Hatred and negative feelings are the result of a growing decline in professional standards

adamceAuthor: Mirche Adamchevski, President of the Appeals Commission at CMEM

In recent years, hate speech, discrimination and disinformation have become a distinctive feature of journalism in our country. They are mostly found in online media, but certain electronic and print media are not excluded from the equation.

The consequences of this type of journalism are all around us. It is enough to see the comments in the online media or the call-in shows on the televisions and radio stations. Disinformation, discrimination, incitement of aggression have become quite prevalent, and all this is carried out under the guise of freedom of expression, as if no one is worried about what is happening under the published text. Also, the line that leading journalists leave for viewers and listeners to uphold, who can easily cross and break the rules and norms, is very thin.

What is the role of newsrooms or editors and journalists in violating professional norms? Some might say that the blame for hate speech, discrimination and disinformation lies with those who have written the comments under the text in the online media, or to the viewers and listeners who contact the call-in shows. But, if one carefully follows the comments of the external "collaborators" in them, then we can say that, not every time, but often, the journalists and editors are the instigators of such communication.

The reasons for the above-stated run deep. Veselin Kljajic, a professor of journalism at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade, says that the dominance of negative content in the media has lasted for more than 10 years, and that aggression, hatred and negative feelings caused by the media are a consequence of the growing decline in professional standards. "The only way for the media to earn their content in such circumstances is to play the click bait card, and thus try to make profit, and exert their influence. The new age of fake news, post-truth, post-journalism and post-media has brought upon us a complete paradox - instead of influencing by affirming the credibility, integrity and dignity of the media and journalists, influence is achieved with through the number of clicks - the more clicks, the more influential you are, that is, the greater the readability, the greater the assumption is that the impact is greater", said Kljajic. He adds that there are those who do not do that consciously, but due to ignorance, laziness, lack of professionalism, time and inability to cross-check the information, and in that practice, professional journalism becomes an inevitable victim.

The above-mentioned reasons can be freely classified as regional. According to Professor Enes Osmancevic, a member of the Bosnian Press Council, "Hate speech in the media in the countries of former Yugoslavia has been constant for the last twenty years. Of course, over the years it has varied, with different forms and intensity, depending on the medium, through glorification of major nationalist projects, preparation for war, during the war, but also after its completion, through national, religious, racial intolerance, intolerance of one’s sexual orientation, hatred of minorities and incitement".

The question now is whether the media, and above all editors and journalists, are exonerated from spreading hatred, discrimination and disinformation. When it comes to hate speech, it is sanctioned in our country by the Criminal Code. Practice shows that, unfortunately, hate speech seems to be a taboo subject for prosecutors and courts. The effect of sanctions in the fight against the growing hate speech would be greater if they were applied consistently and equally to all, without delaying the proceedings. However, on their own, they are not enough. The Network for Combating Hate Speech, initiated by CMEM, can find its place in this respect.

The fact that hate speech is a crime does not mean that everything should be left to the courts and that they should condemn or exonerate the media and editors from their responsibility. It is very important that editors and journalists in their articles take care of their impact on the general public, and not just fish for clicks or influence. Also, in the call-in shows, journalists should be careful not to cross the fine line between freedom of expression and hate speech.

From the practice of the Appeals Commission of the CMEM, there are examples in which the journalist "loses focus" and starts to "digress" and discriminate against the viewer in the call-in shows. The Code of Ethics and Professionalism imposes on journalists a special responsibility for the publicly spoken word. Their views are important factors in shaping public opinion, which is why hate speech is incompatible with journalistic ethics. A professional journalist would never talk about personalities based on stereotypes and prejudices about race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical disability, physical appearance or social status.

There is an interesting phenomenon in our journalism. Many media, electronic or online, collaborate with external collaborators. Be it shows whose producers are out of the medium or journalists who write articles for a medium. In some of these shows or texts in the Commission we have witnessed discrimination or hatred. When we ask the media for an answer about their unprofessional behaviour, for which we have received appeals, they pretend that nothing happened. Still, the answer they give often time reads: "The views expressed in the show do not necessarily represent the views of the television station". Responsibility shifts to its author or production. The editors of the television station also think that the work is done and they have no responsibility. They forget that the editors of those media are responsible for everything they broadcast. Sometimes, the editors would be the one to emphasize that "We have a disclaimer in which we say that the views of the authors are their personally views, and not the views of our media”!. How about the spread of hate speech by that author in the media of those editors?

Last year we received several appeals in which the applicants complained about false news and disinformation. Whether it was unintentional or intention, it seems to me that in search of clicks with sensational topics, the articles were usually reported from the foreign media. And at the same time, if looked as if everyone forgot that we were in a state of emergency and that with that type of disinformation the citizens could be confused and manipulated. When it comes to someone's health, citizens refer to any information related to the afore-stated. They are not aware that they have been reading disinformation. Fortunately, things have changed in a positive way in recent months.

Finally, the conclusion from CMEM expressed on the recent workshop: "Ignorance of the risks of speech abuse and the use of hate speech, even on social media networks, can cause social tensions, which could disrupt public order and peace. That is why journalists, and especially editors-in-chief, have a great responsibility, above all, to the general public, because hate speech and the expressions that contain elements of hate speech have a detrimental effect, if they are spread through the mass media. More importantly, editors need to be careful, especially in cases where the same speech leads to violence and is expressed by the audience".