A TASZ magyarul: Magyar

Without Mercy

8 March, 2012 - 09:42

“The water will stink” – says a Roma child in Gyöngyöspata, of one of the reasons why teachers do not allow them to participate in swimming training at school. This is just one example of discrimination faced by Roma children in the local elementary school. Still, HírTV, one of Hungary’s television news channels, is producing programs - including one made to seem as an investigative report - which aim to present the lack of segregation at the school. HírTV even went as far as to deem a journalist of the British paper The Guardian and the HCLU non-credible and liars. In its reaction to the HCLU’s film and article, HírTV is threatening the HCLU with a copyright lawsuit, however the letter not once refers to the contents and statements of our film contradicting their previous programs, which we find to be quite significant.

“Two separate Ombudsman’s reports concluded that Roma children in Gyöngyöspata are segregated in school, which is against the law”- said László Fórika of the Ombudsman’s Office.

The Minority Ombudsman’s report published in April of last year found that 2/3 of Roma children are intentionally being segregated in the Nekcsei Demeter Elementary School in Gyöngyöspata. The children are segregated by location as well. Roma classes are kept together, away from the rest of the classes. Classrooms for the Roma children are found on the ground floor, while classrooms for the rest of the children are located on the first and top floor – states the report on segregation in the school compiled by the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) upon our request. The Foundation’s investigation and fieldwork led to the same conclusion as the Ombudsman’s. Since it is the CFCF’s mission to stand up against segregation and to observe that laws on equal treatment are adhered to, the Foundation initiated a lawsuit against the school and the local municipality in October, 2011.

In Court

The Foundation initiated the lawsuit in order to have the court determine that the Nekcsei Demeter Elementary School is illegally segregating Roma children from non-Roma children by class assignments and also by location. According to documents filed in court, Roma children receive a lower standard education than children attending non-Roma classes. The Foundation also asked the court to determine that special needs children are directly discriminated against by unlawfully being placed in combined classes (meaning that years 1-4 are placed in the same class). Since a majority of children with special needs are Roma, they are indirectly victims of ethnic based discrimination.

Associates of CFCF attended the opening ceremony of the school year in September, and made a video recording of the classes lined up in the schoolyard. The video clearly shows that Roma children are lined up on the right side of the schoolyard, while non-Roma children are seen on the left side.

The school placed Roma children, deemed by experts to be capable of inclusion, in classes with children with special needs, thus they received an education below the level required by their skills and age. In comparison, children should be educated differentially in combined classes, which is a great challenge and a lot of work for teachers, as they have to divide their efforts and attention between different age-groups.

Different floor, different world

Roma classes are also physically separated during meals. Roma children are escorted by a teacher and are on one side of the cafeteria, but there are no Hungarian children there. Roma children are discriminated against even while using the restrooms. The school insists that Roma children are unable to use the toilet, which, according to kindergarten teachers is impossibility. Since toilets located on the ground floor are equipped poorly, Roma children would like to use the upstairs toilet, but are not allowed to. “As soon as the teachers see us, they send us downstairs right away”- says one of the children.

After-school supervision is not available to every child. According to a previous order by local representatives, only children whose mothers worked were allowed to stay at school after classes. The order has since been annulled by the Government’s Office. The Ombudsman’s report on the situation states that the order could cause discrimination, since it is a well-documented sociological fact that the unemployment rate is higher in Roma families, especially among women’. The principal of the school, Károly Molnár was even stricter: only those with two working parents were allowed to stay after school. By restricting the order even further, multiply disadvantaged children, primarily of Roma origin, were excluded – concludes an associate of the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s attention was also called to a number of cases when the principal humiliated and in some instances abused the children. According to the Ombudsman’s report, “since the complaints were too general and impossible to prove lacking objective tools, such as documents or unconcerned witnesses and the subject of the complaint denies wrongdoing, charges against the principal cannot be proved”. According to the children, teachers scare them by saying that if they do not behave, they will be taken away by the paramilitary group, or its members will come to class and watch them.

Off the record

Cover stories are communicated to the public, they try to justify why Roma and non-Roma children are segregated. However, off the record they do admit the existence of segregation and they openly confess to discrimination, says Lilla Farkas, lawyer of CFCF.

“There is segregation. These students are placed on the ground floor” – said the principal of the school during a local committee hearing in Gyöngyöspata on October 14th. In reply to the HCLU’s enquiry, László Fóris, associate of the Ombudsman said that the principal offends regulations even by leaving the assignment of classes to chance.

“The current directors of the school believe that segregation is the guarantee that ‘Hungarian’ children will not be enrolled in other schools in neighboring towns. The principal believes he has the task of defending this system - which he says is good for both Roma and non-Roma children – from rights defenders” – state two researchers working in Gyöngyöspata.

Erzsébet Mohácsi, Director of CFCF says that according to the above, it is clear that the defendant municipality and the principal are communicating different views to the media and to the court.

How does HírTV manipulate?

The media does not make understanding the situation any easier with HírTV, one of Hungary’s television news channels, expressly twisting the truth. Since the issue is complicated and requires preparation and extensive background work, professional incompetence could provide explanation for the false reporting. However, the situation is even sadder: HírTV is deliberately manipulating its audience. The news channel goes on even further to question the credibility of The Guardian and the HCLU, which we fully reject.

“‘The Journalist of The Guardian lied about segregation in Gyöngyöspata” – reports HírTV in their news program broadcast on January 31st. In their report, they are attacking the journalist, who they claim had no basis to her article on segregation in the school in Gyöngyöspata. The Guardian was also criticized by the Hungarian Government, but the British paper stands by its journalist and denied the serious allegations in a statement.

Still, HírTv was unstoppable. It continued to voice its allegations in another of its programs broadcast on February 5th. In the program – made to look as an investigative report – basic journalist conventions were not observed when only information backing up their preconceptions were broadcast.

However, let’s start at the beginning. Ernő Kállai, Minority Ombudsman (this office was shut down by the government on January 1st, 2012) prepared two reports on Gyöngyöspata. Both reports found that segregation does exist in the elementary school of Gyöngyöspata. “The Ombudsman’s report and the post-investigative report both conclude that Roma children are educated segregated in Gyöngyöspata, which is against the law” – said László Fórika of the Ombudsman’s office.

Further information on the Ombudsman’s reports can be found here>>

Web of lies

A reporter of HírTV even spoke to a segregated child. The child detailed what goes on at the school and even mentioned how Roma and non-Roma children are taught on different floors of the school. Cameras of HírTV did record these interviews, but these did not make it to broadcast, only footage denying segregation was shown in the program. The HCLU was also present during this time in Gyöngyöspata and we filmed HírTV recording the interviews supporting the existence of discrimination.

HírTv also chose to selectively present reasons why Roma children are not allowed to participate in taking swimming lessons. The swimming instructor introduced in the program denies that children are excluded because of the color of their skin and she insists that children are only excluded for lack of swimming accessories. However, interviews made with Roma children and their parents paint a totally different picture: Roma children spend these hours sitting on the bench, watching their peers swimming. According to one of the children, teachers explain this by saying that “the water will stink” and “the water will become contaminated”.

HírTV tries to prove that the use of the digital boards in the classrooms are equally available to everyone. To illustrate this, it is suspected that the scene was staged. It is clear from the account of one of the Roma children that they were only taken to a classroom equipped with a digital board for the sake of HírTV’s cameras and that they have never been to that certain classroom before. “There’s an interactive board in all the ‘Hungarian’ classrooms” – says the same child.

We wanted to interview the principal of the school, but were unsuccessful, because the principal insisted that he needs the consent of either the notary or the mayor of Gyöngyöspata to give a statement. We called the notary, who shifted responsibility to the mayor. The mayor, Oszkár Juhász, was abroad at that time, so we waited for his return. We tried to contact him a number of times after this, but were unable to speak on the phone and we did not receive any reply to our emails. After more than a week of waiting, we gave up on interviewing the principal.

Nobody home

Interestingly enough, HírTV did not deem it important to ask the Ombudsman’s office about the segregation, even though the Ombudsman’s reports were mentioned in one of their programs by the local Roma leader. At the same time, a number of people were interviewed, who all supported the school and the municipality’s story.

HírTV’s crew also took great care to manipulate their footage and make the HCLU look bad. In their program, the reporter is shown ringing a doorbell, but nobody answered. He is also shown trying to reach us by telephone. Again, without success. The truth is that the reporter of HírTV spoke to three of HCLU’s colleagues. One was on his way to the airport, another was sick and the third one was doing fieldwork hundreds of kilometers from Budapest. The wording of the report could be considered true, since an appointment for an interview was not made, but our colleague did offer to give a telephone interview, which HírTV declined.

Still, a segment of HírTV’s report shows the reporter ringing the bell of the building where the HCLU’s offices were located before moving - 4 months ago - to a new location. He is even shown with his telephone trying to call the HCLU’s offices, but he only succeeds in reaching an answering machine. The HCLU never had an answering machine. Our contact information is updated, is available on our website, contacting us cannot seriously be considered challenging for any journalist. By using this footage, HírTV suggests that the HCLU is unreachable and it might even imply that the HCLU does not stand by its opinion.

HírTV also mentioned that an HCLU colleague denied who he was, when the HírTV crew was in Gyöngyöspata. Our colleague sure enough did not jump in front of HírTV’s cameras, but he did not consider talking to the reporters as his primary task either. His primary task was to support locals – for instance János Farkas, President of the Roma National Municipality - pushed by provocative questions with his presence.

“Let’s hear the other side, because without it, there is no investigative reporting” – says the reporter in HírTV’s program. That’s exactly what the HCLU believes as well.

HírTV Threatens the HCLU

“Since the video footage are owned by HírTV and you have neither requested, nor received HírTV’s permission to use the material, we hereby call upon you to immediately remove the above mentioned footage from your website, otherwise we shall take legal action.”

The above passage is taken from the letter received by the HCLU from HírTV on the day that we premiered our own film and published our own related article Without Mercy.

Since the HírTV’s programs were presented as products of investigative journalism and objective reporting, we were by no means surprised when HírTV did not leave the premiere of the HCLU’s contradicting, factual and evidence based film unanswered.

In its letter, HírTV request removal of our film citing breach of copyright. We believe this to be quite significant. HírTV not once refers to the contents and statements of our film contradicting their previous programs, but insist on copyright issues.

In response, the HCLU informed the news channel, that it has produced the film Without Mercy in accordance with related copyright laws and thus, will not remove it from its website.

The film was also available on Indavideó, a video share site of one of the leading online news providers in Hungary. However, after also receiving a letter from HírTV, Indavideó removed the HCLU’s film. You can now see the film on Youtube>>

HírTV was consistently indicated as a source on all HírTV footage used by the HCLU. In addition, these segments do not contribute to the essence of the film, but are merely used to illustrate the HCLU’s contradictions. We also felt it important to present the tools HírTV used to manipulate its audience, especially considering that HírTV questioned the HCLU’s credibility in its programs.

In its report, HírTV only presented information, which supported its own, previously formulated preconceptions.

“Let the other half of the story be heard, without this, there is no investigative journalism” – states Hír TV in its program Keresztmetszet. The HCLU would like to call Hír TVs attention to the same thing.

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