Today the mass media are the key compilers of the
agenda setting the importance of topics that are publicly discussed,
that is to say, the topics that people consider or talk about. Through
the choice of topics, sources, genre, language and style, the media
daily construct the image of “us” as the representatives of a majority
population, and of “them” as the representatives of a minority.
They impart only specific cultural patterns, add new meanings to
them and, finally, make them common-sensical, universal and exclusively
This study analyzes the Slovenian media writing about the Roma
in autumn 1997 when the villagers of Maline set up a village
watch to prevent the settlement of a Romani family who bought
a house in their village. The prevalent mood of the coverage
could be summed up with a single word - “problems”. Moreover,
when writing about the Roma, the media invariably use the expressions
“Romani issues” or “Romani problems”. The media are not interested
in their difficulties unless they turn into a conflict that
also threatens to affect the majority population. Out of 131
accounts in newspapers, on television and radio, only one falls
short of our hypothesis that the media write about ethnic minorities
only when they are involved in some conflict.
Journalistic writing about the Roma rests on the assumption that
the Roma are ‘different from us’. Their differentness is so ultimate
and self-evident that it does not need any further explanation
either. Using special techniques, like stereotypes and generalization,
the media concentrate on particular “negative traits” of the
Roma, for example cultural differences, deviation and the apparent
threat they pose to the majority population. Thematically they
could be divided into the following categories:
- The Roma are the protagonists of negatively evaluated acts
(crime) which represent a threat to the social order. In line
with this, the Roma are represented as aggressive and dangerous.
The prevalent assertion in the media coverage is that the Roma
are (by nature) thieves.
- The Roma threaten our social and economic interests, thus
representing a threat to economic order. They are idle and lazy,
they live on social assistance (which, in the opinion of the
majority population, is higher than their wages would be if they
- The Roma have a different culture, mentality and behavior
which are not in accordance with the norms of the majority population,
hence this poses a threat to our cultural order. The Roma differ
from the majority population by their looks (skin color), they
have a different culture, values and habits, they are unadaptable
and their natality is too high.
This concocted media image of the Roma is so powerful that in
the coverage analyzed here, the Roma only rarely appear as concrete
individuals. Instead, the media assessment of their deeds rests
on the characteristics that are generally attributed to the Roma
by the majority. In this way the media prevent their audiences
from identifying with a Romani protagonist or harboring doubt
about a clear-cut division between good Slovenians and bad Roma.
With specific regard to the coverage of ethnic issues the power
of the media is even greater, since there is a shortage of alternative
sources of information. The media coverage of minorities, as
a special example of underprivileged communication opportunities,
exclusively relies on the sources of the majority population,
as is shown in this study. Therefore special media exclusion
and isolation couples the spatial, economic, cultural and social
ghettoization of a minority.