Stereotypes or nothing

Colourblind: In the Serbian media, the position of Roma is used in accordance with the daily political demands of the authorities. The media often accept the terminology and discourse of authorities when it comes to Roma, which specifically refers to the people who returned and those who were deported.

The passport stamp speaks volumes about deportation from German

Author: Saša Bojić, text taken from portal DW, 4.8.2017

While Germany was overwhelmed with the unprecedented influx of refugees from North Africa, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistanin 2015, Roma political asylum seekers were often referred to as “false asylum seekers” in the Serbian political discourse. The media often casually accepted the terminology especially in the period when Germany (together with Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden and the Netherlands) threatened to reinstate visas for citizens of Serbia unless the number of asylum seekers from that country was reduced.

In that period, it was rather common to stereotype the Roma minority as the people who were only interested in the “pocket money” Germany donated to the asylum seekers, until their requests were resolved.  Former Serbian Prime Minister AleksandarVučić called the Roma “traditionally poor” in 2015, which was a clear linguistic message to the world: Roma in Serbia have only themselves to blame for their poverty, because it is a part of their tradition.

A very short and simple statement that clearly represents a big generalization and one which cultivates a stereotype that is typical for discriminatory behavior. The Roma who had to return from Germany to Serbia were not received well at all- on the contrary: many complained about police harassment.

“Generally indifferent” media attitude

In a time when a relatively large number of Roma was returned to Serbia, the reports by Serbian media about these returnees are superficial and often accompanied by stereotypes. The Belgrade Center for Research of Public Policies is especially interested in the topic and has published few analyses this year.

In the latest analysis, which the Center announced in June this year, together with the Serbian Roma Forum, it is noted that “Roma returnees are only marginally present in the Serbian media, while the migrants are given considerable attention.This fact only serves to prove that the media still depends on the current politics, which, with the help of the said media, creates public opinion about the migrants. Thus, the Roma people are still being considered as social outcasts.

“The Serbian media have been pretty impartial while reporting about Roma-returnees”, says  for DW TanjaJakobi, the executive director of the Center for Policy Research. “However, we can see clearly, from the headlines and breaking news, that they are still seen as outsiders.”

This kind of apathetic attitude is not doing the media any favours – that is to say, it shows “the open disinterest of the media in these topics”, as the Center pointed out in another survey. Hence, the media coverage is full of sensationalism, conveying the repeated information without a previous analysis,  and it lacks a journalistic initiative and deductive approach “.

Nuances of the problem are difficult to detect

This can even be seenwith a similar approach to the topic. “It was important for us in the project to point out that there are different groups of Roma returnees,” says TanjaJakobi:“Some of them are really trying to spend the winter in one of the European countries because they cannot afford to stay home; on the other hand, we have those Roma who spent many years in Western Europe and whose children were born there. For such returnees, Serbia is a foreign place, as any other foreign country whose language they do not know. ”

TanjaJakobi explains that in certain cases, Roma have acquired adequate qualifications, but that they are unable to find work in Serbia, either because of problems with recognition of  their diplomas, or because of the different classification of occupations.

“There are those who have completed special trainings, such as for manicure jobs , but have no confirmation. Therefore, the employment service in Serbia registers them as people with no occupation, even though they sometimes have a high school diploma, or good computer or language skills.”- she adds. This only shows that it is a problem with many nuances, but the media sometimes approach it in a simplified manner, even though they have published a large number of quality texts.

The Center for Public Policy Research recommends that the media devote themselves to monitoring the position of “vulnerable groups”, even when they are not the focus of the creators of public policies.  For this purpose, journalists should go straight to the field and dedicate their time to analysing the causes of poverty and other misfortunes of the Roma – otherwise, they cannot fulfill the “role of the controlling factor in society and respect for human rights”, as journalism is perceived by the aforementioned Center and the Serbian Roma Forum .