Experts believe extremism is being fed by media attention

With the elections to the European Parliament coming up, political parties in the Czech Republic are trying to get their issues to the fore. Out of the sidelines of that effort however another issue has commanded attention over the last month and that is the problem of extremist political organisations and their presence in the media.

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Fire-bomb attacks against Romany families, police clashing with neo-Nazis and ultra-right gatherings in Czech towns and cities – those are images that have appeared with increasing frequency in the Czech media, and they have brought political extremism in the Czech Republic to the forefront of public attention. Some however are asking if it’s not the attention itself that may be provoking the incidents. Political scientist Jan Charvát, an expert on issues involving extremism, believes the media is feeding the fire by providing the attention the radicals are seeking.

“I think the problem is that the extremists know very well how to make the media talk about them. Because this is exactly what they want. A classic example is the National Party, they have probably less than 30 members but even with this small number of people they are very often in the media. They know how to medialise themselves very well. This is the problem: the media – even if they don’t want to – actually work for the extremists.”

Jaroslav Veis, former editor-in-chief of the daily Lidové noviny, says the media are doing the best they can with an onerous issue.

“Of course extremism in the country is a problem, it’s a fact, and we have to face it. And the second thing is we have to inform about it. So I think it’s quite important to inform about the problem. Another question is how it’s done. If it were just stressing conflict situations while trying to get some kind of sensationalism out of it, that would be bad. But my feeling is that the Czech media is not just trying to get better readership.”

Sensationalism however is a charge that the country’s top broadsheet, Mladá fronta Dnes, has been battling this month since it published a prominent interview with a leading figure in the neo-Nazi movement. The interview, conducted by the paper’s deputy editor-in-chief, was sharply criticised for essentially providing unchecked advertising space for the promotion of racism. The newspaper has argued their intent was to give equal ground to everyone. Nonetheless, for Klara Kalibová of Tolerance and Civic Society, a watchdog organisation that monitors extremism, the report said a lot about the problems the Czech media have with this kind of coverage.

“It lacks information, it lacks critique and also it is an example of the superficiality of some newspapermen. There are no journalists who are able to go deep into the situation, to provide readers with important information. Reports and documentaries are very shallow. There’s no analysis of right-wing groups, most articles are about far-right groups meeting here and there, doing this and that, and nothing about the background, about the violent attacks etc.”

The most recent error in judgement came from Czech Television – which broadcast blatantly racist pre-election commercials for two far-right parties before pulling them amid an angry backlash. With these issues casting serious doubt on Czech media standards in general, the coming weeks and months are likely to see a concerted effort by Czech newsmakers to take a deeper look in the mirror if they want to avoid being news themselves.