Editors – key factor against hate speech

It refers to a whole spectrum of negative speech, ranging from speech that expresses, incites, calls for or promotes hatred, offensive words and epithets, and even extreme examples of prejudice or stereotypes. In addition to direct speech, hate speech includes many other forms of expression.

The way the media presents and gives voice/visibility to different social actors, i.e. the way they focus or frame negative phenomena and processes, can inadvertently encourage stereotypes, intolerance, and prejudice or hate speech, instead of fighting against them.

Are the media creators of hate speech? They can be, and we can label them as such, but they are more of a channel and an instrument for spreading the hate speech created by the political parties, the government, the institutions and the radical social groups, etc. That is why we do not stress that the media are the only ones that produce and publish or broadcast hate speech.

Yet, the role of the media is quite significant in the process of spreading hate speech and creating a favourable climate for gaining momentum.

That is the reason journalists, editors, and especially editors-in-chief, as the main creators of editorial policy and the responsible actors for the content published in the media, have a great responsibility, especially to the public, because hate speech and expressions containing elements of hate speech have a detrimental effect if disseminated through the mass media communication channels.

Journalists, and especially media editors, should be engaged on a daily basis in preventing hate speech in the media, rather than spread it themselves.

The Council of Media Ethics organized a workshop in February on “The role of newsrooms in preventing hate speech, discrimination and disinformation”. Experienced journalists and editors of call-in shows, which often use hate speech, were among the participants on the workshop.

Stole Naumov, the host and editor of the “Stadion” [Stadium] show on Radio Kanal 77 [Channel 77], believes that the media should skilfully distinguish between hate speech vs. slander and insult. “My threshold as to what constitutes hate speech is very high, because the risk is that hate speech will be used against journalists to impose censorship by politicians or those trying to control the media”.

Journalists constantly write about the differences, and diversities based on ethnicity, religion, race, gender, sexuality, social background, etc. Based on that fact, when writing about sensitive social topics, they could cause hatred.

Still, this does not mean that the media should refrain from reporting when hate speech comes directly from the mouths of various social actors. However, it is especially important for journalists and editors not to be the authors of hate speech or reproduce hate speech in their work. When reporting, they should identify hate speech by others, especially when it comes to statements and interviews of politicians and public figures, and let the audience know who is using that type of speech. On the other hand, if the messages contain direct hate speech, they should not be published, because publishing in particular is a violation of the freedom of expression.

Journalists and editors should be very careful and selective when it comes to direct hate speech, due to the fact that we live in a region with ethnic and religious specifics.

Given that hate speech can incite violence, discrimination, as well as incite or justify xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, the need to restrain hate speech, as much as possible, is justified.

That is why editors should be careful, especially in cases where hate speech leads to violence, and is expressed by the audience. In this respect, we are primarily referring to the comments published in the online media. Hence, the role of editors in these media is very important. Namely, online media, as well as traditional media, have a responsibility not to publish comments that can reach a level of hate speech, exceeding the limits of public criticism.

In order to distinguish these two forms and refrain from spreading hate speech in the media, editors need to strengthen their role within the newsrooms. They should not be just selectors of information collected by journalists who, due to various factors, especially in certain pro-government media, are mere transmitters of the statements of politicians that often contain ethno-nationalist and aggressive propaganda discourse.

When it comes to live broadcasts on television or radio, the editors, or presenters, should immediately refrain from using violence and hate speech against such language.

Ognen Janeski is the host and editor of the show “Ochi v ochi” [Eye to eye] on TV 24. He thinks that there was a lot of disinformation and hate speech in the case of the pandemic, to which it was impossible to give the right answers that the viewers expected. “When we talk about hate speech, call-in shows, in my opinion, have become harmful to society in general”, stated Janeski.

He believes that although journalists are not educators, they should still warn citizens when they are using hate speech.

On the other hand, Stole Naumov is of the opinion that in the call-in shows there is not as much hate speech compared to the period 4 years ago, or compared to social media networks, where people can be anonymous. “My idea and my intention is to always allow the listeners to say something that is on the verge of hate speech, rather than pour that speech into the street and cause incidents”, says Naumov.

When it comes to live broadcasts on television or radio stations, editors, or presenters, should immediately repudiate the use of violence and hate speech and call those spreading violence and hate speech to refrain from using such language.

Zoran Fidanoski, journalist and member of the Council of the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services has a more rigid attitude regarding the approach to the listeners/viewers in live broadcasts.

“If explicit hate speech is used in a live show, the hosts are obliged to warn the citizens that they are using hate speech and tell them to refrain from using it. If they continue, they should literally be disconnected”, Fidanoski said at the workshop organized by the Council of Media Ethics.

The same should happen when there are live broadcasts of events such as protests, demonstrations or riots, and if there is hate speech, they should intervene and distance themselves in a clear manner.

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