Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
V World Congress of the Pastoral Care for Gypsies
Budapest (Hungary), 30 June – 7 July 2003
The Role of Mass Media in Forming
the Culture of Solidarity and Tolerance
– or Can We Speak the Language of Love...?
Dr. Judit Juhász
Hungarian Episcopal Conference
„The world is a ladder on which some go upwards while others go downwards”, the wisdom of the Gypsy proverb conveys a lot about the mental attitude of the person living in the minority. Though this statement may seem dry and indifferent, hope and hopeless live in it at the same time. There is a way but only in one direction – either upwards or downwards. Or does the Gypsy proverb refer to the freedom of human choice and the options possible for all human beings? Why would it do so? Yes, though the world can be conquered, however, only the winner goes upwards. The only way for the loser is downwards - far from the heights of human existence.
When we focus on mass media, which plays an important role in forming, strengthening or distorting the culture of solidarity and tolerance, we are astonished to realise that it is rather difficult to find research work on the media image of the Gypsies not only in Hungary but in other countries of Eastern and Central Europe as well. Unfortunately, apart from some studies of minor importance there are hardly any other publications. It means, basic research, analyses, sometimes even putting the main questions of this issue are missing, which prevents us from having a true picture.
Hungarian journalists’ organisations and other communities safeguarding their own interests do not deal with analysing the role of minorities in Hungary either. So they do not analyse or criticise the role of the Gypsies in the mass media and do not discuss the professional and ethical obligations of the journalists. As a result, the objective debate of this issue is still waited for both by the Gypsy society and majority mass media.
It is known that mass media is not exclusively responsible for finding solutions for different social problems, though some journalists show a preference for considering themselves as policy-maker factors. As media consumers we feel the tensions coming from this exchange of roles day by day and those working for the press, having serious damages in their capital of trust since the years preceding the change of the regime also do so. However, it is also a fact that despite all this mass media has an important role in putting the framework of social discourses and intentionally or not but it is able to strengthen the stereotypes against minorities.
We must take notice of the fact that only very few of us have accurate information on the population of the several hundreds of thousands of the Gypsies living in Hungary. However, there is a great deal of generalisation and a number of clichés in our judgements. It is indisputable that in Central European public mentality this group is the least known but the most stricken with prejudice. Though prejudice is not equal with discrimination, still the easiest almost infectious way to it is DISTRUST.
Márta Józsa, who works for both Hungarian Television and Gypsy Radio says in her study entitled „The Gypsies in the Trap of Majority Society”: „Among the majority stereotypes of our days opinions on the former and present oversupport of the Gypsies (continuous support made them fall out of the habit of work) have an outstanding role while the fact that in 1989 employment among the Gypsy male population being able to work was only 1 or 2 % lower than that among the not Gypsy employees is almost unknown. This difference of a few per cent reflects the difference in the medical statistics of the two population groups. Gypsy life expectancy is a lot lower compared with that of the Hungarians as a result of their worse living conditions.
On the other hand it has not become generally known that the means of eliminating the Gypsy colony in the 60s was – in the majority of cases – VIOLANCE. The Gypsies had to leave their natural milieu. Being moved into a flat built at the edge of a settlement, without a bathroom, with a low comfort level the only feeling they had was the state of humiliation. They deserved worse flats than the Hungarians and what they had created for their families up to that time was of no value for others. „I think if you are despised you look for somebody who you can despise”, said a Gypsy character in a documentary a few years ago explaining his arrogant and broken state of mind at the same time. Their strong Gypsy identity is a mixture of positive and negative characteristics. They want to be proud of it, however, they are ashamed of it as well. They want to take it, but realising its heavy handicaps they want to free themselves from it.
At their workplace – as long as they had one – their self-respect was weakened by a similar inner conflict: though they were given the possibility of regular work they were given no dignity in the world of work. They had the worst and most underpaid jobs as without qualifications they had/ and have had hardly any choice. „It is the result of the conception or more precisely non-conception that those in power have always considered the Gypsy society a social, cultural, ethnical or often criminal problem to be solved instead of making efforts to work out the ways of living together with the Gypsies.” (Márta Józsa)
Among the prejudices living with us or found in mass media we can mention the fact that in deviant life situations the public have the opinion that a lot more Gypsies belong to the population of prisons than their real ratio is. Another painful experience is that in public mentality it is not at all emphasised that it was the Gypsies who lost the most because of the change of the regime. Full employment practically turned into full unemployment among them in a few months and most of them is unemployed these days as well. Besides, most of us consider these Gypsies out of the world of work, with a broken self-respect, only remembering the pride of once being able to look after their children to be idlers. Károly Bari Gypsy poet expresses the mentality of a Gypsy man with the conciseness of the Hungarian folk songs:
While examining the media image, information supply and the state of minority mass media these days I received a great help from the study commissioned by the National and Ethnic Minority Office in 1998 (Gábor Bernáth – Vera Messing: Voiceless Cutaway – the Gypsies in the Hungarian Mass Media), which discussed the topic based on content analyses and interviews.
I consider it of great importance that mass media should define the issues our society has to deal with. The press of the change of the regime, in the 90s of the last century saw SEVERAL POSITIVE OPINIONS. The national media played an important role in the process that the Gypsy issue appeared in the social dialogue after long years of silence and the press – displaying the issue as of great importance – also followed the news in connection with the Gypsies with utmost attention. Those working for the press made considerable efforts to help the public become acquainted with the communities, political and cultural movements of the Gypsies being organised from below (and not controlled by the popular front) this time. However, the phenomenon that the typical media images are coincidental with the majority stereotypes in connection with the Hungarian Gypsy population is not at all welcome. In the descriptions of the Gypsies ethnic labelling is common and mass media do not turn to the directly affected in several cases.” (Bernáth – Messing)
The most noble traditions of Hungarian journalism root in a rich soil: the scholars of literature and sociography are inspired with a deep commitment to the Hungarian society, a demanding and true wish to reveal reality and a sympathy and sense of responsibility for those living in poverty and persecution. The national literature of Hungary has not been only art but an attempt to save the motherland and the Man as well. Our greatest artists - as László Németh says - joined in a vision and embraced the Hungarian nation considering the fate of the minorities as a vital question of the nation as well. So there are antecedents and examples – with contemporary artists among them – who the journalists of our days can turn to wishing to find standards. Hungarian literature and journalism as well as film and photo art are abounding with alignment points for those who are willing to serve the community with high standards. In the life of the decimated Hungarian nation, throughout history patience, solidarity and the acceptance of others were not feelings forced from outside but emotions arising inside. This community behaviour comes from the feeling of interdependence of those having suffered a lot.
Today the Gypsies in majority society feel trapped because of their living conditions with no prospects so it is of great importance how authentic is the media image given about them. Our views on the Gypsies are formed by ideologically overstressing situations which are also suitable for manipulation. Our real opinion is shaped in a constant attraction and repulsion in connection with the population group that suffers from poverty and being divided and whose self-image is insecure, often extreme and also full of contradictions. „As distance grows between the value scale of the disintegrating society of the Gypsies and the civil society, an ever-deepening gap opens between them as well. It is crucial how we reveal the past of the Gypsies”, says Péter Szuhay, ethnographer in his study. „We should do it in a way that makes it possible for the Gypsies to find the unity believed to be long-lost and makes it possible for the majority to understand the historical reasons why the Gypsies should be considered extremely socially disadvantaged. This way we could help them bring this situation to an end and let those who are called or considered to be the Gypsies enter the real body of our society.”
We cannot lay enough stress on the fact that the distance between the Gypsies and the majority, which is unacceptably great even today can grow further if mass media purposely or not but strengthen the majority stereotypes in connection with the Gypsies and the majority institutes – including mass media – cannot set the distrust coming from the Gypsy communities towards them at rest.
The majority media image of the Hungarian Gypsy society is considerably influenced by the facts that
The lack of personal experience and distance can influence the existing prejudicial majority image in the wrong direction. However, considering mass media access of the Gypsies and Gypsy press image we can state that Hungary is in a better situation than other countries in the Eastern European region. Speech of hatred is not general in our country and apart from some publications which have few readers no explicitly racist materials appear in Hungarian mass media. (In other countries of Eastern Europe the prevailing laws do not make it possible to broadcast programmes in a minority mother tongue and articles inciting against the Gypsies are general. The Hungarians living in these countries are also stricken with this rude discrimination.)
It gives hope for us that mass media could moderate the stereotypes based on the reserved attitudes and the lack of information through presenting an accurate picture of society - if not in the short run, surely in the long run.
It is good news to us that THE PRESENCE OF THE GYPSIES in the Hungarian press has considerably INCREASED – considering both the size and the place of the articles in the different issues). All this has happened in a society that goes through a fast and radical change in connection with an issue that has been a taboo for a long time. Today it is almost unbelievable that Gypsy-question did not exist earlier and from the world of the news minorities were absolutely missing.
According to the observations from the period examined by the study, in the national dailies an article on the Gypsies appeared every two or three days on average. Two thirds of the articles on the national and ethnic groups in Hungary dealt with the Gypsies. They usually had double size compared with the articles on other minorities and usually appeared on the first five pages – which means newspapers generally discussed the issues in connection with the Gypsies on the frequented pages. The topics being examined, findings gave the result that newspapers showed the greatest concern about the issues of the Gypsy policy of the majority (such as governmental minority policy, legislation, subsidies), the Gypsy culture and education and the conflicts between the ethnic groups. This ratio is roughly in accordance with the fixed images of the majority society attributed to the Gypsies.
The statistical data that usually one fourth of the writings refers to the Gypsy society as a group surrounded by conflicts gives reason for several serious conclusions. Writings about „the Gypsy culture” are frequent and those presenting „the Gypsies as a political issue” are even more usual while hardly any news reports on the self-organising process of the minorities.
It was a very important question of the sociological study what role the media put the Gypsies in and how active the characters were.
Here are some striking data from the study: a Gypsy person or organisation appeared in 508 analysis units altogether 815 times. 60% of the writings had the Gypsies appear without individual role naming as embodiment of the Gypsies. Only 25% of the Gypsies in the sample got the opportunity to speak, the reader could get the opinion of their majority indirectly, from the interpretation of others The characters of the writings were mostly voiceless.
Among the minorities, newspapers mention conflicts most times in connection with the Gypsies: 62% of the articles reports on some kind of conflict, one tenth of them gives account of several conflicts. On one hand it is natural as the problems of the Gypsies belong to the most serious problems of Hungarian society these days. On the other hand it refers to the fact that media image of the Gypsies is rather unbalanced and dominated by conflicts to a considerable extent. Talking of conflicts the question whether we receive the report directly from the affected or their viewpoint is conveyed to the reader only indirectly is of an even greater importance. Only 24% of the minority characters had the possibility of expressing their viewpoint personally in the articles on conflicts. However, mass media could be in the position of being able to decrease the danger of strengthening prejudices by „humanising” the characters, which means giving them a chance to personally speak to the reader. Church events, religious manifestations conveying positive messages are also shaded. The public have hardly any information on the life, values and aims of Christian communities.
Why good news is so rare? Why is so rare a Gypsy life which is successful and thus could be presented as a good example to the others? The practice of a journalist which is based on formal relationships and events makes it even more difficult to introduce successful members of the minorities in mass media. Favourable events are usually reported on only if they occur in connection with an official programme or ceremony.
The dominance of formal media events and statements, the general lack of revealing the facts represent the general state – or more frankly – the deep crisis of journalism in most of the majority media. If we want to characterise the present state of fact revealing journalism we can state that the conditions that could make it possible for the journalists to build relationships over institutes and not to write overdimensioned reports on the press conferences and other media events because of lack of time are - in most cases - missing. Talking of the Gypsies, these conditions have an even stronger effect on their media image: the lack of fact revealing, relationships and time and the Gypsy self-organising process being at an early stage determine what events are presented and what way they are presented.
A thorough examination of the media relationships of the Gypsy local governments led to the surprising result that most of them only mentioned the local public media and the leading official paper of the county but very few of them considered the relationship with their own national press important. As it is well-known most of the Gypsies gain information from television and informal relationships which are of similar importance as they still live in an oral culture so this way of communication has a traditionally important role among them. Pastors doing Gypsy ministering and volunteers of different relief organisations try to benefit from these characteristics but unfortunately politicians exclusively concerned in party policy pursuing short term aims often misuse these conditions. Decent people are ashamed to think of how unscrupulously politicians abuse the backwardness and mental defenceless of the Gypsies during the time of their electoral campaign.
The fact that mass media not only inform us but through its complete programme structure rather than through the individual news also influences the image our society forms of and for itself suggests several consequences. About this image silence is the same expressive as statements.
Mass media also conveys values and national identity, provides the possibility for wording and rewording national pride and union. In connection with Hungarian majority media the following questions cannot be evaded: what image does it give of every twentieth Hungarian citizen and what identity does it convey to us? Does it offer examples and possibilities that give the chance to the majority society of looking at the Gypsies along with their differences rooted in the cultural traditions and along with all their social problems as an integral part of Hungary or does it involuntarily make the distance greater? Does it make it possible for the Gypsies – at the same time – to be proud of their own group and identity or - on the contrary - does it drive them in the direction of assimilation making them hide and suppress their minority status.
ENTERTAINMENT programmes attracting a huge number of viewers all over the world might influence the self-image of the Gypsies to an even greater extent. However, the Gypsies as well as other minorities are absolutely missing from these programmes. Light forms of mass media such as soap operas, talk shows and others do not find Gypsy people who deserve being introduced but the Gypsies are also missing from the column of „opinion of the man in the street” in the dailies. This practice leads to their growing cultural separation and was broken in a very unlucky way not long ago. One of the national commercial channels broadcast an entertainment programme which had scandalous response. The programme meant to be humorous showed a disastrous picture of the Gypsies, giving an unfair caricature of them in a rude and vulgar way – at prime time. Sensational announcement prepared the way for the great success which did not arrive. Viewers of good taste and critics accepted the rude programme with rightful indignation in unison. By way of compensation the leaders of the channel made it possible for the chief members of a Gypsy local government to have a round-table discussion – also at prime time. The result was miserable and disputable, which would be of no importance if did not represent a general and great danger: entertainment industry kills high culture and commercial aspects overcome the moral sense of mass media leaders.
Several alarming examples of superficial communication could be enumerated here, however, they should be subject of the conferences of the Hungarian journalists’ professional workshops. It is their pressing obligation to face the fact that the practice coming through from the tabloids to the national media is strikingly offensive this way profaning their profession.
Descriptions looking for sensation, indifference to misery openly unveiled to the public, advertising consumer lifestyle, intentional incitement of conflicts and uninhibitedness towards the defenceless shade the workshops of the Hungarian press that work in an ethical and conscientious way. The League of Hungarian Christian Journalists have fewer members than the organisation of journalists with a past of long decades, however, with its dignity gained since the change of the regime and its moral force as well as fundamental values of its members it could play an important role in rehabilitating the honour of journalism.
Unfortunately, the number of high quality programmes showing reality behind the appearance is lower and lower. Documentaries and interviews demanding much hard work and also their authors wanting to let us obtain an insight into the layers of reality where human behaviour, decisions or beliefs are hidden are missing.
We hope the phenomenon of these genres demanding financial funds and much hard work falling into the background is only transitory. However, with great respect and happiness do we welcome the works of art such as interviews, films, articles or studies in journals that show how the Gypsies suffering still hoping, under social circumstances inherited from the previous centuries take their identity and organise their life and communities; how a Gypsy family finally free themselves from the pressure of permanent poverty; how they can use the opportunities and become stronger and stronger in the heartiness of personal relationships if they are helped, encouraged and respected by their environment.
It is also the reason why we consider the role of minority media of extremely great importance. We are glad to state that there are eight Gypsy dailies appearing in Hungary more or less on a regular basis. Compared with the Gypsy media of the neighbouring countries and the international history of Gypsy press our Gypsy press could be considered many-sided and significant and gives reason for hope, even if it is known that most of the fifteen papers supported by the Foundation for the Hungarian Nationalities and Minorities in 1996 are coping with distribution problems and all organs are suffering from the same problem that they do not have a stable advertisement market. However, reading index-numbers are shocking: merely 1,15% of the minorities and minority institutions buy these papers. It means according to the surveys of 1996 on average only ONE TENTH of minority population reads the issues sold if we count with the probably overestimated number of nine readers per issue. Asked about the reason for this low ratio, the people questioned pointed out at the strong political attachment of the papers, their high price and distribution problems.
Minority programmes on Hungarian State Owned Television and Radio play an extremely important role in mass communications. Programmers who are Gypsy by birth having gained skills and practice broadcast thirty half an hour programmes per week They set themselves an almost impossible aim: they consider both the minorities and majorities to be their target audience at the same time, which means they try to show their Gypsy identity and resolve the prejudices coming from the majority; they want to speak to both groups. Their patient and purposeful activity is not without appreciation today: a faithful regular audience and several professional awards are the result of it. An expressive fact that the reader and listener index-numbers are not worse than that of other programmes broadcast on the same waveband. The programme on the state owned radio with the title „Half an Hour of the Gypsies”, which has been transmitted at the same time for long years, according to a recent survey is listened to by a population group whose qualification is mostly lower that eight primary classes. However, this ratio is double or triple compared with the same group of the total population, which means this programme is mainly listened to by the Gypsies. This is a great success.
However, we must not fall silent about the fact that these programmes are only islands or quarantine in the programme structure, only a forced fulfilment of obligations included in the notion of public service. It is the world concept, sense of reality and mentality of the programme managements and editors that decides whether Gypsy characters may appear in these programmes. It is the presence or lack of daily editorial decisions, dilemmas and strategies behind the news, interviews and programmes reaching the audience that influences what we finally see and hear in mass media. In this system - we must emphasise again and again – training and employment of Gypsy journalists is of great importance.
Mass media rarely present minority characters who are integral and active members of the society and not in a minority role. We are convinced that employment of minority members in majority media could provide advantages in the news contest, help address a new audience group and encourage to form a more sophisticated editorial policy.
Talking of the legal regulation of mass media and the minorities we can state that Hungarian laws are in accordance with the European regulation forms. Questions emerging while examining the Gypsy image of mass media do not fall into the category of legal regulation and beyond different prohibitions, any positive legal regulation considering the content of programmes would violate the independence of media. The thematic exclusiveness of the media image of the Gypsies, the clichéd descriptions and the fact that the directly affected are silenced in most cases cannot be changed by the law. However, in order to establish a more sophisticated minority media image the profession should display greater professional awareness in connection with its sensitivity towards the minority topics. A voluntary ethical code could contribute to this awareness considering the minority images. This is also emphasised by the Council of Europe through its document with the title „Community and Ethnic Relationships in Europe” calling upon the society of journalist to elaborate a voluntary ethical code about how to deal with the minority problem in a society with several ethnic groups in a decent way. Today in Hungary no ethical codes are used in connection with the presentation of minorities although considering the present problems of the profession there is a great need for such a document.
State owned mass media have special obligations in connection with the representation of the minorities. The state support for state owned mass media makes it possible and demands at the same time that programmes should not be dominated by market aspects and all relating events and opinions should be given publicity. This public obligation which also refers to the minorities does not only mean that state owned media has to provide programme time for broadcasting minority programmes but also means a great responsibility for showing a true picture of the minorities to the majority society. We must emphasise time to time that every tenth citizen in Hungary belongs to a national or ethnic minority group so no real picture of the country can be shown in mass media without a continuous minority representation. Therefore the fact that the First Hungarian Catholic Radio has been broadcasting in the Northern Hungarian region as a regional programme server for three years is of great significance. We are indebted to István Seregély archbishop whose initiative pillar spirit called this radio into life and who has been doing so much to maintain it. We considered it a great honour that in February 2001 the Holy Father congratulated on this radio to the body of the Hungarian Catholic Episcopal Conference during the time of his ad limina visit.
One example from the programme supply of the radio in Eger: parts of the Holy Bible are read to the listeners every day in Gypsy language and also parts from the Holy Bible translated into Slovakian are read to the Slovakian-speaking listeners in the region. (To our best knowledge the Holy Bible has not been translated into Gypsy language in any other Eastern-Central-European country.)
On the basis of the positive results in connection with the radio in Eger the Hungarian Catholic Episcopal Conference has a fair chance of obtaining programme server authorisation from the Body of the Hungarian Radio and Television. The state owned programme server Hungarian Catholic Radio, which is based on the respect for Christian values and evangelical teachings also taking pre-evengelizational aims is planning to start broadcasting on medium wave on 24 December 2003. With its twenty-four hour programme the radio would like to represent the minorities in an authentic way as well. In a loving tone, speaking the language of Love it wants to show the life of the Gypsies in a way that these programmes can be an integral part of the programme structure. Cultural topics are going to be of great importance in this planned national broadcasting as it is known that culture in the full sense has a decisive role in helping achieve social integration.
New information is a crucial dimension in the social integration of the Hungarian Gypsies. Giving as much knowledge, information and ability as possible to both minorities and majorities through most channels – it is one of the greatest challenges and possibilities at the time of the millennium. The importance of Internet is convincingly proved by the message of the Holy Father in 2002, on 36th World Day of Communication. „The fact that the number of human relationships is growing at an unimaginable rate through the Internet suggests a new, wonderful way of evangelization. However, an electronically mediated relationship can never substitute for the direct relationship between humans necessary for evangelisation because the basis of evangelisation is the personal testimony of the forwarded (cp. Rom. 14-15.)”
We are glad to see that Gypsy associations and organisations have created several high-standard portals in the past years. The first Gypsy WebPages, RomaPage (www.romapage.hu) has existed since September 1997 and has been rendering good service to give Gypsy people sufficient information. The number of users, naturally, will grow in direct ratio to the improvement of index-numbers of educational level.
2001 was a turning point in the history of Gypsy press. After long years of attempts a Gypsy radio started broadcasting. The „Rádió C”, where mainly young Gypsy journalists work can speak to the whole Gypsy community of Budapest and as its broadcasting is mostly in Hungarian it can mediate the Gypsy viewpoints to the majority society. Unfortunately, after two years, in Spring 2003 the radio came to a financial crisis. In the second half of 2003 it will be able to cover its expenses through governmental help and a collaboration agreement concluded with the Hungarian State Owned Radio. Their accumulated debts clearly show that the Gypsy listeners of this radio are no target group for the advertising companies.
Beyond traditional media, the Community Television Programme of the Black Box Foundation is of great significance in Hungary as well. The Gypsy Press Centre has been working since 1995. Its task is to continuously provide majority media with information and news. The Gypsy Press Centre and The Independent Media Centre took the initiative and started beneficial training programmes for the representatives of Gypsy civil organisations and local governments. In Eastern Central Europe the first attempt to integrate minority journalists into majority editorial staffs is also linked with their name. Hopefully, as a result of their activity there will be an improvement in the training of professionals with Gypsy identity. However, we know we have to cope with a difficult and complex problem.
The Hungarian Pax Romana Movement took a role in forming the culture of solidarity and tolerance. The Hungarian Membership Organisation of The International Catholic Movement of Professionals representing Catholic values, has been dealing with the Gypsy issue since 1999. Our basic question is the following: what is the responsibility of the majority society for the present situation of the Gypsies and the reasons that led to this situation. A training programme was started among secondary school students in 2000. Its experience was presented in a book this year.
The Press Office of the Hungarian Catholic Episcopal Conference forwards its messages to the society through a comprehensive communication programme year by year. Last year we put the notion of serving Love in the centre also using the modern means of marketing. Giant posters, radio and television commercials propagated: „Doing good is good.” Christian charity in everyday good turns – the one year long programme series focussed on this topic. One of the outstanding events of this campaign was an international symposium which took place in June 2002. The representatives of charity organisations dealing with the Gypsies as well as churchmen and laymen doing their devotional service had a special role among the other lecturers. The fact that our conference found a relatively great response was due to the improving co-operation between the Press Office and mass media. A common experience of those speaking at the conference of „Doing good is good – with serving Love for the children” was first of all we must turn to the human heart, otherwise we cannot share the Love of God with the weak. Only when talked to in the language of love, does a suffering man believe he is not one of the losers.
We wish for love, caring and devotion but we are able to respect the limits of other people only if we have learned to recognise ours. We must find inside the ability to make a sacrifice and heal the wounds of others and thus we can turn to our fellow men with a real feeling of charity.A journalist is not a technocrat. A spiritless media expert is unable to give a true description. However, those living in the minorities can only feel from true descriptions that man is a creature of free will and picture of God and not a part in the machinery. The process of breaking up the traditional moral universal order is extremely dangerous for the Gypsy society. Therefore everybody taking part in communication has a moral obligation to preach: God is an individual spiritual reality and the life of the Gypsies should be presented to the other people through this spiritual reality and the truth of God.