We address the topic about the “Roma and Mass media” not for the first time, we have organized awareness raising events specially for journalists. In April 2006 in cooperation with the European Centre for Roma Rights we held a training-seminar „Counteracting the language of enmity in mass media“. When reading the materials on Roma in different publications, we note that the amount of unbiased articles is growing more and more, however some publications give reasons for critique.
Often one can hear a contradictory opinion that — Roma are a closed society, that it is difficult and almost impossible to get information about. In reality, anyone who has been in Roma houses or their settlements during the job tasks knows that an attentive and friendly attitude is a guarantee of trust, openness and hospitality. Many journalists in different countries, after being in Roma families, get the most interesting first hand information, and after checking and verification deliver great reports. Unfortunately, some reporters — maybe owing to their laziness, or maybe by believing to different rumours about their closed nature — do not even try to find out something new and just rewrite different fables from each other, which have filled out the internet, or follow their own prejudices and deliver them to their audience. Of course, the work of the journalist supposes, that today he writes about the increasing crop capacity of potatoes, tomorrow about the concert of classic music and the day after tomorrow about Roma. But professionalism implies that no false data about the crop capacities shall be published, no mixing of Heidn with Mozart, and no repeating of the lies of incompetent people about Roma. Additionally professionalism means acquiring information from the specialists, because it is out of the human capacity to have a clear and thorough understanding of the problem. If you write about the potatoes — ask the agronomist, ask a musicologist about Mozart and inquire about Roma from those who specially work with this issue.
The trustworthy information from reliable sources is also a property of the Internet and other treasuries of knowledge accessible for everybody. Using the chance, we suggest to those interested to visit the great web site of N. Bessonov www.zigane.pp.ru, as well as the web site of a famous human rights organisation such as European Centre for Protection of Roma Rights www.errc.org (by the way, it has a “Russian page as well”). Recently there a new interesting web resource opened — the web site, dedicated to the problems of Kelderari-Roma, that offers not only analytical and human rights articles, but unique photo and video materials as well, where the main figures tell about their burning problems. For those who are interested in Russian Roma in particular, we welcome you to consult in our Centre for social and legal protection of Roma (telephone (812) 710 65 19, web site www.memorial.spb.ru). Within the framework of our activity we try to inform the journalists, and organize the seminars and trainings, we tell about our work and about the problems faced by Roma. It is pleasant to understand, the work brings its own results. For example, one year ago the journalists — the participants of such seminar got to know that Roma are different: each group follows its own traditions, wears its own clothes, speaks its own special dialect, — and those, who have visited the seminar, are trying not to mix these groups. Recently the members of the “My region” newspaper, after getting interesting photos made on the streets of Saint-Petersburg from a photographer, called “Memorial” with the purpose to request an assistance in defining which Roma tribes have been depicted in the photos (http://www.mr-spb.ru/photogallery/2007/gipsy/). Everyone benefited form this: a newspaper, that delivered correct information, and Roma, whose pictures were published with correct comments and human rights activists. Because it is an eventual objective of our cooperation with the mass media — that is a dissemination of trustworthy and necessary information. However, often unprofessional publications arise in printed and electronic mass media, when they deliver incorrect unverified information to the reader.
For example, the article with the „non trivial“ name “Tabor goes to heaven” (a newspaper “Newskoye Vremya”, 19.01.2007). It was dedicated to the Roma settlement in Chudovo. But the journalists Svetlana Rassmekhina who apparently did not have any idea about the multitude of Roma ethnos, does not know that those Roma living in Chudovo are Kelderari Roma — a special group of Roma, where men earn money by working with the metal (that’s where their name comes from — in the past times they were tinning cans). It is necessary to note that the representatives of this Roma group have a very big difference in their customs, language and outlook that any attentive person would note, and in Chudovo every inhabitant knows about that. However the careless journalist does not know about the Kelderari Roma (probably, she was afraid to go to the „tabor“, by limiting herself only by visiting the court room), and her more careless colleagues in the editorial office depicted the article with the photos of Roma from the other group — mugat (or lyuli, as they usually called), migrants from Central Asia, and moreover with the comment “Chudovo Roma are popular beyond the borders of the settlement“. There is hardly a need for a doctor degree in order to distinguish the mugat-women, dressed according to the Muslim traditions with the kerchiefs closing faces and gowns over wide trousers, speaking Tajik language and begging near the temples, from the Chudovo Kelderari women wearing wide gowns till the floor, aprons and plaits. But if it is difficult to distinguish the one from the other anyway, again — call us, we will gladly help you! From the very beginning — from the photo, which falls into the eyes immediately, — the readers were misled.
Now some remarks regarding the contents of the article. It informs that in Chudovo by the court decision eight recently built homes should be demolished. These homes are so called “self willed constructions”, they do not have any admitting documents. At first S. Rassmekhina tries to keep the unbiased view: shortly writes about the history of the settlement, seems to “give a stage” to both parties to the conflicts. But suddenly the journalist allows herself a reiteration of the idle, unproven rumours: “Tabor is being condemned of crimes related to the selling of drugs. Even though that in the Office of Public Prosecutor this fact has not been confirmed”. If there is no confirmation it means that the connection to the crime has no proof. At the same time, however, the words of the local public prosecutor are being cited: „In the crimes, that have been revealed, Roma have not been noted often, but their role in the crimes that have not been revealed is unknown“. If the prosecutor V. Merinov allows himself to tell about something that is not true, what shall we expect from the reader then, who has been twice mislead by the “competent” sources — the prosecutor and uncritical newspaper? S. Rassmekhina should have thought twice about the obvious awkwardness of the words told by the public servant and find out what does the term “second meaning” means — the opinion of the experts. The fact is that the problems of the Roma settlement in Chudovo have already attracted the attention of the human rights activists, that has been covered many times in the mass media. Additionally several publications and programmes made after the press-conference concerning the problems of the demolition of Roma settlements have been dedicated to this issue (the press-conferences took place in the October 2006 in Saint Petersburg and in Moscow). The problem of the settlement in Chudovo — is typical for compact Kelderari-Roma settlements in Russia.
In soviet times the question about the private right to the land and buildings was not bothering anybody — the registration was more important. And Roma had the registration — since the time, as the soviet government forcibly made them to settle on the land and banned their wandering. Now people that have been living in such settlements are being evicted. Evictions and the demolitions of the houses took place in several Roma settlements across Russia and human rights activists are concerned with the fact that the same may happen in Chudovo. The Chudovo administration was actively participating in the dialogue with the settlement and our organisation was acting as a mediator at them, it has organised round tables and meeting of the both parties. However the real help from the part of the Chudovo administration in legalizing the unlawfully built houses to those Roma, who wanted to officially register their houses, has not been provided. On the contrary, the administration after taking a “political decision” brought an action and won the suit. Of course, houses have to be legalized and the settlement has to be brought into the condition complying with the sanitary and fire safety rules. But the authorities do not wish to go this way. What can such situation lead to? To homelessness, the complete destitution of people who are not rich at all, to the illiteracy of the children that will not go to the school and other accompanying problems. We wish that the journalists that write about such relevant issue that actually need a public discussion like the problems of Roma settlements would do their work contentiously and without prejudices.
It should be noted that the careless attitude towards the job causes damage even when the journalist’s attitude towards Roma is friendly and strives to tell the true facts about their problems. For example, Valeria Klimentyeva from the “Saint-Petersburg currier” (edition as of 24.01.2007) decided to take the interview from N. I. Samulevitch, the head of the public organisation called “Roma community”. Unfortunately, the information, published by the journalist without any checking, is completely false here and there. The stories saying that Russian Roma have always been loved, and that they have not been oppressed during soviet times, except that they have been put on to a land, we leave to the self conscience of the respondent, even though there is already enough literature dedicated to the problem of persecution of Roma in the past. And the statement that among Roma there are a lot of physicians, engineers, lawyers, and there is only one politician — Samulevitch, is a true Khlestakovshina. These are the things that can be verified: N.I. Samulevitch never was a leader of the „Soyuz“movement, as well as that he hasn’t been an assistant on national affairs of the former governor Yakovlev — this could have been proven even in the city administration! In the conclusion we are being told that „the representatives of the community have no authority” but they have “a pride and love of freedom”. Again — a poorly educated person tells and a journalists — with higher education — senselessly reiterates… What does it mean “have no authority”? Why not verify the information from the interviewee himself the “representative” — what kind of authority, where, over whom? Speaking about the state bodies, they do not willingly accept the authority of registered national and public associations, such as Federal national-cultural autonomy of Russian Roma. And if N. I. Samulevitch has no authority in the very Roma community, then what kind of “representative” can he be? We have to repeat again: the material that has been published in a hurry, without verification with any information sources, that hasn’t been compared with any “second opinion”, turn out to be absurd and even harmful, rather than necessary. What will be left in the minds of the readers, what kind of confusion and mess — does that mean that nobody cares about that? The task of the editorial office has been fulfilled, the article is ready. Written — I’m out?..