Europe’s media often ignores, or reports negatively, issues faced by minority groups and indigenous people, such as Crimean Tatars and Roma, according to human rights groups.
The claim is backed by recent research into ethnic minority reporting in Poland and Slovakia. Researchers found that Polish and Slovak media rarely publish stories about Roma populations in those countries.
Teun van Dijk, a media academic specialising in discourse analysis, has described press coverage of minorities as ‘new(s) racism’.
“In today’s media, like 50 and 100 years ago, foreigners, immigrants, refugees or minorities tend to be invisible or, if not invisible, portrayed as a problem. As ‘them’ rather than as part of ‘us’,” van Dijk wrote in “New(s) racism: a discourse analytical approach.”
Van Dijk asserts that new(s) racism occurs when minorities are “… stereotyped, marginalized and excluded in many ways in public text and talk: Through biased topic selection (typically crime, violence, drugs or illegal entry), headlines, pictures, lay-out, words, metaphors and many other negative properties of news and background reports, immigrants and minorities are systematically defined not only as different, but also as deviant, or even as a threat.”
Neil Clarke, managing director of Minority Rights Group Europe (MRG), said the media often ignored minorities. He cited recent reporting of Ukraine and Crimea: “the recent developments in Ukraine, the presence of Russian troops and the secession of Crimea are a serious threat to minorities and indigenous peoples in Crimea, the absence of this issue in the media only worsens the situation,” he said.
In Crimea, doors of Crimean Tatars were recently marked by an ‘X’, a sign which evoked memories of their 1944 deportation to Central Asia during the Stalinist era. Between 1944 and 1959 all Crimean Tatars were deported. At the beginning of the 20th century they made up 34% of the population of Crimea, by 1959 the figure was 0%. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Crimean Tatars started to return. Today they make up 12% of the population.
“There is a tangible anti-Tatar sentiment now, which has also been fed by the media,” said Nadir Bekirov, President of the Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous People of Crimea.
Another current example concerns coverage of Europe’s Roma people. Recent research, by Michal Buchnowski’s and Bartosz Wisniewski of Poznan University in Poland, shows that Roma are underrepresented in the Polish media. When they are mentioned, it is usually in a negative context. The researchers found that there were no Roma journalists in Poland’s national media, and no Roma media outlets.
The number of Roma-related articles in the two main Polish dailies: liberal Gazeta Wyborcza, and conservative Rzeczpospolita, is low. Between 2005 and 2012 Rzeczpospolita published only 93 articles related to the Roma minority – approximately 13 per year. Gazeta Wyborcza published only 226. Most of the articles were negative and reinforced stereotypes.
The research revealed a similar situation in the Slovak media. Although in the two main Slovak dailies, SME and Pravda, there have been 1213 articles about Roma published, the Roma population in Slovakia is much bigger than in Poland. There are approximately 500,000 to 600,000 Roma people in Slovakia, compared to an estimated 20,000 and 40,000 in Poland.
As in Poland, articles about Roma people in the Slovak media, were mainly negative, highlighting social problems faced by the Roma, such as poor education, high unemployment, lack of proper housing and health issues. Roma people are only seen in light of their ethnicity, as a result their media image is very homogenous.
Both van Dijk and the researchers from Poznan University believe that the media’s negative coverage of minorities leads to their further marginalization and social exclusion, which exacerbates their living conditions.
A number of institutions, such as Media Diversity Institute, UNESCO or MRG agree it is important to spread awareness about minority issues among journalists. MRG organizes a free online course for journalists to promote ‘minority sensitive reporting’. The course is financed by European Commission and it is aimed at professionals in Poland, Bulgaria, Czech, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Estonia and Hungary. The next round will start in September 2014.