Minorities and public broadcasting: are they being presented properly?|
Under Czech law, public service broadcasters are obliged to devote
programming time to minorities living in this country such as Slovaks and
Roma. In this week's Talking Point, we look at the impact these broadcasts
have on the image of minorities in Czech society and the challenges facing
public broadcasters as they grapple with an ever-changing demography.
In a bid to support minority cultures living in Czech society, broadcasting
legislation in the Czech Republic stipulates that public-service
broadcasters are obliged to devote some programming time to minorities
residing in this country.
For instance, the main Czech public radio station Radiozurnal broadcasts
programmes for the country's sizable Slovak, Polish, Vietnamese, German
and Roma minorities.
Alexander Picha who runs the station has the delicate task of ensuring
that relevant content is provided on the national airwaves for minorities
without over-emphasising their difference from the general population at
large, which could prove socially divisive:
"We have two policies. One policy is to broadcast special programmes
dedicated to minorities, because minority groups ask us to have their own
programmes. We respect this [view]. But on the other hand, I think it is
more important to make a collaboration. So for instance I prefer to
broadcast contributions about things like problems with gypsies or
problems with immigration, etc. in ordinary programmes, and not in a
'ghetto programme,' which is dedicated to Germans, Slovaks, etc."
Despite making every effort to not "ghettoize" minorities on the
radio, Mr Picha says certain allowances have to be made for different
minorities, some of whom are not as well integrated in Czech society as
"The Slovak minority are barely considered as a minority here. They
have the same customs as Czechs and a very similar language. On the other
hand, we have a lot of problems with Roma. They are living here in
ghettoes and they like their programmes to discuss their problems. They
want programmes dedicated to Roma, so it is a completely different story
The Roma-related programme O Roma Vakeren broadcast on Radiozurnal's
weekly primetime show dedicated to Roma issues and cultural life. It is
broadcast in Czech and has raised awareness of Roma affairs in Czech
Roma activist, Ivan Vesely, says the show has helped change attitudes
towards Roma people, who are frequently a much maligned minority in many
"We are very satisfied with our collaboration with Czech public
radio. If you look in Europe only the Czech radio has a Roma programme
with Roma journalists and a website dedicated to Roma. I know that Czech
public broadcasting is the best in Europe when it comes to minority
issues. This is an indisputable fact. You don't find the same sort of
public broadcasting in Slovakia, Hungary or even in Western Europe."
Despite being happy with Czech radio's coverage of Roma issues, Ivan
Vesely doesn't think enough is being done on the airwaves to promote Roma
culture. In response to this perceived deficit, he has set up Radio Rota.
This radio station, which is sponsored by the Czech Ministry of Culture,
is exclusively geared towards promulgating Roma culture on the airwaves.
Ivan Vesely says this is necessary to redress the damage done in a society
where the Roma have been marginalised for decades:
"People don't know that the Roma are a European people. They don't
know about our culture or Roma spirituality and way of thinking. We use
Radio Rota as an instrument for promulgating this information. We're
slowly working at an improvement as to how to properly explain Roma
traditional values and culture,, etc."
Ivan Gabal, a Czech sociologist specialising in minority issues, says that
although there is nothing wrong with initiatives like Radio Rota, they have
to be carefully employed to avoid being counterproductive.
He warns that if minority groups immerse themselves too much in their own
culture, they run the risk limiting their social and economic
opportunities in society at large:
"I wouldn't object to a Roma language broadcaster or anything like
this, but we have to understand that one of the important preconditions
for Roma children in their command of Czech language. If they are educated
or grow up in a Roma-language environment they have less chance of getting
opportunities for jobs and labor-market applications"
In addition to catering for so-called traditional minorities who have been
here since before the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Ivan Gabal also believes
that state broadcasters must now also address the fact that, as
post-Communist Czech society opens up, new minorities are arriving on the
scene. These include religious groups such as Muslims who have come here
for economic reasons and increasingly visible social groups such as gays
Mr Gabal says public broadcasters could make more programmes analysing
these changes in Czech society, and that a lot could be gained from
looking at the experiences of other countries:
"On the one hand the media, mainly public radio and TV, are
reflecting the new realities and the situation of foreigners and
minorities in this country. But on the other hand, they are not
sufficiently proposing solutions or sufficiently highlighting the
situation in traditional European Union countries and their skills or
experiences with integration and inclusive policies."
Alexander Picha admits that the emergence of new minorities in what is
still a transitional society is something state broadcasters will have to
address in the near future:
"Of course there are lots of social minorities and religious
minorities. These are new things we have to think about, and I have to
admit that I don't have a clear opinion or policy when it comes to
broadcasting for them. We have to collaborate with experts and so on. We
have to have some sort of platform for this debate, but I have to confess
that we are only at the start of this process."
Ivan Gabal says that all programming by public broadcasters for minorities
in Czech society should be geared towards encouraging integration with the
majority Czech population and should not overemphasise and rigidly promote
the values and customs of other cultures.
He thinks the historical experience of the Czech Republic means Czechs are
unlikely to adapt the multicultural social model that has been cultivated
in some Western European countries:
"Compared to multicultural systems in Germany or the Netherlands or
Belgium, where these societies were more open towards protecting the
original cultures and social environment of these communities, Czechs are
much more looking for those foreigners who are eager to enjoy Czech beer
and Czech culture and language, rather than for those who are separating
themselves and keeping their own original language and culture. I know
this might be a problem. It's a pretty selective or restrictive cultural
approach, but on the other hand this is the situation in which we find
ourselves and this is certainly the conditions for a society that is still
halfway closed and a bit more xenophobic than German, Dutch or other