Hate-speech: A five-point test ...

Pakistan Observer - - IN­TER­NA­TIONAL -

high­lights some ques­tions to be asked in the gath­er­ing, prepa­ra­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion of news and in­for­ma­tion that will help jour­nal­ists and edi­tors place what is said and who is say­ing it in an eth­i­cal con­text.

1. The po­si­tion or sta­tus of the speaker: Jour­nal­ists are of­ten ac­cused of hate-speech, and in­deed some com­men­ta­tors will­ingly in­dulge in provoca­tive and abu­sive talk when it suits them, but in the vast ma­jor­ity of cases jour­nal­ists and me­dia are guilty only of re­port­ing the foul-mouthed state­ments of oth­ers.

In par­tic­u­lar, jour­nal­ists and me­dia are reg­u­larly trapped by me­dia-savvy and un­scrupu­lous politi­cians and com­mu­nity lead­ers. These skil­ful users of me­dia stir up dis­putes and dis­cord in sup­port of their own prej­u­dices and big­oted opin­ions and rely on me­dia to give coverage to their sen­sa­tional claims and opin­ions no mat­ter how in­cen­di­ary they are.

Jour­nal­ists and edi­tors must un­der­stand that just be­cause some­one says some­thing out­ra­geous that does not make it news. Jour­nal­ists have to ex­am­ine the con­text in which it is said and the sta­tus and rep­u­ta­tion of who is say­ing it.

A rab­ble-rous­ing politi­cian who is adept in ma­nip­u­lat­ing an au­di­ence should not get me­dia coverage just be­cause they cre­ate a neg­a­tive cli­mate or make un­sub­stan­ti­ated and con­tro­ver­sial com­ments.

When peo­ple who are not pub­lic fig­ures en­gage in hate-speech, it might be wise to ig­nore them en­tirely. A good ex­am­ple is Terry Jones the Qu­ran-burn­ing pas­tor in Florida who was an un­known per­son with mar­ginal in­flu­ence even in his ru­ral back­wa­ter but who be­came an overnight global me­dia sen­sa­tion. On re­flec­tion most eth­i­cal jour­nal­ists might say he was en­ti­tled to no pub­lic­ity for his provoca­tive threats

Even when peo­ple are pub­lic fig­ures me­dia have to make sure they do not draw un­due at­ten­tion to politi­cians and other in­flu­en­tial peo­ple whose only aim is to cre­ate a neg­a­tive cli­mate to­wards peo­ple whose rights should be re­spected, par­tic­u­larly those from vul­ner­a­ble and marginalised groups. Of­ten these rights are recog­nised un­der con­sti­tu­tional guar­an­tees at home and glob­ally.

In par­tic­u­lar, jour­nal­ists have to scru­ti­nise speak­ers and an­a­lyse their words, ex­am­ine their facts and claims, and judge care­fully the in­ten­tion and im­pact of their in­ter­ven­tions. It is not the job of jour­nal­ists to adopt counter po­si­tions, but claims and facts should be tested, who­ever is speak­ing.

Free­dom of speech is a right for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing politi­cians and pub­lic fig­ures and it is the job of the jour­nal­ist to en­sure that ev­ery­one has their say, but that does not mean grant­ing a li­cence to lie, or spread ma­li­cious gos­sip or to en­cour­age hos­til­ity and vi­o­lence against any par­tic­u­lar group. When peo­ple speak out of turn good jour­nal­ism should be there to set the record straight for all.

2. The reach of the speech: A pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion in a pub­lic place can in­clude the most un­speak­able opin­ions but do rel­a­tively lit­tle harm and so would not nec­es­sar­ily breach the test of hate­speech. But that changes if the speech is dis­sem­i­nated through main­stream me­dia or the In­ter­net.

Jour­nal­ists also have to con­sider the fre­quency and ex­tent of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion – is it a short mo­men­tary, in­tem­per­ate burst of in­vec­tive and ha­tred, or is it re­peated de­lib­er­ately and con­tin­u­ously?

An­swer­ing the ques­tion of the news­wor­thi­ness and in­ten­tion may be helped by con­sid­er­ing if there is a pat­tern of be­hav­iour or if it is a one-time in­ci­dent. Rep­e­ti­tion is a use­ful in­di­ca­tor of a de­lib­er­ate strat­egy to en­gen­der hos­til­ity to­wards oth­ers, whether based upon eth­nic, racial, re­li­gious or other form of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

3. The ob­jec­tives of the speech: Nor­mally, eth­i­cal jour­nal­ists and wellinformed edi­tors will be able to quickly iden­tify whether the speech is de­lib­er­ately in­tended to at­tack or di­min­ish the hu­man rights of in­di­vid­u­als and groups. They should also know whether such speech is sub­ject to crim­i­nal or other sanc­tions. It is some­times nec­es­sary for jour­nal­ists to break the rules, but they should at all times be aware of the risks when they de­cide to pub­lish.

As part of the re­port­ing process, jour­nal­ists and edi­tors have a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to place the speech in its proper con­text – to dis­close and re­port what are the ob­jec­tives of the speaker. It is not our in­ten­tion to de­lib­er­ately ex­pose or di­min­ish peo­ple with whom we dis­agree, but care­ful, eth­i­cal re­port­ing al­ways helps peo­ple bet­ter un­der­stand the con­text in which speech is made.

The key ques­tions to ask are: What are the ben­e­fits to the speaker and the in­ter­ests that he or she rep­re­sents? Who are vic­tims of the speech and what is the im­pact upon them, both as in­di­vid­u­als and within their com­mu­nity?

4. The con­tent and form of speech: Jour­nal­ists have to judge whether the speech is provoca­tive and di­rect, in what form it is made, and the style in which it is de­liv­ered. There’s a world of dif­fer­ence be­tween some­one sound­ing off in the café or speak­ing within a small group and a speech made in a pub­lic place, be­fore an ex­citable au­di­ence.

Lots of peo­ple have of­fen­sive ideas and opin­ions. That’s not a crime, and it’s not a crime to make these opin­ions pub­lic (peo­ple do it on the in­ter­net and so­cial net­works rou­tinely), but the words and im­ages they use can be dev­as­tat­ing if they in­cite oth­ers to vi­o­lence.

Jour­nal­ists ask them­selves: is this speech or ex­pres­sion dan­ger­ous? Could it lead to pros­e­cu­tion un­der the law? Will it in­cite vi­o­lence or pro­mote an in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of ha­tred to­wards oth­ers? It might be news­wor­thy if some­one uses speech that could get them into trou­ble with the po­lice, but jour­nal­ists have to be wary – they, too, could find them­selves fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion for quot­ing it.

5. The eco­nomic, so­cial and political cli­mate: Speech that is dan­ger­ous or con­tro­ver­sial arises par­tic­u­larly when times are hard, so­cial ten­sions are acute and politi­cians are at war with one another.

Jour­nal­ists must take into ac­count the pub­lic at­mos­phere at the time the speech is be­ing made. The heat of an elec­tion cam­paign when political groups are chal­leng­ing each other and jostling for pub­lic at­ten­tion of­ten pro­vides the back­ground for in­flam­ma­tory com­ments. Jour­nal­ists have to judge whether ex­pres­sion is fair, fact-based and rea­son­able in the cir­cum­stances.

Where we have doubt about di­rectly quot­ing hate­ful speech it may be use­ful to re­port that in­sult­ing com­ments were made with­out re­peat­ing the ex­act terms of the in­sult.

Above all jour­nal­ists have to be care­ful. They should recog­nise the con­text in­clud­ing where there are pat­terns of dis­crim­i­na­tion against eth­nic and other groups, in­clud­ing in­dige­nous peoples and mi­nori­ties.

They are not groups who are en­ti­tled to priv­i­leged me­dia at­ten­tion be­cause jour­nal­ists have to re­spect the rights of all, but they are of­ten the vic­tims of par­tic­u­lar tar­get­ing.

An aca­demic de­bate over mi­gra­tion held in the con­text of dis­cus­sion of re­search and con­tro­ver­sial find­ings can be rel­a­tively in­nocu­ous or neu­tral but the same de­bate may be­come dan­ger­ous if it is held in the con­text of lo­cal and spe­cific con­di­tions, where peo­ple are un­cer­tain and anx­ious about their se­cu­rity and fu­ture.

It is im­por­tant for jour­nal­ists to ask them­selves: what is the im­pact of this on the peo­ple im­me­di­ately af­fected by the speech? Are they able to ab­sorb the speech in con­di­tions of rel­a­tive se­cu­rity? Is this ex­pres­sion de­signed or in­tended to make mat­ters worse or bet­ter? Who is af­fected neg­a­tively by the ex­pres­sion?

This five-point test has been de­vel­oped by Eth­i­cal Jour­nal­ists Net­work (EJN) and it is based on in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. The EJN pro­motes ethics, good gov­er­nance and in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tion of me­dia con­tent. The Net­work was formed in 2011 as a uni­fy­ing pro­fes­sional cam­paign bring­ing to­gether own­ers, edi­tors and me­dia staff to strengthen the craft of jour­nal­ism. It works across all plat­forms and sup­ports part­ner­ship at na­tional and in­ter­na­tional level be­tween me­dia, jour­nal­ism sup­port groups and the pub­lic. Ai­dan White who has visited Pak­istan a num­ber of times and helped form the Coali­tion for Eth­i­cal Jour­nal­ism, Pak­istan is the Net­work’s Direc­tor, He is work­ing with me­dia part­ners across the globe on new and in­no­va­tive ways to sup­port in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism and pro­mo­tion of jour­nal­ists’ rights.

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