Czech Television put on the spot over anti-Roma election clips

21-05-2009

Public service broadcaster Czech Television has sparked a major row by broadcasting a pre-election spot for the extremist Národní strana, or National Party. The clip provided a platform for the far-right group to express its hatred of the country’s large Roma minority. This included the shocking promise of “a final solution to the gypsy problem.” In the uproar that followed the broadcaster eventually gave way and said it will not screen the spot again, though its judgement has been called into question.

Czech Television screened the short clip on Wednesday as part of a series of campaign messages by parties contesting June’s European Parliament elections. The xenophobic National Party’s offering portrays negative stereotype images of Roma together with captions outlining its racist stand. These include attacks on alleged favouritism for the Roma community, promises to end attempts at integration and, most controversially, the promise of a final solution to the gypsy problem as an example to all other European states.

The words “final solution” clearly echo the Nazi euphemism for the mass murder of Jews and other minorities during WWII.

The television broadcaster said it had no other option under rules for pre-election coverage and could not interfere in the content of the clip. But it eventually conceded that it would not be screened again.

This followed a joint intervention by Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Michael Kocáb. They condemned the spot as an incitement to hatred and its screening as probably constituting a criminal act in itself.

Ladislav Šticha is spokesman for Czech Television. He was asked if the broadcaster should shoulder some blame for broadcasting the spot.

“On no account. It could not have been a mistake by Czech Television because the election law is very clear and strict. In broadcasting this clip Czech Television made it clear at the start and end that it bore no responsibility for the contents. The law does not allow us to intervene in any way regarding the content even in the case where we have some reservations.”

Mr Šticha added that the broadcaster is hoping for a change in the law which will stop it being put in such a situation in the future.

Vladimíra Dvořáková is a politics professor at Prague’s University of Economics. She says the broadcaster was caught in a no win situation: open to criticism if it screened or banned the campaign clip. But she says Czech media have a lesson to learn from this case and others: not to fall into the trap of giving easy publicity to small racist parties such as the National Party.

“In some sense they have to inform the public that such extreme groups do exist in Czech society and politics but on the other hand not be part of their game - and it is difficult to do that.”

In the wake of the uproar, Czech Television says it is pondering criminal charges against the National Party, the Ministry of Interior is looking at banning the party and Czech Radio has spelled out that it will not be broadcasting any of its five pre-election clips.

21-05-2009