"IN OUR first hundred days, we've published 300 articles," said Kristína Magdolenová, the organiser behind Roma Press Agency (RPA), a Košice-based news organisation created to address the image of Roma in the Slovak media.
After more than two years of fine-tuning the project and looking for sponsors, RPA secured financial support from the Open Society Institute, and kicked off in April 2002, with a full-time staff of seven, and eight external journalists working on stipends.
Magdolenová, head of the pro-Roma civic foundation Ecce and former editor in chief of the Sme daily's Košice bureau, has put together a number of courses for Roma journalists over the past several years, in cooperation with the Bratislava-based Centre for Independent Journalism.
The agency was set up, she says, to address the way that mainstream Slovak media sources habitually present Roma as, "inflexible people, largely thieves and parasites, although there are dozens or even hundreds of artists, experts in their professions and young people willing to study among them."
One graduate of her course is Ivan Hriczko, who broke the colour barrier as a journalist on the defunct TV Global, and is now director of RPA.
"I don't want to say that in Slovakia there is not objective reporting on Roma issues," said Hriczko, explaining the agency's goals.
"Information is objective, but there have been examples of colouring or manipulating issues relating to some Roma settlements. We're here to report things as they really are," he continued.
The agency plans to continue training young Roma in journalism, and is active in helping graduates find employment in the local and regional press, or at RPA itself.
"Our team is like a family," said Hriczko. "Like real Roma, we laugh a lot, sing a lot, dance a lot, and now we also work a lot."
RPA maintains a web-site at www.rpa.sk with select materials available in the English and Romany languages, as well as in Slovak.