On White-collar JournalismPosted: May 29, 2011
Author: Dániel Vince
2011. 05. 06.
The events at Gyöngyöspata have been thoroughly dealt with by the entire Hungarian press; our site relied largely on the reports of the Facebook Group called “Százezren Gyöngyöspatáért” (A Hundred-thousand for Gyöngyöspata) constantly tracking the events for two days. There is a clear need to cover what’s happening in Gyöngyöspata, since the conflict – long feared, suspected and in some subcultures expected – between the Roma and the members of certain illegal, paramilitary organisations eventually broke out in the town. It makes a huge difference though how we cover the story.
There have been several ways for press correspondents to cover the events. One – the least exciting one – was the viewpoint of the right-wing extremists, who claimed that it was thebloodthirsty Roma who attacked the peacefully walking Hungarians. This is not even worth discussing. Another possible viewpoint for the journalists to approach the events is to take into consideration all the past prejudices that have been out there for centuries, the exclusion and discrimination against the Roma – and at the same time to not forget the hardships faced by the non-Roma, either. A third possible way is to apply a hyper-correct glaze and deal with the topic in a thoroughly civilisatorian manner.
According to the footage of the surveillance camera, it is likely that the local Roma attacked members of “Véderő” (Defence-Militaries), who had long been provoking them; this was a law breaching act, even in light of the frustration that had accumulated by then. In local reports, however, the events had of course another scene, which was hidden from the camera, and it was probably there that the Véderő-members were throwing stones at the houses of the Roma – an act that has since been kept in silence by press.
Covering the lives of the local Roma and non-Roma would be an exciting sociography or reportage. Clearly, there is frustration and fear – prejudices and bad experiences – on both sides. It is not quite obvious though that journalists need to build on these thoughts and take the viewpoint of the white middle-class male looking down upon gypsies – who of course steal, refuse to work, frighten lcal elderly women, and kick schoolteachers to death.
On 29 April, index.hu published a long report on the events of Gyöngyöspata, called Az ördög gyöngyöspatája (The Devil’s Gyöngyöspata – the pun being that “pata” means “hoof”). The text wanted to be very correct, so much so, that even commenters of Mandiner loved it – this is crucial as the commenters at Mandiner are famous for their bluntness. The article was such a success that even Szent Korona Rádió (Holy Crown Radio) praised it and what’s more – reposted it.
The article evoked long debates in several Facebook groups. In one group, which is largely visited by journalists, the common view seems to be that the Index article was in line with professional rules and was informative. In another one you can read angry comments and many claimed the text was soft-racist and only added to the frustration.
Since the tension of the debate is perceptible, it is worth analyzing the article step by step.
The introduction of the article generates some tension right away: “The local Hungarians say, they had been driven away from one of their favourite hills by the Gypsies, and that now a street is likely to be going under.” Is this only a bad reflex or unconsciously dividing language? Why divide the locals into Hungarians and Gypsies? Are the Gypsies not Hungarian or not that Hungarian?
How is it possible that the Index’s correspondent was asked by the police to identify himself six times? An exciting question. Such vexation is indeed upsetting, but with just minimal awareness of the topic, it is not surprising at all. Many of the Roma in the Borsod region experience such harassment by the police on a daily basis, as documented by the videos of the TASZ Roma Program (TASZ – Hungarian Civil Liberties Union). In addition, the situation in Gyöngyöspata has been critical for weeks, culminating in that particular night. So is it bad just a bad automatic response again, or is it the arrogance of “the man in trousers”?
The non-Gypsies in the article – or to use the Index terminology, the “Hungarians” – complain that they have to live closer and closer to the Gypsies, who commit crimes, are loud, etc. Of course, you can write this all down, but the Gypsies will be forced in a defensive position throughout the article, having to constantly refute the statements of the non-Gypsies. Such an approach would be a violation of human dignity in any case, but in this one it is outright humiliating. (No wonder that even the Mandiner readers liked the article)
It seems that Index has successfully taken over the intolerable infantilisation introduced by the tabloids. The author, Péter Magyari, writes the following: “it was in this street that the right-wing extremist website barikad.hu shot the film that Jobbik used for its nationwide propaganda around the village. And this is where Uncle Józsi lived, who, according to the party, committed suicide because the Gypsies were preparing to move into his neighbourhood.” It is not quite clear why he had to use “Uncle Józsi” since the vast majority of the readers have definitely no idea who József was, so this odd use of “Uncle Józsi” could have easily been avoided. Besides, instead of “objectively” taking over Jobbik’s narrative, it would have been worth mentioning that the road to the man’s suicide had been rather long and complex and opinions vary even in the village as to what the motives really were. It could have been expected that the article at least mention this – it could have also referred to the article of the Magyar Narancs. They cited barikad.hu after all…
The article raised the important point that it is impossible to sell property in an area inhabited by a lot of Gypsies. This is probably true, but it is not self-explanatory at all that the Roma are to blame for it. Glenn C. Loury’s ‘The Anatomy of Racial Inequality’, a crucial book about African Americans in the US, reveals that the process often works just the other way around. For some reason – bad school system, shortage of jobs – the price of real estate begins to drop and the ghettoization slowly begins. The article however fails to mention anything along these lines and instead accepts the premise that when Gypsies appear, the price of real estate drops. It thus involuntarily suggests that once again Gypsies are to blame. (Not to mention the rumour that the aim of the Nazi scandal had been to keep decreasing the prices even further, so that they can buy land in areas in crisis…)
The myth of the Roma unwilling to work also features in the article – at least as told by the local non-Gypsies – saying that they are not willing to work for 3000HUF in the vineyards, so unskilled workers must be brought to the town. No Roma was asked by the reporter to comment on this. The journalist fails to report that there might be historic conflicts out there for decades which have generated the need to import workers. The bottom line is that the Gypsies (= the non-Hungarians) are not willing to work. Relating to work, an obscure experiment is also mentioned, where some seeds and potatoes were given to the Gypsies, who devoured the whole crop. The story is unclear, flawed, and of course the parasitic ones are once again the imaginary Gypsies. (Meanwhile we can see from other interviews that the Roma have indeed sowed their gardens, and have similarly been robbed, which could hardly be the fault of the robbed ones…)
This is a paradoxical situation. The leading correspondent of the leading online outlet is clearly acting bona fide in an exclusionary manner with the already tormented Roma of Gyöngyöspata . The reason why the article can be popular among the xenophobic but haughty audience of Mandiner is that it completely lacks any empathy. It does however have all the cultural superiority of the white middle-class male, who is of course, always right.
To go to the original article: http://www.commmunity.hu/2011/05/06/a-fehergalleros-ujsagirasrol/