Given the centrality of minority policies in the directives of the European Union, it is remarkable how relatively little attention the problem of ethnic and sexual minorities in mass media has received from researchers and scholars in Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. Most attention has been paid to the general problems of minority integration and protection of their rights and the improvement of legislation to ensure minority protection. In this respect the EU Accession Monitoring Program at the Open Society Institute has been focusing on the policy problems of minorities in the candidate countries, including Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. The 2002 report, for instance, provides a wealth of relevant information and points to the necessity for stronger policy measures to improve the situation of some minority groups, particularly of Roma people. According to the 2002 report on Latvia, the Latvian governmental policy does not pay “sufficient attention to concerns of civil society and minorities in the area of minority rights, such as the need for greater access to education and the electronic media in the mother tongue, greater promotion of minority languages, the need for dialogue between minorities and the State, and the effective participation of minorities in public life.” The Lithuanian and Polish reports concentrate largely on Roma minority that experiences the most problems in their respective societies. In Lithuania, as the EU Accession Monitoring Report stated, media about Roma minority are of particular concern since crude stereotyping of Romani in the media is still prevalent and there are ”no concrete measures to promote tolerance or a more positive image of Roma in the media.” The report on Poland briefly mentioned the media initiatives related to Roma people such as creating a regular television program devoted to the Roma community and a short monthly broadcast in the Romani language in local media. All reports implicitly argue for both the preservation of the identity of minorities and the creation of system that would promote the integration of minorities into civil society. However, all three reports devote only a meager attention to minority problems and minority representation in the media.
Some other works on minority issues addressed democratization and civic participation of ethnic minorities in a post-Communist context and the impact of the media on transformations in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Communist rule. Scholars argued that mass media may advance participatory democracy, intercultural communication and ethnic tolerance. Conversely, they can also act as a vehicle for increasing ethnic, cultural and political conflict.
However, almost no works touch upon sexual minorities and their representations in the media. The construction and functioning of the representations of homosexuals in the mass media have not been subjected to either intensive academic or policy scrutiny. While growing public and scholarly interest in ethnicity, citizenship and identity prompted a number of studies on the adaptation, assimilation and political participation of ethnic groups, the issue of the mass media and sexual minorities nonetheless remains at the fringes of social and cultural studies. This is, to my mind, a serious oversight since the invisibility and marginalization in Eastern European societies work against numerous groups, including ethnic minorities, women, gays and lesbians. Hence, this paper argues for the need for a wider framework of minority politics.
Arguments presented in this paper are based on an ongoing research project on minorities and civil society in three countries, Lithuania, Poland and Latvia. The article examines how the role of media and mediated-communication is intertwined with minority politics in the region. Providing a short overview of research on ethnic and sexual minorities in mass media and mapping some major trends in research and policy literature on minorities in the above countries, it argues for a better understanding of both challenges and strategies salient for minority politics and media policy.
The study emphasizes the interconnectedness of media, mediated-communication and educational goals developing media literacy aimed at empowering both various minority groups and citizens in general within the region.
It is necessary, at the outset, to draw the general picture of media developments in the region.Mass media of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have undergone major changes in the last decade. Since the collapse of the Communist regimes in 1989, the "Soviet-Communist media system" almost completely controlled by the governments gradually disintegrated. Media censorship came to end. As the Lithuanian media scholar Auksë Balčytienë noted, “The role of the media has shifted from being an organ of the state and the political elites to being an intermediary between state and citizenry, facilitating public discourse and policy issues.” It can be argued that the mass media have been exerting an immense influence on the defining, structuring, and delimiting of public discourse and in forming and influencing public knowledge.
Mass media, however, have not been a simple and direct beneficiary of a new independence. In most cases, political elites still attempt to control mass media, particularly the public broadcasting. Although the media are not subject to any political censorship, they are highly competitive and politicized. As Colin Sparks has insightfully noted, the mass media in post-Communist Eastern Europe remains politically motivated. It is fair to argue that although the doctrine of social responsibility assumes independent power for the mass media, the press and broadcasts serve the interests of the powerful far more than those of the powerless.Different political parties and economic forces use mass media for their political purposes. Political parties related to economic forces try to affect or even manipulate the media, and journalists do not escape political engagement, particularly during the elections.The mass media are a battleground of powerful political and commercial interests. Often political and commercial alliances are made to control media outlets and intervene in the formation of public knowledge. The lack of a strong tradition of free press and civil society is evident in this respect.
The process of media development in the region leads to the concentration of media ownership - the big media companies buying the weaker titles or stations, thereby strengthening their own position. In recent years, media scholars have noticed the increasing media concentration, their tablodization, sensationalism and negativism. Standards of journalistic quality are very vague. As Jan Pieklo indicated, the rapid growth of Polish media in the last few years has also resulted in a decline in the quality of journalism. Lower standards go together with a widespread demand for sensational and entertainment-style journalism. The same can be said about both the Lithuanian and Latvian media.
Ethnic minorities and Civil Society: Research and Policy Framework
During recent years, the literature devoted to the media portrayal of minorities has attempted to address the under-representation of minorities in mass media and the distorted and often stereotypical representations of minorities. Content and discourse analyses have usually been used to measure the level of stereotyping, discrimination and intolerance. Sample studies composed of the analysis of the mainstream press (largely, national dailies) of several months have dominated Eastern European research. No comprehensive works, to my knowledge, have been done on prime-time television coverage.
Although there are very few works on ethnic minorities in the mass media in the context of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, they raise important questions for understanding the media’s construction of different ethnic identities and their relationship to “normative” citizenship. Let us review the most significant research done on the discussed topic.
It is estimated that within the total population of Poland (38.418.108) ethnic minorities constitute 2-3% of the country’s population. The largest minority groups are Ukrainians (300.000 - 0,78% of entire population), Belorussians (200.000 - 0,52%), Germans (200.000 - 0,52%), Roma /Gypsies (25.000 - 0,07%), Jews (15.000 - 0,04%), Ruthenians (15.000 - 0,04%) and Lithuanians (15.000 - 0,04%). It should also be emphasized that among several million Polish Silesians in both Upper and Lower Silesia, a persistent sense of ethnic distinctiveness can be observed. 50,000 Poles possess Jewish ancestry. A significant number of refugees and immigrants mostly from the former Soviet Union, but recently also from Somalia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and other countries inhabited Poland since 1990.
Such is the minority composition in Poland. What are the main issues related to mass media and ethnic minorities in Poland?
According to the report of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 2002, although tolerance and cultural pluralism is increasingly promoted in Poland, the xenophobic and ultra-nationalistic sentiments still exist among the population. There has been a number of verbal and physical attacks of immigrants and members of “visible minorities” including Romani and numerous cases of desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. Roma minority continues to be the most frequent target of discriminatory behavior and particularly aggressive abuse. Conservative media also contribute to the dissemination of anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic attitudes. For instance, the mainstream daily Nasz Dziennik (Our Daily)— with an estimated circulation ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 — has a strongly conservative orientation and often uses a nationalistic or xenophobic discourse. Nasza Polska (Our Poland), a weekly magazine, includes overtly anti-Semitic material. In an interview with a member of the neo-fascist rock band “Deportacja ’68” (published September 30, 1998), the anti-Semitic campaign of March 1968 was described as “one of the very few positive acts of Communist Poland.” A number of other publications includingMysl Polska: Tygodnik poúwićcony ýyciu i kulturze Narodu (Polish Thought: A Weekly Dedicated to the Life and Culture of the Nation), Najjasniejszej Rzeczypospolitej (For Our Illustrious Republic), an aggressively anti-Semitic bi-monthly, and others contain both overt and covert anti-Semitic rhetoric. Some conservative radio stations, for instance, the Catholic Radio Maryja, also advocate ultra right nationalism and xenophobia.
Beata Klimkiewicz has done the most significant work on ethnic minorities in the Polish mass media. Her research is widely available in print and on the Internet.
In her works, Klimkiewicz examines both minority media and media representations of minorities, i. e. both minority and mainstream media in Poland. According to her, “ethnic minorities publish or cooperate in publishing or producing of 42 titles, which is only 1% of total number of newspaper titles in Poland.” In Klimkiewicz’s words, if we compare it with 2,5% of ethnic minority population (this number neither covers new ethnic groups caused by legal and illegal immigration nor regional minorities), “we can easily infer that ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the public sphere in Poland.” No means “has been applied to strengthen the advocacy domain within which they operate in the public sphere.” There are very few radio and television programs for minorities (only regional broadcasts in Ukrainian, Belorussian and German on the Polish National Radio). Only the German and the Ukrainian minorities produce TV program in their own language. As in many Eastern European societies, minority media are usually marginalized and inefficient. That is why the mainstream media are more important for minority politics.
Analyzing the Polish mainstream media, Beata Klimkiewicz distinguishes three cases as representative of the different types of images and narratives of ethnic minorities in the Polish mainstream media. On the basis of her discourse analysis of newspaper and TV reports, she argues that the Polish mass media on ethnic minorities can be defined by the following features: 1) essentialism 2) negativism and 3) exoticism. Her research suggests that ethnic minorities are represented in the Polish mass media in a stereotypical fashion, i.e portrayals focus usually on negative, exotic and one-dimensional sites of ethnic minority life. Emphasizing journalistic insensitivity to the complexities of minority issues, Klimkiewicz’s studies point to the necessity of reexamining the journalistic practices and drawing new strategies to enhance minority participation in the public sphere in Poland. Her policy paper “Participation of National and Ethnic Minorities in the Public Sphere: Recommendations for Poland” (1999) written for the Open Society Institute is devoted precisely to this goal. Klimkiewicz proposes a comprehensive policy scheme including the recommendations to the government and parliament, management of media organizations, journalists and NGOs. Her complex policy schemeemphasizes changes in legal regulation, media regulation system, equal opportunities policies and professional guidelines and advocates multicultural approach to journalistic ethics, monitoring of discrimination and intolerance in mass media and comprising a new media-oriented multicultural policy.
In Lithuania the situation of ethnic minorities is rather similar to that of Poland. As Ina Nausëdienë and Giedrius Kadziauskas have emphasized, although, according to a popular slogan in Lithuania, Lithuania has always been a multicultural and tolerant state, the reality of ethnic minorities in the country differs from this declaration. As in most post-Communist countries, in Lithuania we encounter discrimination, intolerance and hate speech directed towards some ethnic groups.
Ethnic minorities now account for about 18,5 percent of the population of Lithuania (around 682,000). Around 109 different nationalities and ethnicities live in Lithuania, including Russians, Poles, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Latvians, Gypsies, Germans, Armenians, Uzbeks, Azerbaijanis, Georgians, Estonians, Karaites, Greeks and Hungarians. Russians comprise the largest group, about 8.2% (302 thousand) Poles – 6.9% (257 thousand), Belorussians – 1.5% (54 thousand), Ukrainians – 1.0% (36 thousand), Jews – 0.1% (5 thousand). The greatest number of non-Lithuanians lives in eastern and southeastern part of Lithuania and in the cities of Vilnius, Klaipëda and Visaginas. The town of Visaginas built in the 80s for the workers of the Ignalina nuclear plant has a population of more than 90 % of Russians.
National minorities publish 41 periodical in their language – 35 newspapers and 6 magazines. 31 of them are published in Russian, 7 in Polish, 1 in Belorussian and 2 in German. The State radio broadcasts one hour daily in Russian and Polish. There are weekly editions in Ukrainian and Belorussian. There is a daily news edition in Russian on the State television. Private regional television companies broadcast news and other programmes in Russian, Polish and Belorussian. However, as Nina Mackevič emphasized in her paper “Russian Press in the View of Marginalization,” newspapers in Russian, for instance, are written in bad Russian; they depend on the information from the press of Russia and largely the reviews of this press.  The same may be said about other minority press.
As to Lithuanian media portrayals of ethnic minorities, there have been very few studies on this topic over the last ten years in Lithuania. The Lithuanian sociologists Vida Beresnevičiűtë and I. Nausëdienë attempted to deconstruct the representations of ethnic groups in the discourse of the Lithuanian mass media. These sociologists demonstrated that newspapers portray national minorities as unintegrated into society, as criminals, and as socially insecure or ‘exotic’ groups, therefore reinforcing racial and ethnic stereotypes. As Inga Nausëdienë and Giedrius Kadziauskas have argued, mass media not only spread but also strengthen negative stereotypes of ethnic minorities. The analyses of the main Lithuanian press attest to the fact that ethnic minorities are treated as a separate part of Lithuanian society. Vida Beresnevičiűtë emphasized that Stereotypical attitudes towards minorities threaten to develop social distances between different ethnic groups. In her words, “These stereotypes impede the integration of the minority communities into the Lithuanian society and reduce their possibility to solve their problems on equal basis with other social groups.”
My study on ethnic and sexual minorities in Lithuanian mass media continues Beresnevičiűtë and Nausëdienë’s work. Discourse analysis of the main Lithuanian dailies and a sample analysis of prime-time TV programs demonstrated that there is a lack of in-depth reporting on ethnic minorities in the Lithuanian mass media. Minority groups share relative invisibility and one-sided stereotypical representations. Close reading of the most popular daily and TV programmes reveals undercurrent xenophobia in a large part of news reports and broadcasts. The “bad news” focus is overwhelming: most newspaper reports and TV broadcasts focus on some minority member who committed a crime. Much less attention is paid to stories about minorities experiencing problems, prejudice, racism or unemployment.
Roma people merit the worst representations as the least socially integrated, criminal and exotic group. The mass media frequently refer to the Roma minority as criminal, deviant, socially insecure, inscrutable, and manipulative. In the police reports published in newspapers, the ethnicity of Roma is always emphasized. Paradoxically, there appeared quite recently a set of positive stereotypes attributable to the Roma: Romani have been showned as passionate, romantic and very musical.
Russians receive mixed coverage in the Lithuanian mass media. On the one hand, they are shown as active participants in Lithuanian political life. On the other hand, their political behavior is described as threatening and serving the interests of foreign powers. As in the case of the Roma, news reports about crimes stress the Russian nationality of criminals.
The representations of the Polish minority focus on the extremely politicized problem of education. From these representations, Poles emerge as a self-conscious national minority that requires special status and rights.
Jews receive the most multi-sided coverage in the Lithuanian press: coverage of Jewish-related issues ranges from detailed descriptions of anti-Semitism in Lithuanian society to news about Jewish celebrations and cultural events, from Holocaust commemorations to the trials of war criminals.
Sampled TV programs, unfortunately, indicate minimal presence of ethnic stories and characters in the mainstream programming. Ethnic minorities are still hardly ever mentioned in the major broadcast news programmes. This fact demonstrates that television fails to mirror the ‘real’ proportion of Russians, Poles, Roma and Jews in the population of Lithuania.
Although continuous monitoring of Lithuanian press allows to find the evidence of a decline of the most crude stereotyping during the last two years in Lithuanian dailies and on TV, ethnic minorities still are more likely to be shown as socially irresponsible and unacceptable.
In the paper cited above and elsewhere I argued that the Lithuanian mass media describe ethnicity as problematic and not as a positive quality of a multicultural society. Minority members are rarely consulted on the problems concerning them. The discussed stereotypes are insufficiently counteracted by alternative portrayals that reflect the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society.
What is the situation of ethnic minorities in Latvia? Latvia has one of the highest proportions of minorities in Eastern Europe. As of 1 July 2002, ethnic Latvians constituted 58.3 percent of the total population of 2.3 million. The rest of the population belongs to minorities. The largest minority in Latvia is Russians who comprise 29.1 percent.
The most minority debates in Latvia have been focused around the issue of citizenship. Despite the liberalization of the Law on Citizenship in 1998, Latvia still has about 550,000 stateless “non-citizens” (Population Register 2001). As a result, the non-citizens in comparison with the citizens of Latvia are discriminated in many spheres, including social, economic and political. The issue of citizenship is inevitably related to the problem of language since about 36 percent of the Latvian population does not speak Latvian as the first language.
Thus, controversies over human rights and minority rights in Latvia have been related chiefly to the issue of state language. From this perspective, the residents of Latvia fall into two categories: a majority of Latvian-speakers (around 60 percent) and a minority Russian-speakers (approximately 40 percent). According to Leonid Raichman, the specificity of the Latvian minority situation lies in the fact that minorities are defined politically on a linguistic rather than ethnic basis.As the 2001 report “Monitoring the EU Accession Process: Minority Protection” suggested, “Current legislation and practice reinforce the position of the Latvian language, while placing limits the use of minority languages in education, radio and television, state employment and communications with public administrative bodies.” On October 29, 1998, Latvia's Parliament adopted amendments to the law on the electronic mass media that reduced the share of broadcasting and telecasting in minority languages once again - no more than 25% of the air time can be broadcast in minority languages. Thus, minority and language politics and mass media are interrelated in contemporary Latvia.
In 2001, the Latvian government launched the national program "The Integration of Society in Latvia.” However,according to the researcher Svetlana Diatchkova, "The Integration Program and governmental policy in general do not pay sufficient attention to the concerns of civil society and minorities in the field of minority rights, such as the need for greater access to education and electronic media in mother tongue, greater promotion of minority languages, the need for dialogue between minorities and the State, and the effective participation of minorities in public life." The chapter devoted to media issues doesn’t contain any substantive and concrete ideas on how to enhance the integrative role of the media.
There is no comprehensive study on representations of ethnic minorities in Latvian mass media. Among related studies, it is possible to mention “Stereotypes in the Latvian Press” by Ilze Sulmane and Sergejs Kruks and research on the Latvian Roma “Roma in Latvia” by Sarmite Dukate. The latter does not analyze mass media. However, from the interviews with Latvian respondents it can be inferred that information on Roma in Latvia is insufficient. In the Latvian press, for instance, most information about Romani appears in criminal reports. Those reports particularly emphasize their ethnicity. Negative stereotypes portraying Roma as criminals, dirty and dangerous prevail in mass media. In Dukate’s study, 21 percent of Latvian respondents agreed that information on Roma is negative, 4 percent that information is positive, 2 percent that information is neutral and 4 percent that information on Roma is lacking.
The study “Stereotypes in the Latvian Press” focuses on the main Latvian press of 1999 including newspapers “Diena,” “Neatkarîgâ Rîta Avîze,” “Lauku Avîze,” “?AC,” “Pec?????ka,” “?a?opa?a ?am???,” and magazines “Rîgas Laiks,” “Santa” and “?????.” The study argues that the Latvian press produces existing stereotypes rarely discussing them critically. The analyzed media contain comparably fewer stereotypes of Russian, Roma people or Jews in Latvia. However, ethnic minorities are more likely than national majority to be presented in a stereotypical fashion here.
As Ilga Apine noted in her article "Political Correctness", Latvia is still not a politically correct country. Police reports in the newspapers usually name ethnicity when speaking of criminal acts (Roma minority is most vulnerable in this regard). There has also been racist advertising by the Freedom Party of Latvia and xenophobic (largely Russophobic) statements in Latvian newspapers. To change such and similar representations, as Ilga Apine implicitly suggests in her article, it is necessary to move from ethnic democracy to the model of pluralist democracy in Latvia. Nils Muiznieks, in his article "Extremism in Latvia," corroborates Apine’s findings.
It must be emphasized that the inclusion of ethnic minorities in or their exclusion from a broadcast, newspaper or newsmagazine both demonstrate and affect the importance attached to the needs and interests of minorities. The scarsity of national TV programs for and about minorities witnesses the fact that minority issues are still at a periphery of media policy.
It can be argued that typical portrayals of ethnic minorities in the discussed countries reflect the exotic, criminal and largely negative sides of their life. Minorities are also more likely to be presented in non-active roles seemingly incapable of making any decisions without the help of the majority (the case of Russians in Latvia and the Roma minority in all three countries).
Ethnic minorities are often stigmatized and excluded because of a narrow ethnically monolithic definition of citizenship in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. It is symptomatic that struggles over ethnicity and citizenship are linked to social institutions and the most basic norms based on the rhetoric of shared heritage and a conservative definition of the nation. That is why, in the public rhetoric, ethnic minorities are sometimes associated with the images of degeneration and defilement threatening the “body politic.”
A short overview of research on ethnic minorities in mass media points to the fact that mass media and communication technology present a complex arena for civic participation in the region. Research and policy work must acknowledge the complexity of the issue ofminorities in media. The need to promote the minority identity in its various cultural expressions, including mass media – is acutely felt.
Sexual Minorities and Civil Society: Representational Wars
The nexus of ethnicity, sexual orientation, representation and mass media arises in the context in which minorities figure crucially as indicators of the building of a civil society. It is therefore far from coincidental that the issue of sexual minorities increasingly becomes more debated issue in Eastern Europe.
What citizens think about minorities is influenced by the media to which they are exposed. As Marguerite J. Moritz writing about sexual minorities argued, “When the news media ... represent a topic with which the mass audience may have limited personal experience, ... the message is particularly potent because many audience members have no way of independently or critically judging the validity of the news account and the many messages it may carry.”
Homophobia is still rampant in the societies of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The level of intolerance in these societies is rather high. For instance, according to the survey of the Polish Centre for Public Opinion Polls entitled “Attitudes toward Homosexual Marriage” conducted in 2001, 88 % of Poles believe that homosexuality is unnatural, 47 % think that this unnatural behavior should be tolerated and 41 % think that it is unacceptable. A large part of respondents were in favor of limiting the freedom of lesbians and gays in their private lives. 42 % of respondents thought that homosexual people should have no right to homosexual sex and 40 % had the opposite view. According to the “Report on Discrimination Due to Sexual Orientation” (2001) in Poland published by the Lambda Warszawa Association, 22 % of Polish gays and lesbians have experienced physical violence, and 51 % have faced mental abuse, including slander, threats and blackmail.
Similarly, a substantial majority of Lithuanians hold very negative views of gays and lesbians. An opinion poll showed that in 1999 78.2% of Lithuanians did not tolerate homosexuality. Only 67.8 of respondents would want to live with homosexual neighbors, while 87.5% would rather live with drug-addicts. It is one of the lowest levels of acceptance of homosexuals in Europe.
The 1998 polls in Latvia revealed that homosexuals constitute one of the largest minority groups distrusted by the population (70 % did not trust them). Surprisingly, the 1999 poll demonstrated that the majority of the public accepted homosexuals and their partnerships. However, stereotypes and myths about homosexuals still prevail in Latvia. Society does not distinguish between homosexuality and pedophilia Homosexuality is often regarded as a threat to the nation and national identity. Some family organizations and political parties described the establishment of lesbian and gay organizations as a “planned genocide against the Latvian nation” and a “gross violation of the human rights” of the Latvian people. There is a large number of homophobic organizations and individuals in Latvia. Their list compiled by one of the Latvian gay websites includes religious denominations, political parties, police departments, ministries and high officials of Latvia.
In 2002 three non-governmental organizations Lithuanian Gay League, Latvian Gay Support Group and Estonian Association for Lesbians and Bisexual Women published a “Report on Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.” This report points to a high level of complexity informing detrimental and discriminatory processes that can result in intended or unintended representations of sexual minorities.
As my research on sexual minorities in Lithuanian mass media demonstrated, gay activists and openly gay persons are often vilified in the country. Lithuania’s sexual minorities tend to be depicted in terms of a restricted repertoire of representations and within contexts characterized by controversy and deviance. Gays and lesbians are categorized negatively and often described to be morally degenerate. In many cases mass media define gay people completely by their "problem" and construct homosexuality appear morally wrong. It is therefore symptomatic that sexual minorities are often related to moral panic in the Lithuanian society.
My analysis of a sample of the primetime programmes on the Lithuanian Public Television and three commercial networks LNK, TV 3 and TV 4 revealed that gay issues were considered neither important nor significant. The most programs emphasized the images of gays and lesbians in terms of controversy, violence and deviance and constructed them in the sexualized and sexist ways. Stories of sexual minorities have usually been framed in such a way.
Several important trends recur through the presentations of homosexuals on the Lithuanian television. Firstly, sexual minorities are given limited credibility in the public arena. TV programmes concern more with the alleged threat posed by sexual minorities through their crimes. Secondly, gay characters are an object of ridicule and derision. Thirdly, the Lithuanian TV perpetuates the association of gays with effeminacy and “deviance.”
According to the report “Lesbians and Gay Men in the Baltic States,” the Latvian media is quite neutral in presenting the topic of homosexuality and homosexuals. However, the large part of information appearing in mass media still contains homophobic and ignorant statements. Positive information about homosexuality is frequently considered as the promotion of homosexuality.
Two main gay and lesbian organizations in Poland, the Lesbian and Gay Association Lambda Warszawa established in 1997 and a non-government organization Campaign Against Homophobia (Kampania Przeciw Homofobii [CPH]) founded in 2001, aim at forming tolerant attitudes towards people of other than heterosexual orientation and removing prejudice and stereotypes concerning them. In their report entitled “Raport o dyskryminacji mniejszoúci seksualnych w Polsce, 2002,” (Report on Discrimination of Sexual Minorities in Poland), these organizations argued that although sexual minorities have increasingly been presented in Polish mass media more objectively, most articles and broadcasts disseminate stereotypical images of gay and lesbians or present them in a sensationalist way. Sexual minorities are often presented as spectacle and exotica leaving issues of discrimination largely unexamined. The right leaning, particularly Catholic, media are particularly active in reproducing myths and stereotypes that sanction homophobia. Another report “Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation in Poland (2001)” found that the Church and mass media are the main organization in Poland fueling and strengthening negative attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuality. Gays and lesbians are mostly mentioned in the context of AIDS, transexuality and pedophilia in press, on the radio and TV. The report quotes a Polish daily “Express Wieczorny” (Evening Express, April 17, 1998, no. 90) that published an ad “Award [goes] to HIV for its special merits in cleansing society of faggots and drug-addicts.”
The development of stereotypical life situations and character traits of homosexual persons occurs for many reasons and largely results in negative portrayals. Some of these practices may be attributable to cultural stereotypes existing in the Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian societies. Stories on sexual minorities are generally produced in accordance with a shared journalistic understanding of the particular news format, audience appeals, story selection and styles of presentation. Journalists tend to maximize stories’ news value by framing it in relation to current controversies and scandals. Furthermore, sexual minority stereotyping is closely related to Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian nationalisms and the fears of “spiritual and physical contamination” of these nations.
As the above reports and research from three countries demonstrate hate speech towards homosexuals continues to be disseminated in the regional media. The Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish case demonstrates that the portrayal of sexual minorities has been changed gradually through the last decade. However, the speed of change is not sufficient. Gays and lesbians are often subject to direct and particularly indirect discrimination including media exclusion, negative representations and homophobia.The reports on discriminations of sexual minorities identify the forms of discrimination. Yet they do not offer any conrete guidelines for combating media intolerance and hate speech.
Conclusions: Minorities and Minority Politics in Lithuania, Poland and Latvia
In discussing matters of representation in three societies, we cannot ignore the facts of intolerance, discursive discrimination and homophobia in the media. Minority identities, either ethnic or sexual, are frequently denied, confined and erased. They are constructed as the other in an oppositional hierarchical relation to the majority. While media coverage of ethnic and sexual minorities has been improving during the last few years, overall it leaves much to be desired. Studies cited above find that the mass media play an unintended but significant role in creating and maintaining intolerance and prejudice against various minorities.
Recent scholarship on ethnic and sexual minorities and representation suggest that the mass mediation of ethnicity, gender and sexuality has strong social consequences. The power of mass media to shape national policy, public opinion and the politics of everyday life has been emphasized by a number of media and minority scholars. This overview is intended to signal the important role of the media in enhancing minority involvement in civil society and democratic participation.
Research addressing minorities in the media also implies that the mass media are privileged as an indicator and a site of struggle over minority politics. A look at the mass media of the region allows to answer the question of how reporting of minorities respond to the shifting cultural politics of ethnic and sexual minorities in these countries. As the examples from three countries have demonstrated, although most legal regulations on protecting the right of various minorities are in place, there is a lack of a comprehensive legal framework and other policy measures for the media and minorities. State programs related to minorities insufficiently address the issue of mass media. Furthermore, in practice legal regulations do not often work. This statement is especially applicable to the media. As report “Minority Protection in Latvia” has interestingly emphasized, there exist, in Latvia, two information spaces, Latvian and Russian, with different points of view and different interpretations. Extending this remark it is possible to argue that the mass media of all three countries discussed have several information spaces engaged in information and representation wars. The issue of representation, i. e. what should or should not be portrayed or represented about ethnic and sexual minorities and which and how many representations of these minorities should be permitted in mass media, is involved in the struggle over the discursive arenas of the public sphere.
To understand better the complex relationships between media, minorities and civil society, it is crucial to resituate questions of ethnic and sexual minorities as central to the theoretical and political projects of mass media studies by demonstrating how minorities have been constitutive of media’s work. To achieve this, the following research questions should be posed: 1) Why and which journalistic norms and practices may foster intolerance and discursive discrimination? 2) How do we decipher more subtle forms of discrimination and intolerance of minorities existing in mass media? 3) How should scholars, media practitioners and policy makers advocate more fitting images of minorities in relation to professional, institutional, commercial, and cultural contexts; and 4) how to articulate effective strategies to create more interculturally sensitive citizens able to engage in civic discourse in the above societies?
The production of demeaning images of ethnic minorities, as research studies indicate, cannot be explained only by the mistakes and shortcomings of individual journalists. It is necessary to attend to various contexts – professional, institutional, commercial, and cultural – and how each of these contexts influences the production of representations of ethnic minorities. These contexts also point to the necessity for a complex and multi-layered strategy to affect the change.
This multi-layered strategy may include enhanced professional training, multicultural awareness and continuing on-the-job monitoring of professional practice and increasing resources for improving minority representation. A combination of factors may contribute to the more positive portrayal of ethnic and sexual minorities, including the development of newsroom awareness of multiculturalism, the pursuit of minority ethnic audiences, the promoting of collaboration between majority and minority-language media and the access of minority groups to mainstream media.
As mass media researchers in Eastern Europe have noted, most countries in the region have no clearly defined guidelines to encourage multi-sided positive depictions of minorities. No effective code of practice regarding ethnic minorities, racism, cultural diversity and related issues exists. No concrete implementation strategy and mechanisms are proposed. That is why more must be done to increase media literacy among minorities themselves offering them practical advice on sending press releases and writing to the press and TV representatives, developing relationships with media practitioners and understanding target audiences. It would be also useful to create a Media Guide to Fair Reporting on Ethnic and Other Minorities presenting a straightforward account of how to report minority issues fairly and offering some practical tips to covering the diverse communities and individuals. As a ready reference to the media legislation, guidelines and codes and a practical tool for media workers involved with the representation of minorities, this guide would help them reach higher standards of accuracy, balance, and fairness in the complex field of multicultural reporting.
This study also emphasizes the imperative for more intercultural training and media literacy for faculty and students, in particular, within academic institutions in the region. This is not to say that such training initiatives and learning experiences do not exist in the region. However, it is more important to create a multi-national program raising the public awareness about misrepresentation of national minorities by the media. It is particularly significant in the view of the accession of the discussed countries to the European Union. Enhancing intercultural dialogue and cooperation between the countries, such program would provide support for media project development by NGOs, media and educational organizations. It would fund projects that, in practical and concrete ways, advance knowledge of intercultural communication, media criticism, human rights and democratic citizenship.