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Czech Tabloid Editor on Attack!

A testy interview probes the role of the country’s best-selling newspaper in ginning up anti-Roma sentiment. From

27 July 2012

Pavel Safr

Pavel Safr, editor in chief of the Blesk tabloid, is rejecting criticism that his newspaper, which is the most widely circulated in the Czech Republic, has been intentionally writing anti-Romani stories and therefore directly encouraging the growth of racism in society. Safr believes Romani people were transplanted into the Czech Republic and that their lifestyle endangers the majority population in many respects. He made his remarks in an interview for the  news server (link in Czech).


One particularly stormy portion of the interview was sparked by a Twitter question relayed to Safr by interviewer Petr Koci. A reader with the Twitter name of @sampon asked the editor whether he was aware of his direct influence on the rise of racism in society. "Under no circumstances, one of our rules is that we are absolutely against racism. Absolutely. If there is one fundamental rule, it is that we are against racism and against intolerance of religion or belief," Safra responded.


This is an excerpt from that interview, in which Blesk's reporting on Romani people is discussed.


Q from @sampon: I am interested in whether you are aware of your direct influence on the rise of racism in society.


A: Under no circumstances, one of our rules is that we are absolutely against racism. Absolutely. If there is one fundamental rule, it is that we are against racism and against intolerance of religion or belief.



Q: Did the Saturday, 28 April, headline in Blesk violate that rule? The main headline, "Romani children on the attack!" does not exactly radiate tolerance. [The headline refers to the case of Petr Zhyvachivsky, a 15-year-old in the southern town of Breclav who claimed to have been beaten by three Roma after not giving them a cigarette. The case generated huge interest and exacerbated racial tension in Breclav and elsewhere. Police later determined that Zhyvachivsky had made up the story and he confessed that he had been injured in a fall instead. – TOL]


A: Among a certain section of society's elite there exists a completely confused idea about how to approach complicated problems concerning racial hatred. We see the very sad influence of the ideology of multiculturalism there. In and of itself, it is a great idea, but in the extreme form of political correctness it prevents us from writing about things as they are. Society can sense that.


Q: Of course, in the case we are discussing it turned out that matters were not as you had written about them, political correctness aside.


A: Yes, and that too was absolutely corrected and emphasized in Blesk. We absolutely put an emphasis on that. I made sure of it. You must write about things as they are. In both cases, no matter what side it's coming from. The idea that we will achieve an atmosphere of tolerance for nationalities by falsifying reality is completely false. On the contrary, it leads to the fact that ordinary people have a tendency to upgrade these problems, to view them even more harshly, and to succumb to racial hatred.


Q: However, the media in this case, and not only Blesk, exaggerated and falsified reality in such a way as to aid in stirring up intolerance, by all accounts. People marched through Breclav chanting "Let's stop gypsy terror!"


A: That is a 100 percent cheap argument. If a news item turns up and is taken up by all the media outlets reporting that a 15-year-old boy has fallen victim to a group of people, and that those people were Romani, then that's what will be written. If during the subsequent investigation it turns out not to have been the case, to have been fraud, then that will also be written about. It will be written that it was a fraud.


Q: It's one thing to take a police report and quote from it with detachment, and another thing to turn it into a society-wide threat and write "Romani children on the attack!" across the entire front page.


A: At that moment, that is what the news really was. The problem is not whether Blesk wrote that Romani children were or were not attacking at a particular time. The problem is that the Sudeten Germans were pushed out of this country in a nauseating operation directed by President Benes, whom our current president admires as a great genius. He fell in with Stalin's method of addressing nationality problems: the only thing that mattered was whether we had enough train cars. We pushed out of this country a minority of three and a half million people who had been at home here for seven or eight centuries. It was a civilized, hard-working community.


Q: We were talking about something else – about how Blesk reported on the Breclav case.


A: Jesus Christ! When they took those unfortunates, those less civilized people from somewhere in Romania or even further east and transported them to a place that had been vandalized during the removal of the Germans. ... We don't talk about this here! When they imported those unfortunate Romani people here, how could they live together with the majority population? Naturally, they live in a way that endangers the majority population in many respects.


Q: Fine, but our conversation here is about how Blesk does its reporting and what it writes about, not about what happened in the Sudetenland.


A: Blesk had one main opening article about that and 50 stupid fools in Prague are holding an intellectual conference on the topic of Blesk because of it.


Q: It was not just one front page, Blesk wrote about the Breclav scandal on other pages: "Fear in Czechia! Romani teenagers attacking children!" (that was also on 28 April, on pages 2 and 3), "March in Breclav for injured Petr" (23 April, page 5), "Packs of gypsies are terrorizing us!" (18 April, page 8) …


A: Go to hell, I'm not interested in that. I am interested in deep societal problems. I am interested in what is really deep, what is serious. When one realizes all of the causes and connections of how this whole mess has come about, then one realizes how the majority population is suffering from the presence of those unfortunate people who were introduced here. Those people themselves are suffering, the ones who were introduced here by the unnatural communist regime. That suffering is bearing fruit. That means we have to realize these entities are at different levels of civilization and ask whether they can live together at all. They cannot live together! It results in an absolute mess, and it's only because the ideology of political correctness exists here that you are bossing me around right now ...


Q: I am not bossing you around. I am a journalist, this is an interview, that's why I'm asking these questions.


A: This can't be resolved because of that ideology. Because of your imbecilic ideology of making serious problems taboo, an enormous social problem cannot be seen in all its nakedness. This is an enormous social drama. Because of the ideology of political correctness and 100 percent hypocrisy, which is completely inappropriate, the problem is irresolvable. Taboos lead to great tragedies. When a news item is released, and according to all the available sources, it looks like a group of Romani children has attacked someone, I don't see any reason to keep it secret. Then when it is proven to have been a lie, it must be reported, absolutely openly, that it was a lie.


Q: No one is saying to keep it secret. The question is how it should be publicized and what sort of attention should be paid to it.


A: With respect to this article – even though I was not present, I was in London and I was simply informed it would be coming out – I was checking for one thing only: Whether a reminder of the recent attacks committed by Czech racists against Romani people was also part of the article. That shocking case from Vitkov, which we at Blesk reported on absolutely thoroughly [Editor's Note: The verdict against the Vitkov arsonists was pronounced in October 2010, six months before Pavel Safr became editor in chief of Blesk].


[In April 2009, four Czech men threw Molotov cocktails into a house in the eastern town of Vitkov inhabited by a Romani family. Among those injured was a toddler, who suffered serious burns over most of her body. – TOL]


Q: One more example, which people like Jindrich Sidlo, Petr Fischer, Daniel Kaiser, or Filip Rozanek [respected Czech journalists and writers – TOL] have criticized …


A: That whole gang is involved in that political correctness and they don't get this completely crucial problem. The total failure of the Czech elite is behind this, and it starts with Benes's bestial concept that a nationalist revolution would grow into a social one. Benes was preparing the way forward for a totalitarian regime. The expulsion of the Sudeten Germans was an integral component of that catastrophic path. To this day the political and societal elite has adopted that ideology uncritically. That's why it's impossible to say out loud how things really are here and who is responsible, who is to blame.


Q: Fine, but I would like to finish my question. Those people critiqued a commentary written by Oldrich Tichy, titled "Welfare for flim-flammers" (Davky pro sejdire). What did you think of that text inside editorial? Did you view it as problematic?


A: What exactly do you mean by that?


Q: Oldrich Tichy wrote that the best welfare for the socially deprived would be a round of ammunition from a machine gun.


A: As far as I remember, the context was different. You have to manipulate it to criticize it. First you have to read the article as if you viewed it as bad and then you judge it. The context of that article is different than what you just said. The part about the machine gun is mentioned as an unacceptable joke that is now in circulation. The problem with that commentary is that it could be read in different ways. That's unfortunate, I have to say.


Q: So all those critics and, for example, the ethical commission of the Press Syndicate (Syndikat novinaru) didn't understand the text? The Press Syndicate said Blesk "crossed the line of the ethical principles held by any media outlet.”


A: The Press Syndicate (Syndikat novinaru) – is that a relevant organization?


Q: We don't have any other organization here that concerns itself with the level of the print media as a whole.


A: Again, I repeat: This is the completely false hypocrisy of people who in reality don't address anything that is essential in this country from the point of view of ethics and morality.


Q: How does Blesk's courage in letting "taboo topics" like "Romani children on the attack" onto the front page impact sales?


A: Do you know which taboo topic we cover most of all? Which topics were the most covered this year by us?


Q: I don't have an exact analysis, but as a sometime reader of your paper I'd say: Celebrities, security, health care, and during the time of the Breclav case, co-existence with Romani people. That's what I am asking you.


A: You know what? Come back once you've started reading us.

Q: As I said, I read Blesk sometimes.


A: No you don't. You haven't noticed that during the past half-year the topic most often covered by Blesk was political corruption. If I have done anything here, it is to have transformed a newspaper that was concerned only with the lives of TV stars into a newspaper that covers political corruption and abuse of power. That is what I do here and those are the topics that are the most important in this society. If for one or two days something came out about Romani people here that the ethical commission of the Press Syndicate doesn't like, it's completely marginal with respect to what we cover, and you have the nerve to ask me whether topics concerning Romani people influence our sales. That's not what we do! There has only ever just been the one case! These questions make me angry. 


Translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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