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The Hollywood-like journalism from BBC about Romania

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13 Jan 2014 la 14:48 23 comentarii 626 vizualizari.
Dear all,

I am writing this in relation to the article which appeared on the BBC website at the following link -

I have serious concerns as to the accuracy and tone of this article, which I feel is dramatic, discriminatory, and inflammatory.

For most of my life I have lived in Romania, so I am very well aware of the Romanians-Romas feud. It has been going on for many years and will continue to for a long time, no doubt. I have sent the following complaint to BBC, but was not given an answer.

Without casting doubt on the author’s facts and figures, my experience tells me that such things need to be put in context. More to the point, especially sensitive topics such as the Holocaust need to be sustained with quotes and sources for the information. Also, as the relationship between the Romanian and the Romani population is a very sensitive topic in my country, I feel the article’s approach is bias and it completely disregards some parts of the bigger picture. So I am wondering how much time has the author spent in Romania and generally preparing an article on such a sensitive topic. Even more: does she speak Romanian? Did she use a registered interpreter?

For example, the article states:
“During World War II, under the pro-Nazi regime of Ion Antonescu, they were put into concentration camps and killed”.

I will use Wikipedia (

“The first census in interwar Romania took place in 1930; 242,656 persons (1.6%) were registered as Gypsies (ţigani).
The Romanian government of Ion Antonescu deported 25,000 Roma to Transnistria; of these, 11,000 died.[17] In all, from the territory of present-day Romania (including Northern Transylvania), 36,000 Roma perished during the Second World War.

The territory lost in 1940 caused a drop in the number of Roma, leaving a high number especially in Southern Dobruja and Northern Transylvania”

Holocaust is probably the most horrible “man-made” tragedy in history, an atrocious mass-murder. Yet, the article’s choice of words makes it sound as if the entire Roma population of Romania was exterminated. Make no mistake, what happened to those who were killed was a tragedy, and it was wrong. But the article glosses over the details in an effort to add a dramatic flare that does not reflect the historical record, and it does a disservice to the people who survived, the people who helped them to survive, and their descendants.

Furthermore, the article uses general figures – ones that show up in any google search, in order to shed a general light on a particular topic, but fails to bring any substantive and analytical rigour to the issues.

For example, how many Romani live in Romania according to the last census? How many go to school? What is the average income per capita? How many are registered for work or social help? How many of the crimes committed in the last 3 years in Romania are linked to the Roma population? These facts and figures may actually have helped the article’s case for the Romani minority.

From the same Wikipedia source:

“Integration in Romanian society

Main article: Racism in Romania

According to a 2009 report of the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, the discrimination perception of the Romani community of Romania is lower than that of the other EU countries covered by the report. The perceived discrimination levels given by the report are:
• Czech Republic 64%: Hungary 62%: Poland 59%: Greece 55%: Slovakia 41%: Bulgaria 26%: Romania 25%:
*The same report suggested that the favorable responses from Bulgaria and, to a lesser extent, Romania be regarded with caution, as the low levels of reported discrimination might be a result of the high levels of segregation between Roma and non-Roma:
spatial segregation is high amongst the Roma; (that is, they are living in areas predominantly populated by other Roma): highest in Bulgaria (72%), Romania (66%), Slovakia (65%) and Greece (63%). The implications of this should be borne in mind when looking at the results, as higher levels of spatial segregation imply that Roma respondents are cut-off from mainstream society, which, on the one hand implies that they experience high levels of discrimination, but, on the other hand, may serve to shelter them from discriminatory treatment as contact with the majority population is limited”

I also feel the article should have identified some of the issues that the general population has raised and should have analysed whether they are with or without merits. Even if they are without, as many for sure are, addressing them would give both sides the impression that their issues have been taken into consideration.

· Has the author asked the community if the children have birth certificates? It is widely reported that Romani population do not declare their children at birth.
· Has the author asked whether segregation is forced by the general Romanian population? Many voices state that for a long time it has become a habit for the Romani population to chose to live segregated.
· Has the author asked the community at what age Romani children marry? Several scandals have broken out about the Romani community concerning the fact that children as young as 11 or 12 have been forced into marriage. The author even quotes from a young girl of 17 who is mentioned as someone’s daughter-in-law without even considering reports that Romani children are forced into marriage at a young age and then told to leave school to start their family life – whether by working in the community in an informal job, or having children. Those reports are generally considered relevant to school attendance statistics.

From Wikipedia:

“Early age marriage scandal

On September 27, 2003, Ana Maria Cioabă, the 12-year-old daughter of Florin Cioabă (the so-called “King of Roma”) was forced to marry Mihai Birita, a 15-year-old boy. Since both were below Romania’s legal age of marriage (set at 16), no official marriage ceremony was performed. Ana Maria Cioabă fled from the wedding, but her father brought her back and she was forcibly married.[29]Particularly controversial was the fact that the groom showed the wedding guests a bloodied bed sheet to prove that the marriage had been consummated; in Romania, the age of consent is 15 years old, so sexual contact with the 12-year-old girl was illegal under Romanian law. A friend of girl’s, Ms Dana Chendea, said, “She told me it was the worst thing that ever happened to her. She felt like a huge rock fell on her.”

Baroness Emma Nicholson, the European Parliament rapporteur for Romania, said that it was a rape and the child must be given over to foster care. Subsequently, the Romanian authorities decided that Ana-Maria Cioabă and Mihai Birita must live separately and must not have any sexual relationships until the legal age of marriage. Ana-Maria was not, however, sent to foster care.

Doru-Viorel Ursu, a former Romanian Minister of the Interior (1990–1991), was the godfather of the young bride.

Florin Cioabă said that he believes that there shouldn’t be marriages between Romani children any more, but he argued that traditions that are hundreds of years old cannot be changed overnight.

The median age at which Romani girls first marry is 19.”

· Has the author spoken to a member of the Roma party (which is part of the Parliament of Romania), concerning programs that have been developed in order to integrate the Roma population? If so, what are the main issues faced from the general Romanian population and what are those coming from the Roma community? If I were interviewing a minority and was writing an article about their integration, I would find it useful to ask whether that community wants to be integrated. Without sharing an opinion of my own, many voices in Romania ask whether the Roma population does, indeed, want to be integrated. And, as we are talking about integration of something smaller into something big, we are also talking about the smaller part agreeing and learning how to accept the rules of the bigger community. Has the author asked the authorities in Baia Mare what the issues are about the integration? And why didn’t the author compare the integration of the Roma population in Romania with other Roma populations in Europe?

· Since the article states that the Roma children have been denied education, has the author investigated what schools have engaged in committing this illegal act? And once having done that, has she followed-up with the schools’ officials, as fair journalism implies, to get an official reaction for the article? Has she asked the local authorities whether they have been informed about this issue (parents who’s children’s rights have been breached will always or often fight for them) and what actions they have taken? There is no evidence of her having done so in the article, and that perhaps is most worrying of all. The children do not go to school; the grandmother said they tried to put them in school, but how? When? Who is responsible for that? And how can it be that, within the EU, with international and local charities and NGOs focused on the Roma situation in Romania, no formal action has been taken to sanction the local authority?

· And speaking about the authorities, has the author asked what the crime rate was in that community, as petty crime is one of the issues often mentioned regarding the Roma population?

From this source:

“Romani in European population centers are often accused of crimes such as pickpocketing. In 2009 a documentary by BBC called Gypsy child thieves uncovered how Gypsy children were kidnapped and abused by Gypsy gangs from Romania. The children were often held locked in sheds during the nights and sent to steal during the days. In Milan, Italy, it is estimated that a single Gypsy child was able to steal as much as €12,000 in a month; there were as many as 50 of such abused Gypsy children operating in the city. Meanwhile, the Romani bosses of these gangs were building glossy villas back in Romania. The film went on to describe the link between poverty, discrimination, crime and exploitation.”

· I feel the author should have also spoken to more NGOs specialized in the relationship between the Romanian and the Romani population, as well as some representative individuals of the Romanian general population. And as I have dedicated an important part of my time volunteering for NGOs in the human rights area, I strongly believe that articles that support the integration of the Romani population, children rights or any kind of general human rights and not only welcome, but increasingly needed.

The article could gain a lot by using the word “some”. For example: “Some parts of the Romani population live in misery”. Some other parts live in what can be called modern day palaces. Below, a great piece by National Geographic. Please peruse the photo gallery on the left.

· Has the author followed-up with the hospitals where the sick children were taken to confirm the information and to, potentially, get further scoops on what made the children sick? This is a tragic topic and I feel it was strictly reported from hear-say. An educated audience will surely want to understand what happened exactly.

My questions aim at shedding a clear light on this terrible situation, which indeed needs to be approached by the media. But, after reading this article about my country, I have learned nothing, but was rather left baffled, with a bitter taste about current journalism and more questions than answers. Which is something journalism should never do.

What such a topic as the one in Mrs. Hakim’s article needs is objective journalism, that works around and together with people’s sensitivities and finds the way to communicate efficiently to the general audience. To be clear: I would expect that in this particular case such articles would aim at making the general Romanian population open towards integrating the Romani population. Does this article fulfill such a quest? I will strongly say: NO. In its biased and subjective approach it will only bring more anger.

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  • 1

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Andreea Groenendijk este jurnalistă, scriitoare, editor de carte, consultant de imagine și susținătoare a unor cauze care luptă pentru drepturile omului
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