Reporting about Roma: Empathy desirable, but right terminology mandatory

People’s mentality and their attitude towards Roma people depend on a vast historical and cultural context in Romania and they are difficult to change. But they need to be reshaped and myths should be either confirmed or busted, with the help of the media.

Media are one of the most powerful influencing factors and, with the help of journalists, the public discourse can be transformed from hate speech to tolerance speech – this was one of the conclusions of the “Why Roma, and not Gypsy?” webinar, hosted by EURACTIV Romania in October.

The webinar on terms of ethnic non-discrimination was part of MINDSET – Moving the Ideas of Non-Discrimination: Supporting an Equality Transformation – a project carried out by a consortium of EURACTIV, EURACTIV Romania, Jeunes Européens Fédéralistes and the Migration Policy Group.

The overwhelming examples of ethnic discrimination in Romania refer to the Roma community and it starts with the very name of the ethnic group.

Gelu Duminică, lecturer of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bucharest, and founder of the Impreuna (Together) Agency, explained that while the term “țigan” (gypsy) is derogatory in Romanian, it comes from the Greek ‘atiganos’, meaning untouchable.

The presentation by Duminica, who has a PhD in Social Sciences and is himself a member of the Roma community, focused on the history of the Roma population on the Romanian territory and the hundreds of years of slavery, which is unknown even to most of the Romanian population.

Roma people were slaves since the early years of the Romanian medieval states, and slavery was abolished on the current territory of Romania only in the second half of the XIX century, after around 500 years. This makes it one of the longest periods of slavery for an ethnic group, Duminica pointed out.

But this is a chapter that is mostly absent from the studies of history in Romania, so many of the Romanians have no idea that the Roma people were slaves for such a long time.

Also, many think the name Roma is too close to ‘Romanian’ and that this contributed to the bad image of Romanians in Europe in the past few decades. Some of the crimes committed in European countries by Romanian citizens were the deeds of people of Roma origin and the media reported them as such.

Oana Sandu, a journalist at DoR, also spoke about how to document and write with empathy about vulnerable communities. She pointed out that many Roma people live in poor conditions and are often discriminated against, even by public authorities.

The way in which people with a minority racial or ethnic background are portrayed in the media, and whether they are represented at all, can reinforce negative stereotypes, with their under-representation in media professions further reinforcing this trend, a recent document of the European Commission stated.

Thus, the webinar focused on training journalists to use the right terminology when reporting.

“If I were to steal something, it wouldn’t be because I am a ‘gypsy’ but because I am a thief,” Duminica stressed.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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The content of this publication represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

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