CMEM, AVMS and the Ombudsman must have mutual synergy to eradicate hate speech and discrimination

If we accept that hate speech should be understood as a term that encompasses all forms of expression that propagate, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hate based on intolerance, including intolerance expressed as aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility towards minorities of all kinds (ethnic, gender, social), migrants and people of immigrant origin (such is the recommendation of the Council of Europe), there must be a consensus that it is a profound anomaly in the society. Especially for societies such as the Macedonian, which belong to the category – transitional democracies.

In such societies, discrimination can be found at virtually every step, and often it is easily transformed into hate speech – through stereotyping, unnecessary emphasis on the affiliation of the actors of a certain event, negative contextualization, over-focusing on some marginal phenomena, etc. It is especially present on the Internet, primarily on social networks, where actors do not refrain from using the afore-stated in combination with their basic instincts, inspired by the desire for the stigmatizing the other at all costs.

It is also found in the media, although much less frequently in recent years. If last year the Council for Media Ethics of Macedonia received four complaints forwarded by the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services, and found elements of hate speech and discrimination in two of them – many would see this as a sign that the emerging form of hate speech and discrimination is subsiding in the media. It is gratifying that there is less and less of this among broadcasters, compared to before, when the public witnessed a real arsenal of inappropriate outbursts of people who propagated everything that was contrary to the synergy of all social foundations. Especially in view of the legal changes from 2018 which enabled the AVMS to receive a mechanism for misdemeanour proceedings and sanctioning of perpetrators, although there are still dilemmas whether the prescribed amount (maximum five thousand euros) is sufficient to curb such occurrences. This mechanism has not been used in the previous two years. But, that does not mean the alarm should be turned off.

First and foremost, an adequate system of state sanctions must and should be established, as well as free legal aid and raising public awareness. What is expected from the law enforcement agencies, first of all, the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office, but also the Commission for Protection against Discrimination is to react quickly, fully and efficiently to such phenomena and to cut them in the root. Although, it must be said that the practice so far has shown that these two institutions have not shown significant efficiency in eliminating these social anomalies. Therefore, the recommendation from relevant international reports is that there should be feedback with which the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office and other competent institutions will inform the AVMS, to what extent the requests related to hate speech and discrimination are handled.

The effect will be even better if for any media content that has elements of hate speech, based on the decisions of the Appeals Commission, the Ethics Council submits a request for criminal proceedings to the Public Prosecutor and, at the same time, informs the Ombudsman to take measures for protection of discriminated persons or groups. Only in this way we would be able to say that the system responded in a timely and efficient manner to any occurrence of hate speech.

A second area where fruitful cooperation can be achieved between CMEM, AVMS and the Ombudsman, of course, is the protection of minors from programmes that may harm their physical, mental or moral development, such as bans on pornography and excessive violence on screens. The regulator has introduced a categorization of the programmes – which content can be broadcast at what time of the day, as well as the mandatory blurring of the faces of persons under 18 in journalist news stories and other content that deals with topics related to minors.

There is already cooperation in terms of media literacy, especially through the Media Literacy Network, where CMEM and AVMS are members, and the Ombudsman is an observer. But, there is a need for improvement in the field of social inclusion – more precisely in the adaptation of programmes for people with sensory disabilities. So far, very few broadcasters have made this possible. There is an attempt through their self-regulation to increase that percentage in the next few years. However, it is necessary for the Ombudsman, through various modalities (announcements, indications, media campaigns), to emphasize the importance of social inclusion of such persons in society.

AVMS and CMEM also cooperate in the implementation of the basic program principles of the broadcasters, especially those for:

  • nurturing and developing human and moral values and protecting privacy and dignity
  • equality of freedoms and rights regardless of gender, race, national, ethnic and social origin, political and religious beliefs, property and social status of citizens
  • fostering a spirit of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding between individuals of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds
  • protection of the identity of victims of violence
  • respect for the presumption of innocence
  • fostering international understanding and cooperation, a sense of justice for the public and the defence of democratic freedoms.

With the legal changes from 2018, the Council established the practice for all supervision reports related to these principles, as well as the imposed measures to be sent to CMEM for review by the Appeals Commission in terms of compliance with the Code of Journalists of Macedonia, and related with these principles, as well as with the respect of the professional journalistic standards in the work of the media. The cooperation can be improved in the sense that all problematic content registered either ex officio or upon receiving a complaint by the AVMS, instead of analyzing them, the Agency should immediately forward them to the CMEM Appeals Commission. Except for the last principle (respect for professional standards), which is the subject of internal observation of the journalistic profession, for all other principles there is room for the Ombudsman to be involved,

In fact, these points were reached in the online debate entitled “Connecting the self-regulatory body, the media broadcasting regulator and the Ombudsman in the protection of human rights and addressing hate speech in the media”. The debate opened several questions, several topics of common interest and conclusions calling for coordinated action to raise public awareness, education and sensitization of journalists and the NGO sector and other influential individuals and groups in public life, through more frequent debates and trainings which, unequivocally, will increase the capacity for their recognition and condemnation. This refers first and foremost to the state institutions. Because without their full, effective and dedicated involvement in eradicating such deviant social phenomena all other calls and appeals will remain just that, calls and appeals.

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