Nova has broadcast a film about the life of some of the Czech Romany people who have emigrated from the Czech Republic to Canada. According to reports, the film created the impression that Czech Romanies lead a carefree life in Canada, free of institutionalised racism, which is rampant in the Czech Republic.
As a result of the film being transmitted, the Canadian Embassy in Prague has been flooded with enquiries from Czech Romanies, wishing now to emigrate to Canada. Some Czech Romanies, trying to fly to Canada, have been turned back during a stop-over in Switzerland.
Critical voices accuse Nova TV of broadcasting an unbalanced report. However, Nova TV insists that the report was totally objective.
But, for instance, a Czech correspondent in Canada has written the following for the Czech internet daily "Neviditelny pes", issue dated Monday, 18th August, 1997:
"An immigrant family with two children will receive 1214 Canadian dollars per month. From this, the family has to pay for a flat ($600 - 900 or more, depending on the province), food, transportation and everything. Frankly speaking, this is not much money, but it is possible to buy bread, margarine and mince for hamburgers.
Obviously, no self-respecting Romany will tell a Czech television reporter that he is destitute in Canada and cannot buy a jar of beer. (...)What about the language barrier and the total lack of qualifications of most Romanies. (...) And, what is most worrying: the Romany families in the Czech Republic, who now want to emigrate to Canada under the influence of the Nova TV film, will sell all their posessions in order to purchase their air tickets, will arrive at Pearson International Airport in Toronto to be turned back by the immigration officers there - and what will they do, when they arrive back in Prague, totally destitute? These will be the fruits of the Nova TV "responsible" journalism. It makes me sick."
Apparently, the issue has recently become headline news in the Canadian media, thanks to Nova TV and its coverage.
The issue of the Romany minority in the Czech Republic is a serious problem. Obviously, the Nova TV programme has touched a raw nerve by broadcasting a film about the life of Czech Romany immigrants to Canada.
This commentator has not seen the Nova TV film, but, judging by reports, would like to speculate that the intractable and complex problem of the Romanies in the Czech Republic has been treated superficially and not in a sufficiently competent manner by Nova TV reporters.
Here is an article, dealing with the issue, published in the British weekly The Sunday Telegraph of 17th August, 1997:
Czech exodus as gypsies flee to Canada
By Francis Harris in Prague
ONE of the biggest movements of refugees since the Rwandan civil war has begun this weekend from the Czech Republic to Canada.
Thousands of Czech gypsies hope to escape high unemployment and fear of attacks by neo-Nazi groups at home. Canada has said there is nothing it can do to prevent many of them from entering the country.
The mass movement was fuelled by a Czech television programme depicting happy Romanies living carefree lives in Canada. The Czech airline CSA and Air Canada said the film fuelled a flood of bookings. All flights from Prague to Canada have been filled until the end of October. The atmosphere among the Romany community was described as mass hysteria.
According to Romany leaders, about 15,000 Czech gypsies from the town of Ostrava alone plan to escape the Republic, where they claim they are the victims of institutionalised racism and lack of opportunity.
There are 300,000 gypsies in the country. The Canadian embassy is getting up to 400 telephone inquiries a day from would-be migrants. The film, Through Your Eyes, portrayed Czech gypsies in Canada enjoying high living standards and a society free from racism.
There were claims that the show amounted to propaganda, but the broadcasters, TV Nova, defended what they said was a fair picture of Romany life in Canada.
After meeting gypsy leaders, the Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus condemned racism and appealed for calm in what he termed a very unfortunate and dangerous situation.
Terrance Mooney, from the Canadian embassy, said Czechs do not need visas to enter the country. "We are a signatory to the Geneva Convention on refugees. We must give a fair hearing to those claiming asylum. Although some refugees may be turned back at ports of entry, many will be allowed into the country pending investigation of their claims."
Those who are deported from Canada will be forced to the end of housing queues on their return.
The response from some local authorities has merely confirmed the charges of institutionalised racism. The mayor of Teplice, in the north of the country, donated his salary for the purchase of gypsy air tickets, while Liana Janackova, mayor of Mariánské Hory, near Ostrava, offered cut-price flights to gypsies prepared to vacate council housing.
"We have two groups of people - gypsies and whites - who live together, but can't and don't want to. I don't think it's racist, we just want to help them," she said.
Although unemployment is just four per cent in the Czech Republic, it is 70 per cent among gypsies. There has also been a steep rise in racial attacks. Nearly 30 Romanies have been murdered in recent years, and 450 have suffered violent attacks.
The government's Nationalities Commission said that about a third of those gypsies who are in employment are engaged in criminal activities."
More information about Romany Rights and the Romany people is at this address:
The whole scandal is an interesting instance of a purely commercial, downmarket , totally unregulated TV station, dealing with a complex and raw issue irresponsibly and in a ham-fisted manner, thereby destabilising the social situation in its target country.
The present commentator' s impression of Nova TV's news and current affairs coverage is that the programmes are not intended to provide the public with news and current affairs, but to function as advertising for the TV channel. And, naturally, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Jan Culik - Glasgow University