States, Donald Trump’s rightwing media supporter Breitbart labeled a rightwing politician “Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” a negative connotation of “Jew” blatantly evident.

Whether intentional or accidental, the disheartening effects of these widespread discriminatory practices in the media have the same results: further isolating already marginalized minority groups. Through overgeneralization and pure ignorance, minority groups are systematically grouped together and placed at the mercy of the media.

All across Europe, Roma communities have continuously suffered at the hands of public opinion, serving as the scapegoat for many of society’s faults. While many news outlets and online sources have begun to try to understand and highlight the diverse cultures of Roma communities, the underlying prejudices are still crystal clear, even today.

Tom_lantos_StudentsIn one particularly popular “exposé” on Roma life during 2008, BBC News sent a white, privileged reporter to experience and investigate the culture of such communities in Britain. The first problem with this shortened documentary was its title: “Gypsy: The New Black?” Immediately, the title assumes that there must only be one marginalized minority group in the media spotlight; only one group can discriminated against at a time. Still, all would have been forgiven if the piece had redeemed itself from its rather ignorant title.

While shining a light on two Roma families’ values and their various economic plights, the reporter regards each family with initial suspicion, posing questions such as “Do you traffic children?” and in regards to how the father was able to afford his car, “What is your system? How did you pay?” Rather than treating them as equals, the reporter treated them as inferiors, despite her pure intentions. Understandably, these were the questions her viewers were seeking answers to, but there was an overall paucity of sensitivity and impartiality in the actual posing of the questions.

Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the film was the underrepresentation of the varying Roma communities. Only two families were showcased in the documentary, yet there are millions of Roma people in Europe alone. It is an unjustified and inaccurate generalization to assume that the cultural and daily activities of merely two families is indicative of the entire Roma population.

As evident, prejudice perseveres despite our best efforts to counteract it. While human rights protectors, namely the United Nations, have built-in defense mechanisms against physical discrimination, prejudice is decidedly harder to protect against under the umbrella of international law. Is ensuring the rights of minorities adequate to countering prejudice and discrimination?

To effectively analyze this issue, one must look separately at the definitions of prejudice and discrimination: prejudice is a belief, and discrimination is a behavior. Empowering minority groups to full equity, not just basic equality, may eliminate flagrant discrimination, yet makes no promises in regards to erasing prejudices. This is where the powerful influence of the media can be utilized not to further prejudices, but oust them altogether.

Rather than merely highlighting minority groups in the public eye, media sources must include minority groups in everyday reporting on issues not just specific to their cultural background. Rather than reporting news stories based on one’s ethnic or cultural background, media sources must maintain an unbiased and just outlook. Rather than appealing to the prejudices of their readers and viewers, media sources must lead the way to an openminded and understanding society. Spreading a message of inclusivity in the media will promote positive diversity with the power to bridge cultural gaps and change perspectives.

In a collective society, human rights are simply not enough to counteract both prejudice and discrimination. It is the duty of the media to not promote the systematic marginalization of minority groups, but instead facilitate a progressive outlook centered around true, comprehensive equality.”

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