Romani TV channel plugs media gap in Hungary

4 min

Budapest (AFP)

The message from a dingy Budapest studio is slick. Grinning staff of Hungarian cable channel Dikh TV shout at the camera: "About the Roma but not just for the Roma!"

The promotional slot captures the mission of Hungary's first dedicated Roma TV station: to bring the culture of their marginalised community to a wider audience.

At around seven percent of a near 10-million-population, the Roma form the EU member's largest minority group.

But more than 80 percent live in poverty, according to EU data, and experts say many suffer from deep-rooted discrimination and accelerating school segregation.

Launched on YouTube in 2015, Budapest-based Dikh TV -- whose name means "Look" in the Romani language -- is scaling up and could present a rare Roma success story.

Since September its blend of light entertainment and youth content -– including a Romani-language educational programme –- is available to millions of households on Hungary's cable networks.

And with a wealthy media investor now ploughing in funds and expertise, the channel will move to a modern studio in April.

New programmes, both commissioned and home-made, including a live breakfast show, are also planned.

"We started as amateurs but are becoming professional," anchorwoman Fruzsina Balogh, 26, told AFP in a back office that doubles as a make-up room.

- Ignored by mainstream -

Her relative, Dikh TV's founder Elek Balogh, 48, grew up as one of nine children in a "Gypsy-settlement", a street of earth-and-straw brick houses in the town of Nagyecsed near the Romanian border.

His interest in media began when his father, who worked in Budapest as a labourer, gifted him a camera.

After moving to the capital himself, Balogh told AFP he "got bored" of mainstream media "failing" his community.

Public media only broadcasts a short weekly Roma cultural magazine in a little-watched early morning slot.

"Most media is not interested in the reality of our lives. We're usually shown in a bad light," Balogh said during a production break.

"A crime committed by a Gypsy gets wide publicity; the same crimes by non-Roma don't," he explained.

Self-taught in media skills and borrowing friends' equipment, Balogh began broadcasting Dikh TV online, first with a music request show, then -- after encouraging feedback from viewers -- a talk show.

A breakthrough came after he made a music clip with a teen talent that attracted millions of views.

Next, Balogh wrote and directed a gritty soap opera featuring a Roma family struggling with debt, a situation endured by many Hungarians.

"It had relatable characters, so we got letters from non-Roma fans too," he said.

Bernard Rorke of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre says Dikh's "importance lies in presenting a nuanced view of Roma broadcast by Roma".

Its success though depends "on the outcome of a broader struggle for media pluralism and for minority voices to be heard and heeded in Hungary," he told AFP.

- Friction -

Friction between Roma and non-Roma has been roiled again recently by Hungary's populist premier Viktor Orban.

Orban said Hungarians were angry about a court ruling awarding Roma financial compensation over a school segregation case, describing the decision as "deeply unfair".

Right groups and Roma community representatives slammed Orban's comments.

"We are the scapegoats even if a court defends us," Balogh said while adding that Dikh TV deliberately steers clear of politics.

The channel has still attracted negative attention, with some billboards for its cable launch daubed with racist graffiti and Balogh getting "abusive telephone calls" every week.

Last year an ultra-nationalist politician accused the channel of "anti-Hungarian racism" and said its "foreign funding" could pose a national security threat.

Romanian investor Radu Morar, a successful TV and radio magnate, shrugs off such accusations, and says Dikh is plugging a gap in the market.

"I've found Hungarians' reaction fantastic generally. They love the cooking programme, discovering Roma recipes," Morar told AFP.

Dikh's business prospects "look positive so far," said Daniel Szalay, editor of the news site.

"It has serious financial backing, a major advertising sales contract recently signed and can make programmes at low cost," he told AFP.

With Dikh now employing some 20 staff, mainly Roma, Balogh says he appreciates no longer being a "one-man crew".

"Back in Nagyecsed all the Gypsies watch it and are proud of its success. That's a wonderful feeling," he said.