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Janeček’s hit

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Elections are great. And sometimes this can be said even about the most boring part of this process: the TV campaign ads of different parties, which, in accordance with Czech laws, are entitled to precious airtime on public TV stations.

Last Wednesday the clip of the extremist National Party caused an uproar, when the party attacked Czech Roma in a a campaign ad for the European parliamentary elections. The TV station stopped broadcasting the ad after the public’s shocked reaction.

But the circumstances surrounding this ad are somewhat unclear. The TV station at first claimed that it is bound by law to continue broadcasting the clip (which shows photographs of Romani ghettos to the soundtrack of the Finnish group Apocalyptica and calls for a final solution for the “Romani problem”). The station’s spokesman at the same time said, however, that the clip might be in breach of Czech laws. Nervously, he promised that the station would file a complaint over suspected racial hatred. Only after the former interior minister, the current prime minister and the minister for human rights stepped in, the station’s director, Jiří Janeček, announced he would take the clip off the air. The head of the public broadcasting station also joined in at this point and said he would refuse to air the xenophobic campaigns of tha National Party and of the Workers Party. Both parties were asked to subimit new material (and both parties want to file a court complaint).

But many people have already become disgusted with it all. Why didn’t the powerful state-owned TV station block the xenophobic clip from the very beginning? And why didn’t the debate over whether fair political game should be given priority over the fair treatment of different ethnicities start before the clip was boradcast? Why did the director need to wait for a the ministers and the PM to step in. Janeček has received a great deal of critique over his actions.

The Wednesday ban can also be perceived as a testament to the fact that public television (despite the limitations of the traditional TV format and its dependence on politicians) is changing for the better. Janeček said that he is taking the clip off the air and willing to carry the full responsibility for that decision, even though he knows many will criticise him for it, and that he believes he can defend his position. “If not, I am willing to deal with the consequences. Czech Television will not participate in spreading racism and xenophobia,” said Janeček.

After the recent anti-Roma rallies in Czech cities and the inconspicuous infiltration of extremists into Czech politics, these words have considerable value.

At least some Roma, who are used to being written off and stereotyped, have reacted positively to Janeček’s decsion. Romani activist Ivan Veselý, has applauded “the personal bravery” of the television (and braodcasting) directors, and told them they have just made some grateful friends. “Among Roma, this is a statement of gratitude valued above all else,” Veselý wrote in an open letter.

It is necessary, though, to remain firmly grounded in reality, but, regardless of whether the planned cout complaints end up succeeding, this is a hopeful development. Especially given the fact that it came about thanks to one unwatchable campaign ad.

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