Serbian Newspaper Initiated anti-Roma Protest

Published: 3 December 2013

Country: Serbia

by Ivana Jelaca

zemun_poljeRoma community near Serbian capital Belgrade was recently threatened and verbally abused by the group of people. The protest against Roma because they are, as shouted by the protesters, “dirty” and because “their children have scabies”, started after an article was published in Serbian daily newspaper, Vecernje Novosti.

That article has not been only the reason for the violence against Roma, but it also shows how stigmatised Roma people are in Serbian media and how media still perpetuate myths and stereotypes about Roma community with no ethical restrains. According to the Centre for Minority Rights, charity based in Belgrade, the article in Serbian newspaper is directly linked to the protest against Roma.

Tamara Skrozza, a journalist and the member of Serbian Press Council, says that the article, in which Roma and their children were accused for the lack of hygiene, is against the Serbian law.

“Serbian media has become more sensitive on reporting different vulnerable groups such as  women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, minor religious groups etc. But when it comes to reporting on Roma community, the good coverage is almost entirely absent”, says Tamara Skrozza.

“Quoting a statement that makes reference to ethnicity when the statement is of no relevance to the story represents a violation of journalism ethics”, OSCE mission in Serbia stated for the MDI website.

Serbian Journalists’ Code of Conduct clearly forbids spread of prejudices, directs journalists to refrain from discriminating on any ground, as well as to protect privacy and identity which includes reference to belonging to a group. It seems like there is a lack of awareness of the need for balanced reporting and reporting without stereotypes and discriminatory languages, especially against minority communities.

Balanced reporting seems still to be slightly vague term in Serbian media. While unnecessarily conveying the quote of the resident which points finger and blames Roma community for the ‘spread of diseases’ no mention of the other side was made in the article. Voices of minority groups, and especially such marginalized and vulnerable community as Roma, is still rarely heard in media. With no opportunity for self-defense and self-presentation the balance and understanding is hardly possible.

Skrozza points that Roma community is still serious concern in Serbian media. Reporting on Roma community is very worrying and it seems like some journalists have no restrain, she says.

Skozza explains that generations have been raised with the stereotypical and pejorative image of Roma and they do come out in journalists’ reporting. She is also very pessimistic that the current situation can be improved in the future.

“Media coverage of Roma continues to be incident-driven and does not contribute to social inclusion”, says OSCE. The dominant image of the Roma is a passive one and implies either their dependence on different social benefits or the role of victims of domestic violence, accidents or discrimination.

“The negative image of Roma includes representation as petty thieves, beggars and general lawbreakers”, says Ana Solovic, OSCE media monitoring assistant. She explains that it is often implied that Roma themselves are to blame for their hard life, poverty and discrimination.

Finally, bad hygiene is standard label for Roma settlements. Solovic points that they are predominantly depicted as unsightly places that “make the city look ugly”.

“The media images of Roma as victims or beneficiaries of aid block the development of a social perception of them as active participants in society, and this in turn hinders their integration” OSCE concludes.

The evident need and European perspective conditioned many changes in Serbian media.  When it comes to reporting on Roma community Solovic points that certain degree of improvement could be seen in the use of more sensitive language – expressions “Tsigany” or “Gipsies” are rarely in use.

However, it is worth of mentioning that sustaining on derogatory terminology is relative as it still appears under quotation marks, although Journalists’ Code of Conduct is clear when saying that journalist holds responsibility for anything they publish.

Despite regulations contents such as quotes and comments remain problematic. Especially comments on the on-line articles sustain in bring fertile ground for the spread of hate speech. It is an issue which has been addressed to an extent, but far from sorted out.

OSCE reminds that there are some positive examples where media go beyond stereotypes and encourages more inclusive reporting which in turn provides the opportunity for the public not only to see the other side of the story, but also to develop empathy and understanding for this minority group.

“Professional journalism which respects ethical standards and norms, as well as human rights, bears significant importance for the development of a democratic environment”, says OSCE mission in Serbia.

*Photo by Dusan Milenkovic