Human rights watchdog warns against ‘irresponsible reporting’ on Roma

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks has warned against “irresponsible reporting” following the recent cases of children found in Roma families in Greece and Ireland.

“The long-standing problem of negative media reporting on minorities has vehemently re-emerged,” Muiznieks said Thursday during an open address to journalists in Strasbourg.

The commissioner said that most news reports have insisted on the ethnicity of the families from which the children were taken – a trend that helps fuel popular myths portraying Roma as child-abductors.

“Such irresponsible reporting can have tremendous effects on the lives of millions of Roma and fuel already widespread violent anti-Roma movements,” Muiznieks said.

Although the Roma are no more inclined to criminal behaviour than anybody else, the commissioner told journalists, media emphasis on ethnicity was lending 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.

Two blond children who were taken by Irish police from their Romanian Gypsy parents were returned Wednesday to their families after DNA tests determined that the children were rightfully theirs, an episode that raised accusations of racism.

The Irish police were responding to public tipoffs fuelled by media coverage of an alleged child-abduction case in Farsala, in central Greece, involving a blond-haired girl nicknamed “Maria.”

Muiznieks said Thursday that giving the Roma a bad name was also undermining integration efforts.

“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 said.