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.

Alexandr 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 others:

"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 for them."

O Roma Vakeren
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 society.

Roma activist, Ivan Vesely, says the show has helped change attitudes towards Roma people, who are frequently a much maligned minority in many countries:

"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."

Ivan Vesely
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 and lesbians.

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."

Alexandr 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 societies."