Bulgaria: two decisions on TV shows accused of discriminating against Roma

Rayna Nikolova

In July 2015, the Ethics Commission of Journalism Ethics (the Commission) had to rule on complaints concerning the discrimination of Roma on two TV shows.

The Commission received the first complaint for discrimination from a citizen of Roma origin regarding the program on the channel BTV which aired on 8 April 2015. On the program, a Member of Parliament from the "Patriotic Front" party was interviewed about the changes in the election laws and the rules regarding election campaigning in the mother tongue. In the interview the Member of Parliament stated: “90% of all serious crimes are committed by Gypsies, the so-called petty crimes are performed by Gypsies, Bulgarian villages are under occupation as those Gypsies there ... ". However, the Commission found the complaint against the program for the discrimination of Roma to be unfounded, as the host of the TV show was not responsible for the language used by her interlocutor. On the contrary, the TV show host opposed the Member of Parliament on air, and did not accept his allegations and derogatory comments towards the Roma ethnic group.

The second complaint regarded a reportage on the TV channel “Scat”. On 31 May 2015, on the noon news broadcast, a report was presented entitled "The village of Garmen. Gypsy outrages". The title was announced by the host of the program as information on "hostile Gypsies ahead of 24 May. These images belie what has been stated by Gypsies in front of our camera, that they were peacefully set."

The report stated that one day before the celebration of one of the greatest Bulgarian holidays — the Day of Bulgarian Letters and Culture — villagers from the villages of Garmen, Ognyanovo, and Marchevo were involved in a conflict caused by “the waywardness of gypsies”. Furthermore, the report claimed that local residents had told the reporters how they had suffered the gypsy outrage over the population every day for years. The report showed a resident of Garmen saying: "They come straight to kill with axes, with knives, with stones. They come to kill. There are children, young... they come to kill, too. We cannot tolerate them anymore!" The report informed viewers about a declaration by the residents of Garmen calling for the demolition of the illegal buildings in the Roma neighbourhood of Garmen and for the displacement of the families from this ethnic group. The opinion of an elderly woman from that neighbourhood in question indicates that Roma are not thugs and thieves, while the cries of small children are heard: "We want peace, we want peace!"

The story ends with images of a crowd of people moving in a certain direction. Some of them are holding long wooden sticks. It cannot be not seen where they are going, against whom, or if they come into contact with anyone. However, the images are presented as "unique amateur" footage owned solely by the TV channel "Scat". The footage is accompanied by commentary stating that it shows “how Gypsies want peace and peaceful coexistence with sticks, hoes and axes”.

The Commission found the complaint about the discriminatory nature of the report justified as the material was devoid of impartiality in the presentation of facts, their description and narration. A deliberately negative image was construed with a discriminatory effect for the participants of Roma origin of the report. The facts in the report were not clearly distinguished from the comments and assumptions. The broadcast editorial content was able to provoke and promote negative social attitudes towards the minority group of the village of Garmen, since its sole purpose was to instill ethnic intolerance by seemingly "balancing" the views of both sides of the story.

The Decisions of the Commission are available in Bulgarian language at:

Rayna Nikolova, New Bulgarian University