Roma media organisations from around Europe meet in Prague

Jarmila Balazova

There are some 8-10 million Romany people in the world and most of them are living in eastern and central Europe. It is therefore natural that after the fall of communism, the role of the Roma media became imperative. In the 1990s, it was instrumental in influencing the way information about the ethnic community was processed. But today, it is getting harder and harder for Roma media to exist. With a lack of finances and pressure from the state and their own people, Romany journalists say they are fighting a constant battle.

To exchange experiences and find more efficient ways of meeting their goals, representatives from various Roma media organisations around Europe met in Prague last weekend. One of the organisers of this conference was Jarmila Balazova, a journalist in Prague who - amongst many other things - works for Czech Radio and is the editor of the monthly magazine Romano Vodi or "Roma Soul". I asked her what she thinks the role of the Roma media should be today:

"I think that there are several roles but I will speak about the main two. The first one is to bring information to the Roma people and give them good positive examples of successful Roma people because this could be a good way of letting Roma people know that it is possible to be useful citizens and possible to be good workers etc. The Roma community should also not only concentrate on TV and radio, which are the media that are most popular in this community."

So, you want them to get used to the print media? What about the second role?

"The second role is targeting non-Roma Czechs. I think that the information about the Roma up until now is about two groups of people - the very successful Roma community, who are the Roma intellectuals, and then the totally poor people, who have a problem with living conditions, health, and so on. I believe that it is really necessary to show many examples of 'normal' people, who are from the working middle class just like the other Czechs."

"We can also mention cooperation between Roma and non-Roma media. Our organisation called Romea really tries to systematically cooperate with other colleagues from the Czech media. For three years we have been organising seminars together at which we speak about potential areas of cooperation and try to give contacts and good examples and ideas for articles and so on."

One such project was launched in cooperation with the popular Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes last year. Two Czech couples of the same age and with the same university degree, but one Roma and the other non-Roma, were asked to visit selected places to see whether they would be given equal treatment. The result: the Roma couple was not allowed into clubs and was discriminated against during efforts to seek employment.

We cannot deny that members of the Roma community are still facing discrimination in many parts of Europe and that, many Roma media organisations argue, makes it even more difficult for them to stay objective. It often happens that they are caught in the middle - facing pressure from the government when it is subsidising their project and at the same time from their own community that expects them to report on its problems...

"It depends what country you're in. Our colleagues from Sweden, for example, have a special Roma broadcast at Radio Sweden. But the Roma community in Sweden is very close and has strong traditions. My colleagues told me that it really is not possible to go to the Roma community and be very critical. So, my colleagues need to be very careful.

So what are the problems that you're finding here?

"I think that the situation in the Czech Republic or Slovakia is a little bit better because our traditions are not so strong. We really try to be objective but there are two problems. The first point is that in some Roma media the editors-in-chief are Roma who are hoping to become politicians. So, that is the first problem. The second problem is that it is really hard for Roma journalist to be objective in some situations..."

You mean because they are Roma too. You actually teach young Roma how to become journalists. What kind of advice do you give them in this case?

I always try to teach my students who are taking part in the media course that, as Roma journalists, they can be emotional and voice their opinion and that it doesn't matter that they are Roma and writing about the Roma. It is okay to let the reader know that they are taking the Roma's side. These are the questions concerning objectivity and I think it is good that the Roma are thinking about it and are trying to discuss it."

While fighting to be objective, Roma media journalists are also struggling to uphold their existence. As they are mainly founded by NGOs, they have to lobby for financial support every year. Many have tried and failed; others had to limit their weekly publication to once every month. With limited financial sources, working conditions for Roma journalists are also much worse than in the non-Roma mainstream media.

At last weekend's conference in Prague, representatives from around the continent underlined the important role that they play in helping their community live alongside mainstream society as equals. They have decided to join forces and organise a seminar at the European Parliament where they hope that their voices will be heard.