[Arithm]et(h)ics When are the media going to start keeping up their own Code of Ethics with regard to discrimination? If it was up to them, never by Yana Buhrer TAVANIER At the interview at my journalism entry exam at Sofia University almost 10 years ago, I was asked why I wanted to become a journalist? Because of the power and responsibility of journalism, was my answer following a halfminute silence, because of the objectivity, the ability to tell right from wrong. Ha-ha-ha is what I got from the examining board in place of goodbye. Today, ten years later, I would have replied the same way. However, I realise that if I were on that examining board today, I would have laughed at myself. Since the end of 2004, Bulgarian media have had their own Code of Ethics. So far, so good. One and a half years later the media ethics committees began accepting complaints. That, too, is good. The problem is that these committees can only be approached by individuals who feel personally offended by any content published or aired. The rest, that is those who witness basic irregularities in the work of the mass media, are left to sending the committee letters begging it to act ex officio. This is what my colleague Alexey Lazarov from the Capital weekly and myself did in the summer of 2006. In our letter, we insisted that the Ethics Committee for the Printed Media review and pass a judgement on the common breach of p. 2.5.2 of the Code of Ethics of the Bulgarian mass media, namely: ·We will not specify the race, religion, or ethnic background, as well as sexual orientation, and any mental or physical disabilities, unless these have particular relevance to the information handled”. (A serious issue, of course, is still at hand with p. 2.5.1 stating that ·we will not make public any materials instigating hatred, violence, or any form of discrimination”). The committee’s response said that they will monitor the case, and, should this prove to be a trend, they will act ex officio.
* Editors’ note: Based on the activity of the printed media Ethics Committee, the Romani Baht Foundation submitted a letter of protest to the Committee with regard to the publication in the Novinar daily of Kalin Rumenov’s material on 6 March 2008. No reference number was given. ·We do not have administrative activity or procedures”, Ms. Vesela Patskova, Executive Director of the National Council for Ethics in Journalism replied. In response to the insistence on some sort of legitimate confirmation on the part of Mr. Mihail Petrov, Manager of the Foundation, Ms. Patskova provided him with a blank piece of paper, dated and stamped.
So far no such thing has happened. Not that judgements of this sort will just sort it all out. It just has to be there. Otherwise it is all ridiculous. This has not happened despite, ·Is there a way out of the continuous reproduction of the socially unadaptable and mentally backward population?...” ·A Gypsy will always be a Gypsy. They know no shame. And they are also demonstrating some Palaeolithic remnants ... the lack of interest toward property or truth”, Novinar daily, 16/11/2007, or ·An arrogant Gypsy ruined the Epiphany celebration yesterday. He took the cross and sneaked into the Roma neighbourhood in Peshtera”, Standard daily, 07/01/2008, and ·Roma waving an axe was shot by a police officer”, Trud daily, 04/02/ 2008, or ·A Roma father beat his child into a coma”, Sega daily, 16/02/2008. Even, ·The difference between Gypsies and cattle lies in vet control. Cattle just can’t behave like Gypsies. The opposite, however, is allowed. Cattle rights and freedoms have suffered seriously for the last couple of years. For this same period a Gypsy woman had twins and is, again, pregnant like a cow”, Novinar daily, 20/02/2008. And there’s more, ·A drunken shepherd abandoned his toddler son in the mountain near Simeonovgrad. Neighbours in the Lagera neighbourhood say Ivan probably beat him up and left him in the bush on purpose”, Standard daily, 19/ 02/2008. These examples (all from papers that have signed the Code of Ethics of the Print Media) were also included in the latest letter we sent (at the beginning of March) to the printed media Ethics Committee, and are far from being exhaustive in the way of similar statements and texts. Whether it is our naïveté or the fact that is actually terribly simple, we believe that this time the Committee (whose membership is soon to change) will act ex officio itself and will issue an instruction. It would make no sense not to. There is a rule. There is a breach. There is a controlling body. The result should be as clear as putting two and two together. The printed media Ethics Committee, however, seem to have a different idea of arithmetic. Recently, its chairperson, Petya Mironova, assured the crowded room at the Red House (at the promotion of the guide ·Reflecting Diversity”, which we discussed in the previous issue of Obektiv) that the Committee has been working hard toward solving this issue. Only it seems to prefer to write letters to various editorial offices and talk to journalists and editors. And it probably does do that. Not that is evident anywhere in its annual report. And it should do that. Personal meetings, however, do not replace a strict position. Making a strong statement does. Making it not over a cup of coffee and not beating about the bush but stating it loud and clear in public. It is difficult this way but it has to be. Because it is the Committee’s job to be there, to lay down standards and to monitor compliance. Moreover, without the prospect of regular sanctions, some media will never start complying with the ethical code regarding discrimination; because the audience likes stories about arrogant Gypsies. These stories sell. And the arithmetic of the market (misguided as it is) will always beat the funny, helspless ethic. If, of course, we let it be helpless. The Reflecting Diversity guide by Yana Buhrer Tavanier was published.