Journalists failing in refugee coverage according to Prague conference

Photo: Fotomovimiento, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A two day series of seminars about media coverage of the refugee crisis in Central Europe and the Baltic States has just wound up in Prague. And most of the messages have not been complimentary about its performance which has often been described as shallow, seizing on disinformation, failing to present a wider picture, and too frequently falling in with local politicians’ take on problems.

Martin Rozumek,  photo: Petra Čechová
The two day international seminar looking at the role of journalists, the media, and propaganda in the refugees crisis was put together by the Organisation for Aid to Refugees (OPU), a charity which for the last 25 years has been helping foreigners and refugees in the Czech Republic.

Locally, the association has been faced with the jarring disparity that Czechs have some of the most negative perceptions of immigration and foreigners in the whole of Europe while the number of actual immigrants and asylum seekers is one of the lowest in the continent. The head of the charity is Martin Rozumek and he explained what were some of the main conclusions were:

“I think that the basic message is that journalists should look much better at the root causes of migration, use more sources from other countries to describe the refugee and migration situation in Central Europe and not to rely on the speeches and opinions of our politicians because what we see here is a reflection of our politicians’ opinions and not an in-depth analysis of anything going on in, say, Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan - why the people leave and why are some are refugees and some not. That is basically missing here, so we want to highlight this problem at the conference.”

Rozumek says that the media situation in the Czech Republic is probably slightly better than in other Central European countries thanks to public service broadcasters, but their voices are often drowned out by other mainstream media and the increased blurring of the messages by social media and deliberate attempts to distort the truth.

Photo: Fotomovimiento,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“The main Czech tv and radio, I think they are objective and there is a space not just for us, but also other experts, to express our opinions there. And it’s unique in the Central European context in the sense that, from what we heard yesterday our colleagues from Poland and Hungary, they basically have no access to the mainstream media and they cannot explain the situation of the refugees on the spot and in the countries of origin. So here it’s definitely better, but on the other hand we have Prima, and idnes, and Seznam, and it’s quite difficult to get anything positive about refugees in these media.”

Idnes is the online server of one of the biggest Czech dailies, Dnes, owned by ANO leader and finance minister Andrej Babiš. Seznam is one of the country’s biggest two Internet search engines with a fast expanding media operation, And TV Prime, the commercial broadcaster caught up in a major scandal last year when a tape of tv bosses telling reporters to deliberately paint a negative picture of immigrants and refugees was leaked.

Jakub Janda of the Prague based European Values think tank said many governments are only now starting to address targeted disinformation campaigns often spreading hate. He adds that media education campaigns don’t exist for the public and little is done locally to promote or uphold robust journalistic values.