Viktória Mohácsi - Inside the box
7 December 1999
I was approximately sixteen years old when I first began to work for the media. It was 1992 when I first went inside the building of the Hungarian state television. I remember it clearly - I felt so small, like a dwarf. Everything was so big and I felt that everything was out of my reach. I was amazed to be inside this building where everything happens, where people’s clothing is always nice. I felt that it was a place where the magic would be on my side.
At that time I was in journalism school, and Ms Ágnes Daróczi, then the editor of Patrin, the Romani programme of the Hungarian state television, came to my school and asked me to audition to be a presenter in her programme. Ágnes Daróczi is a prominent Romani activist in Hungary who became well-known in the late 1980s. After a short, nervous probation period, I was on the screen almost every week for five years. After I graduated high school in 1993, I began to work full time as an editor and presenter for Patrin. One year later, in 1994, the editor of a mainstream cultural programme broadcast before the evening news asked me to work for them as well. I became the first Romani person in Hungary to appear as a presenter on mainstream television.
My heart was in the Romani program. Of course I also worked for the cultural news, but the greater part of my energy went into the program for Roma. I brought Romani cultural affairs into the other program as well, but there is a big gap between the way in which things can be presented to Gazhe - what we call non-Roma in Hungary - and what we present on the Romani program. I remember one example in particular: every spring, Roma in Hungary make a pilgrimage to a place called Csatka. They pray there to the Holy Virgin Mary. There is a little spring there, and if you wash your face with the spring water, it is said that you will have good health. One year I went out to make a documentary film on the Romani pilgrimage to Csatka. But I made two versions. For the version for the Gazhe, I asked the people to take off the gold they were wearing during interviews. If Gazhe see Romani gold on television, they say things like, "why are the Gypsies crying for help? Look at them - they are loaded with gold! If I had that much gold, I wouldn't have any problems!" I decided that rather than try to explain why it is important to Roma to wear gold during a pilgrimage, I would leave that detail out; in the cultural news, the longest reportage lasts only fifty seconds, so I only told the viewers why Roma were going to Csatka and left out any complicating issues. Roma, however, know why wearing gold is important during a pilgrimage to the Holy Virgin Mary, and it would have been odd if we left out that detail for the Romani program. Some of Roma go on foot to the holy site, but all of them wear a gold necklace with the Virgin Mary on it. Most of the people on the pilgrimage were poor, and some of them had spent all their savings to buy gold for this day.
The editorial staff of Patrin worked together for five years, but after that, politics came into our life. In Hungary, there is a special system for minority representation in government; thirteen minorities with official status, including Roma, can form so-called “minority local governments” and a “national minority self-government”- the so-called “NGS”. All of these are advisory bodies, but the national body has a significant budget and is a showpiece to demonstrate that Hungary treats its Romani minority better than the facts indicate. Besides, the NGS also has the ear of the Hungarian government, and the government regards the NGS as their only legitimate Romani partner. There have so far been two elections for Romani self-governments, in 1994 and in 1998/1999, and in both elections, the organization Lungo Drom, led by Mr Flórián Farkas, has dominated both local and national elections. Since Lungo Drom is the most compliant of the national organisations, many people believe that the election system is weighted so that no critical voices appear among the official national Romani representation in Hungary.
For a long time, Patrin maintained its independence from political considerations in Hungary. However, beginning in 1994, Patrin came under regular pressure to conform to the NGS agenda. Finally, on February 27, 1996, Ágnes Daróczi offered Flórián Farkas the possibility that the NGS would provide information for part of the 25-minute Patrin broadcast. The NGS, however, refused. As the second election for the NGS approached, Mr Farkas evidently decided that he needed Patrin to assist his election campaign; having Ágnes Daróczi as the editor and moderator of the only Romani television programme was especially problematic for Mr Farkas since she was also a likely candidate in the NGS elections. On August 25, 1998, The National Hungarian Television’s main editor fired Ágnes Daróczi as editor the Romani programme with the explanation that the program was not “maintaining stability.” She stayed on until early 1999. However, beginning on February 1, 1999, a new editor of Patrin stepped in. Since then, Patrin has not reported, for example, many instances of racist violence against Roma, and they failed to report an incident in which a police officer beat a fifteen-year-old Romani boy so seriously that he suffered permanent brain damage.
The experience of my colleagues and myself in losing Patrin as a voice of independent Romani media is not the only manifestation of state control over the media. We have had similar problems while trying to establish a Romani radio station. Around four years ago, approximately twenty people, including a number of young people who presently work for the Budapest-based Roma Press Center, began discussing the possibility of establishing a Romani station. We chose the name “Radio©”. We decided upon the name because in Hungarian the majority call Roma “cigány”, and “C” was an old designation in official papers such as school records that indicated that the person was Romani. After 1989, Romani activists worked successfully to abolish the “C” designation, but we liked the idea of embracing the “C” and making it more neutral by mocking it. Also, we liked the fact that it also can mean “radio copyright”.
Our conception of the radio envisioned twelve hours of broadcasting per day. Programming is intended for Roma, sometimes in Romani and sometimes in Hungarian. We plan on having programmes for children, legal advice, call-in shows, practical advice for the poor, and, of course, music; Radio© will have jazz programming, present Romani bands, and will feature other musical programmes such as “Would Die by the Table”, in which musicians speak about what it means for them to play, as well as how they conceive of their music. We also hope to have “Jail Radio”: one of the Radio©’s more ambitious plans is to broadcast from one of the Hungarian prisons. The programme would be a talk-show format, speaking with Romani prisoners. The programme would not be about them, it would be with them. Participants could dedicate a song to their wives, the program could give out information about persons who are not allowed to have visitors, etc. Other planned shows include “Street Radio”, “Games”, “Storytime”, “Portraits”, “Tradition”, “Fact-finding reports” and of course, news.
Three years ago, Radio© acquired approximately 400 square-meters of space and most of the technical equipment we will need. However, the state has still not given Radio© a broadcasting license. In 1995, we applied to the National Radio and Television Committee (ORTT) after they finally provided the public with an application form (public competition for frequencies was not a rapid development in Hungary after 1989). At that time, three non-profit radio stations received licenses, but Radio© was not one of them. When Radio© was informed by the ORTT that we had been rejected for a license, officials told us that the frequencies allocated had been given out only for three years. After that, the ORTT would open another round of competition for broadcasting licenses, and our radio station could apply again. So we waited for three years.
In 1998, Radio© again applied to the ORTT and they announced that decisions would be issued in December 1998. In December 1998, however, the ORTT announced that it would not immediately allocate any licenses, and that they were postponing any decision until September 1999. September passed, and the ORTT again announced that we would have to wait until November. And so we are again waiting for a government committee to decide on the fate of Radio© . However, in the meantime I have heard that the NGS now has a plan to establish a Romani radio station, so we are now faced with the possibility that our radio station may never come into existence.