Contemporary Journalism -> Macedonia
Hate speech and the Macedonian media
CONSIDERING THE RECENT WAR, LOW INTENSITY OF HATE SPEECH
04.07.2005: Emilija Petreska
No article about “hate speech” and electronic media in the Republic of Macedonia would be honest or consistent if it failed to acknowledge two facts. One is that in Macedonia no methodically sound research has been conducted yet which would focus on any potential hate speech on commercial and public radio and TV stations. The other is that from what has been concluded so far in tracing this trend, especially after 2001, it does not appear in the electronic media in the same form and intensity as in other former Yugoslav republics, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, it would be equally unfair to assume that hate speech does not appear in the electronic media of a country that went through a war crisis only a couple of years ago and where there is almost no topic to which an ethnic aspect cannot be attached. From practical examples, it seems that elements of hate speech in electronic media in Macedonia particularly appear in times of significant political processes or events, especially during their preparation, when political subjects in the country engage in a heated and, quite often, ethnically highlighted debate. This is especially valid of two instances in recent Macedonian history. One is a poll on the new territorial organization of the country, which was carried out in the fall of 2004, and the other is the war crisis of 2001.
Hate Speech – a Question of Journalistic Ethics
The expression “hate speech” is a complex series of issues through which freedom of speech and media/journalistic ethics are interwoven.
On one hand, relying on the freedom of receiving and transmitting information, as per Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention, the media are obliged to inform the citizens of everything, including any occurrence of hate speech.
On the other hand, the decision on a journalist’s course of action (at the level of articles), or an editor’s (at the level of shows or entire programs), in the case of hate speech occurrences, is in its entirety – an ethical issue.
Hate speech can come from a number of sources, which elicits various degrees of responsibility from the media. One kind of responsibility is when they are to broadcast information that includes hate speech, the author of which is not the media house itself but some politician or another public personality. Another kind of responsibility they have is when reporters do not conceptualize or identify hate speech in calls from listeners or viewers in live broadcasts. The greatest responsibility of the media comes when their reporters consciously, or even deliberately, use hate speech, thereby supporting it and causing its reoccurrence and reinforcement in society.
It has been seen in practice that Macedonian electronic media have already stood before the challenge of solving the ethical dilemma stemming from the following factors – what is the nature of the statements broadcast, their purpose and consequences? Should they deal simply with their duty to transmit information and adhere to this principle regardless of everything? And thereby consider that they have distanced themselves from the statements by simply airing a sound recording of the statements spoken by the authors? Or, attempt to assess the implications, and then on that basis decide that they are bad or unpredictable enough to be aired, thus failing to inform the public? Or, trying to find a middle path, to weigh the balance of principles and consequences, and then conceptualize the statement, in its original form or rephrased, and then identify it as hate speech?
Legal Framework: European Foundation, Macedonian Application
The dilemma of what to do with statements/announcements/information containing hate speech is not all that unsolvable, as it might seem at first. Namely, the purpose of the language of racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination and intolerance toward ethnic minorities, immigrants and persons of immigrant origin, and aggressive nationalism and ethnocentricity, which all put together can in short be defined as hate speech, is to instigate hatred or violence. Hence, the solution to this dilemma lies in the foundation of freedom of speech itself – Article 10 of the European Human Rights Convention. This Article was tailored from two very nicely deliberated and mutually balanced outlooks.
The first outlook guarantees “freedom of personal opinion and receiving and transmitting of information or ideas, without any interference from the government and regardless of borders.” (Council of Europe, 1950)
The second stance then comes in to support the first, emphasizing that the realization of these freedoms carries an obligation that could “make it the subject of such formalities, conditions, limitations or penalties, as defined by law and which are necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, with the purpose of crime or riot prevention, for the protection of public health or moral values, of the reputation or rights of others, for protection from publicizing confidential information or for maintaining the authority and independence of the judiciary.” (Council of Europe, 1950)
This is exactly the foundation of the Recommendation of the Council of Europe about “hate speech”, pointing out that informing the public of various forms of intolerance is completely protected under Article 10 of the Convention and can only be prevented under the conditions of the same. Governments are thereby required to regulate this issue with a consistent legal framework, relying on unbiased criteria.
Such a framework for the Macedonian electronic media is the Broadcasting Law, specifically Articles 8, 31 and 35. They determine the principles that are the basis for broadcasting activity and under which programs are created. Thus, simultaneously with the prohibition of censorship and a clause on independence of electronic media from the government or any other political subject, there is the prohibition of airing anti-constitutional, militant contents and contents directed against members of other nations, races or religions. These articles stress the need of promoting the spirit of tolerance, mutual respect and understanding between individuals of different ethnicities; respect for the freedom, rights, and dignity of man; the equality of rights and freedoms regardless of sex and race, skin color, national or social background, political or religious convictions etc. For the disregard of Article 35, which especially stresses prohibition of broadcasting any contents directed toward violent overthrowing of the constitutional order, inciting military aggression, or fueling national, racial, or religious hatred or intolerance, this Law enjoins a penalty for the broadcaster (Article 85), in the range of 100,000 to 300,000 denars, or a ban on any broadcasting activity for a period of six months to one year.
This Law was amended with the Recommendation of the Broadcasting Council of R. Macedonia (BC) about transmitting information from conditions of great tensions, military and other armed conflict, issued in 2001. This document is a result of effort on the part of the Council to present to the media possible solutions to the dilemma – what to do with “statements, announcements and other contents that might sway the audiences into violence or encourage hatred” (Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia, 2001).
Radio and TV are thereby presented with several options:
- To transmit the statement in its entirety, but with providing additional factual context and tone that moderates the negative connotation or allegations in the statement;
- To rephrase the statement, partially or fully, in a manner that will retain the essence of the message, yet lessen the negativity;
- During live broadcasting (interviews, debates), when any of the participants come up with such statements, the reporter should indicate the possible implications of such an action;
- If the statement is aired from a public event (rally, protest etc.) where the speaker cannot be directly contacted, the reporter at the spot, or the editor at the studio, should provide an adequate analytical context as a framework for the statement, or any additional information or an alternative opinion (Broadcasting Council of RM, 2001).
The injunction concerned with the broadcasting of hate speech is included in another document of the BC. These are Recommendations for electronic media coverage of the 2004 referendum, under which the Council monitored radio and television coverage of the poll.
The 2004 Referendum
The motive to include a part discussing hate speech in the Recommendation was the social climate in which the referendum was prepared, announced and publicized. During this whole period, especially before the acceptance of the initiative for a public poll, heated debates were going on as to which ethnic communities would win, and which would lose with the new territorial organization, what is gained/lost in the process, if the referendum was uninational or not, and local referendums were organized. There was even a visit to the town of Struga by then Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, which erupted into violent protests followed by police intervention.
The scene having been set, a campaigning ensued in which those for, as well as those against retaining the territorial order of 1996, tried to persuade the voters that they are the ones with the right option. In the media programs, hate speech elements were rare, but when they did appear, they came from all of the three possible sources. There were various instances, and the following are excerpts from national broadcasting programs, which access the greatest number of people.
Although politicians were careful, in principle, not to include hate speech fragments in their speeches, some of them slipped in the heat of the campaign. For instance, President of the Socialist Party of Macedonia (SPM) Ljubisav Ivanov-Dzingo, at a rally organized by the coalition that wanted the referendum, in Strumica, 24 October 2004, said that the government had taken the country back to 1941, when “Hitler and Mussolini divided Macedonia along these ethnic lines”.
There were interesting examples of hate speech in the calls of viewers in the live TV show “Bumblebee” (Bumbar), running on Sitel Television, one of the national commercial broadcasters. The concept of the show is a sort of a top chart of political events. First, excerpts are shown on several topics. These are the submissions that viewers call for and mark them with a black or a white “bumblebee”. In the show of 20 October 2004, a call from a lady was interesting to note. According to her, “… the disintegration of Macedonia will not be assisted only by Albanians, but also by those who do not feel Macedonian. As for our Prime Minister , he is of Romanian descent, so we should forgive the man…” On 27 October 2004, one of the offered suggestions for voting was a visit by Dennis McShane, Minister of the European Department at the British Foreign Office, who turned back his watch before the reporters who were present, illustrating for the Macedonian public how Macedonia will return in time if the referendum is a success. Commenting on his gesture, one viewer said,
“…to the gentleman from the Anglo-Saxon tribe that visited Skopje, this is certainly under recommendation of the fascist government in Skopje. I can call it fascist, since it is not of the people, right?”
Another had this to say:
“… this McShane gentleman and other men of the world traveling our country in the last month and serving as an outpost of the Macedonian government, using all kinds of statements, pressure, intimidation…they can do that in their homelands…when we had democracy, before the Christ era, they probably were still coming down from trees and populating Great Britain and I don’t know what other islands.”
An example of hate speech with show hosts is the live radio show “Radio Mileva” on Radio Ros, a commercial national radio station. Toni Mihajlovski, a renowned Macedonian actor, radio and TV show host and at the time spokesperson for the “Lions”, a special police unit created during the war crisis in 2001, is one of them. The fact that he “not only selects the SMS messages containing explicit hate speech, but also adds cynical comments in which he himself fuels that hate speech” (BC, 3 November 2004) propelled the BC to react. Here is an excerpt from one of his programs aired on Radio Ros on 24 October 2004:
“…it is a tragedy for us to watch how the Macedonian government cares more about Pakistanis than about Macedonians… should we give them a one way ticket out of here, or simply burn them so not a trace of ash is left of them, so that the wind blows them away from our tortured Macedonia, and we get rid of those cowards…”
The basic purpose of BC monitoring was to determine if all subjects in the campaign were given equal media coverage. Still, after hate speech occurrences, the BC decided to act as a matter of prevention and send a statement concluding that “elements of hate speech have already been noticed in certain statements of interested groups or viewers and listeners taking part with their calls in the live contact shows dedicated to the referendum” (BC, 28 October 2004). In this document, directed to all electronic media, the BC reminds radio and TV houses in Macedonia that they carry the liability of any possible consequences of indiscriminate and out-of-context hate speech-content broadcasting. It also reminded them of the solutions offered in the Recommendation on transmitting information from conditions of great tensions, military and other armed conflict, as aforementioned in this article.
The Military Crisis of 2001
This article has no intention, nor is it able to define the historic context of the military crisis in Macedonia in 2001. Such a thing will only be possible after a longer time period, when there are no more voices which, depending on their political agenda, might trouble its conclusion.
Still, this lack of definition of the military crisis impedes a detailed review of elements of hate speech in the electronic media at the time. What can certainly be extracted is the calling of names, such as “terrorists” and “Shiptars”, or “Slavo-Macedonians” and “infidels” from the other side. An important part in creating an atmosphere of intolerance was played by the songs especially arranged to call to arms, such as one that says in the chorus, “break his (the infidel’s) head and tell him: may the earth feel good for you” (Radio Albana, Kumanovo, 23 May 2001). No less radical is the example of a female reporter, who in the summer of 2001, while informing of the actions of the Macedonian Army, actually fired an Army cannon (TV Kanal 5, Skopje, 28 May 2001). This awoke immediate and strong reaction of the Council of Honor of the Journalist Association of Macedonia, which said that by this action, “the reporter has made a harsh transgression and crossed the red line separating the profession of a journalist from a war reporter show”. They called upon journalists not to forget that “their most powerful weapon is objective informing and that they should govern themselves by the ethical and professional standard of the journalistic code” (Council of Honor of the Macedonian Journalist Association, 29 May 2001).
At the time of the crisis, the BC also, more than once, relying on regular radio and TV program monitoring, reminded the media not to publish contents opposing Article 35 of the Broadcasting Law. The media were called upon to “seriously, carefully and responsibly inform of the security conditions in the country…toward preservation of peace, harmony and safety of the citizens” (BC, 15 March 2001), and to avoid airing “contents that might promote violence and ethnic hatred and intolerance, regardless if the content is documentary, musical or other” (BC, 19 March 2001). The Council also warned that “in times of opposed political concepts and military conflicts, it is of extreme importance that the media avoid ‘hate speech,’ and when it does, directly or indirectly, occur in the statements of politicians, announcements of political parties, organizations or associations, the media should endeavor to adopt an analytical attitude towards their contents” (BC, 27 June 2001).
Such examples of media conduct during military crises and the reactions directed to raising awareness of the danger of hate speech have probably influenced the amount of attention allotted by reporters and editors after 2001 in most of the programming and informing. On the other hand, it is a fresh experience for the regulators to timely recognize situations that might contain elements of this phenomenon and alert the media, as was shown with the referendum in 2004.
Promoting a Culture of Tolerance – the Only True Way Out
In December 2004, a conference was held in Skopje under the title “Is there hate speech in the Macedonian media?” Even from the title itself, one can see that the purpose of the conference was to discuss the subject of hate speech, what it is actually and what is the legal basis for its definition and containment. The appearance of the Macedonian Journalist Association as the organizer speaks of the intent of journalists to be the ones to raise awareness of the dangers of this occurrence. The reactions were diverse, but still, the most frequent ones were those according to which there is no hate speech in Macedonia, that the conference is an attempt to impose (self)censorship, to limit freedom of speech and violate Article 10 of the EU Convention of Human Rights. Most participants in the debate, with the exception of a few, were as if their ears were shut amid explanations that hate speech in the Macedonian media is not all that a frequent occurrence, nor is it that intense, but that does not mean it should not be discussed, especially when the goal is to prevent it from turning into a major problem.
Still, whatever the reactions, the very fact that “spirits were stirred” deserves due credit, since it probably contributed to more thinking and finding alternatives.
The Council of Europe, on the day of issuing the Recommendation on “hate speech,” adopted another Recommendation for the media and promoting the culture of tolerance, a document complementing the first. Thus, the Council of Europe offered an immediate solution, or direction for the overcoming of hate speech.
The true way out of the narrow view offered by hatred is persistence in realizing and accepting differences. Having in mind the role of media and media professionals in the shaping of public opinion, it is completely logical that they should be at the center of promotion of the culture of tolerance. In this perspective, we should bear in mind that one of the key elements of unbiased informing of all events and trends in society is the avoidance of humiliating and stereotypical representation of cultural, ethnic and religious communities. For that purpose, it is crucial to differentiate between the conduct of individuals and rubberstamping entire ethnic, cultural or religious groups in society. The bottom line is, the promotion of the culture of tolerance means firm respect for the principles and standards of the journalistic code .
Dnevnik, 24 July 2004, “A bloody night of Struga resistance”, pp.1/3
Law on Broadcasting Activity, Official Bulletin of RM no. 20/1997
Kebo, O. (2004) An exclusive series of articles for “Start”: The sewage clan of journalism in Sarajevo, “Start” no.141, 142, 143/2004
Radio Albana, Kumanovo, 23 May 2001
Radio Albana, Kumanovo, 3 June 2001
Radio Visar, Tetovo, 26 May 2001
Radio Ros, Skopje, Radio Mileva, 24 October 2004
Council of Europe (1950) European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, amended with Protocol 11, available at http://www.echr.info/
Council of Europe, Recommendation no. R. (97) 20 on “hate speech”, available at http://www.iocoe.org.mk/html/translations_sk.htm
Council of Europe, Recommendation no. R. (97) 21 on the media and the promotion of tolerance culture, available at http://www.iocoe.org.mk/html/translations_sk.htm
Macedonian Association of Journalists firstname.lastname@example.org (8 February 2005), Sovet_29_05_01, an e-mail message to (email@example.com)
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (3 November 2004) General review of the monitoring of media coverage of the referendum from 23 October to 1 November 2004, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (28 October 2004) A hint of the presence of hate speech in the media coverage of the referendum campaign
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (2004) Recommendations for electronic media coverage of the 2004 referendum, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (2001), Recommendation on transmitting information from conditions of great tensions, military and other armed conflict, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (27 June 2001) Public Announcement, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (7 June 2001) Public Announcement, available athttp://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (31 May 2001) Public Announcement, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (19 March 2001) Public Announcement, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia (15 March 2001) Public Announcement, available at http://www.srd.org.mk
A1 Television, Skopje, 25 October 2004
Kanal 5 Television, Skopje, 25 October 2004
Kanal 5 Television, 2001
Sitel Television, Skopje, Bumbar (Bumblebee), 20 and 27 October 2004
Emilija Petrevska, Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, presently employed with the Broadcasting Council of the Republic of Macedonia in the Sector for Programming Issues. © Media Online 2005. All rights reserved.
The article was written in the framework of the project The stumbling of the media in times of transition. The project is supported by the South East European Network for the Professionalization of the Media (SEENPM) and implemented by Media Plan Institute Sarajevo with partner organizations – Media Center Belgrade, Albanian Media Institute Tirana, International Center for Journalist Education Opatija, Macedonian Media Institute Skopje and Montenegrin Media Institute Podgorica. All articles are available in a book in
English and Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian.