The media have a strong influence on Serbian society and a corresponding responsibility in combating hate speech. Media representatives should not only refrain from hate speech, but also emphasize and promote positive and value-oriented arguments about members of vulnerable groups, thus helping to break down prevailing stereotypes and prejudices. The existing legal framework does not appear to be effective – the media community needs to put in place a system of collective self-regulation based on agreed codes of conduct and mechanisms to deal with complaints about hate speech.
This was underlined in the presentation of the new “Report on the Use of Hate Speech in Serbian Media”, which was prepared within the framework of the joint action of the European Union and the Council of Europe “Promoting Diversity and Equality in Serbia”.
“The pandemic has sparked a new wave of hate speech. I am concerned about the further polarization of public discourse, ”he said Tobias Flessenkemper, Head of the Council of Europe office in Belgrade. “COVID-19-related hate speech involves expressions of contempt for individuals and groups. Scapegoat, stereotyping, stigma and the use of derogatory and sometimes violent language can also be observed in Serbia. It is particularly aimed at people and groups who are already marginalized: the elderly, Roma, LGBTI people, ethnic minorities, migrants and foreigners. Although hate speech is widely spread by members of the public, its consequences are exacerbated by the inflammatory rhetoric of politicians and others in influence, including the media, ”he concluded, adding that the media play a key role in combating the public phenomenon.
Brankica Janković, Commissioner for the Protection of Equality of Serbiastressed the continued support given by the European Union and the Council of Europe to the institution of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality. “Many who spread hate speech often refer to freedom of expression. It should be noted that freedom of expression is not and cannot be an excuse for hate speech. There is a clear distinction between the two,” said Commissioner Janković. “The Commissioner for the Protection of Equality in Serbia there have been many cases related to influential people. There is certainly room for improvement, but it is clear that justice cannot be selective and there are no protected persons,” she concluded.
“Hate speech is a universal problem and a unified and coordinated approach to tackling it is needed,” he said Mateja Norčič Štamcar, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Serbia in their opening remarks. As she noted, previous European Commission reports on Serbia have shown that hate speech in the media is widely tolerated and that regulators are not addressing the issue as much as they should. “The European Commission is closely following the measures Serbia is taking to combat hate speech, but this fight is a chain in which everyone has their link in responsibility. I hope that any future report will show progress in combating this phenomenon, ”she concluded.
The new report, covering the period from November to December 2020, includes examples of hate speech in the media in Serbia, which confirm and illustrate the findings of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in its report on Serbia 2017. In its 2017 report, ECRI noted that media in Serbia often use inflammatory, derogatory and nationalist language and continue to report hate speech by politicians and other public figures, which amplifies its impact. The inflammatory language used in the media adds to the growing tensions between ethnic groups in Serbia and the region, according to the ECRI report.
The report concludes that Serbia needs a media environment that allows for a lively and balanced public debate and enables citizens to receive impartial information on issues of public interest. In such an environment, hate speech needs to be eliminated.
The report also highlights the importance of the role of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, the Ombudsman, judges specializing in anti-discrimination law, as well as the electronic media regulator, the press council and journalistic associations.
Report on the use of hate speech in Serbian media in English Serbian
The report was prepared in the framework of the action “Promoting Diversity and Equality in Serbia”, which is part of the joint program of the European Union and the Council of Europe “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022”.
More information about the Horizontal Facility Program