Over 90 participants took part last week, 16 and 17 October, in the regional conference “Addressing online hate speech in South East Europe and Turkey: the role of media accountability mechanisms” organized by UNESCO in partnership with the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM) and the Sarajevo Media Centre. The event gathered international and national media experts, as well as journalists, academics and civil society representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Kosovo (as defined under UN Security Council Resolution 1244).
Having examined the professional, legal and political conditions in which the media in the region work, conference participants confirmed that one of the greatest challenges facing media and policy makers is the growth of intolerance in online communication, which often turns into hate speech.
The conference discussions underlined how the changing nature of journalism in the online environment and the participation of the audience in gathering and disseminating information have added new challenges for ethical journalism.
Pointing to areas where efforts could be directed, participants stressed that laws pertaining to hate speech should be harmonized and clearly defined so that no one is penalized for the dissemination of hate speech unless it is shown that they published information with the intention of inciting discrimination, hostility or violence.
Participants also called on media to agree on common standards and a common approach for dealing with hate speech, particularly concerning the moderation and management of user-generated content and online comments on journalistic work, which should involve reaching agreement on editorial guidelines and acceptable codes.
Such codes should be followed up with self-regulatory mechanisms that ensure their implementation and should be tailored to meet the needs of a converged media environment with particular attention to online communications.
Finally, participants highlighted the importance of investing in media and information literacy programmes for raising awareness at all levels of society, through the educational system and media, to encourage public responsibility in the use of information. Such programmes should also encourage media to engage with the audience in raising awareness of the dangers of intolerant and hateful speech, particularly in the online environment.