Reporting on ethnicity in child cases ‘irresponsible’

Council of Europe commissioner says identifying families’ background could have very adverse effects

In an open letter to journalists, Nils Muižnieks said most news reports had insisted in detailing the ethnicity of the families from which the children have been taken, “thus propagating age-old myths portraying Roma as child-abductors”. Photograph: Getty

In an open letter to journalists, Nils Muižnieks said most news reports had insisted in detailing the ethnicity of the families from which the children have been taken, “thus propagating age-old myths portraying Roma as child-abductors”. Photograph: Getty

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 19:40

Negative media reporting on minorities has “vehemently” re-emerged in the cases of the children found in Roma families in Greece and Ireland, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights said yesterday.

In an open letter to journalists, Nils Muižnieks said most news reports had insisted in detailing the ethnicity of the families from which the children have been taken, “thus propagating age-old myths portraying Roma as child-abductors”.

Mr Muižnieks said such “irresponsible reporting” could have tremendously adverse effects on the lives of millions of Roma, and fuel already widespread, violent anti-Roma groups.

Mr Muižnieks said the Roma were “no more inclined to criminal behaviour than anybody else”, but despite this, media insisted “on mentioning ethnicity in news reports” - a feature he said gave credence to the myth that Roma are by nature criminals.

“This is not only false, but also dangerous, as it risks heightening the already tense relations between the Roma and the majority population all over Europe,” he said.

Mr Muižnieks said the propagation of such a negative image also harms integration efforts, and asked: “How can we expect the Roma to integrate in our societies if the media do not miss an opportunity to remind them that they are unwanted?”

He called on all journalists involved in the coverage of these cases to step back and examine whether mentioning ethnicity was really necessary, whether the best interests of the child, including the right to privacy, have been respected and whether the presumption of innocence has been upheld.

“It is necessary that the media use their power of forging public opinion more responsibly when it comes to portraying minorities in general, and the Roma in particular,” he concluded.

The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe is a separate institution to the European Union.

It is the Continent’s leading human rights organisation and included in its membership are 47 states, 28 of which are members of the European Union. The council is probably best known for its European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.