The Government’s efforts to update media regulations in accordance with international norms, according to the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, are encouraging.
She was concerned, though, about “the toxic public discourse, from politicians or public officials and amplified by tabloids, blaming the media, human rights defenders, ethnic marginalized groups, LGBTI and those critical of the government.
Khan issued a warning that labelling journalists as traitors, enemies of the State, or foreign agents decreases public faith in the media and increases the risk of attacks on the press while also having an adverse effect on media freedom and democratic discourse.
Khan urged the government to look into and prosecute long-running cases of Serbian journalists being slain. “
Serbia is currently grappling with a pressing issue that revolves around striking a delicate equilibrium between safeguarding the principles of free speech and effectively addressing the rising problem of hate speech. The Government’s commendable endeavours to align media regulations with global standards have garnered recognition and support from the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression. In the realm of safeguarding free speech and combating hate speech, there exist notable hurdles that demand attention and resolution. In this insightful piece, we delve into the significance of upholding a resilient structure for freedom of expression and the imperative of implementing tangible measures to combat hate speech in Serbia.
Eroding public confidence
The corrosive nature of public discourse, frequently fueled by politicians and government officials and sensationalised by tabloids, has significantly eroded public trust in the media. In a recent statement, the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Khan, issued a warning regarding the dangerous consequences of labelling journalists as traitors, enemies of the State, or foreign agents. According to Ms. Khan, such actions not only erode public trust in the media but also heighten the likelihood of attacks targeting the press. In the realm of freedom of expression, it is imperative to grasp the distinction that it does not grant individuals the authority to engage in acts of threatening, intimidating, or harassing those who express critical viewpoints. In a bid to uphold the principles of free speech, the administration faces the crucial task of ensuring that all State organisations strictly adhere to the legal and constitutional framework. Simultaneously, they must actively combat the spread of false information and hate speech.
Reaction to tabloid
One of the significant concerns highlighted by the Special Rapporteur is the role of tabloids in disseminating hate speech and the failure of the electronic media regulatory body (REM) to take appropriate action against violators. REM, as an independent, effective, and accountable regulatory body, should promote pluralism in media content and combat smear campaigns and harassment. The government should prioritise an expedited investigation and legal action against threats and attacks on journalists to ensure their protection.
Political will is necessary
Ms. Khan emphasises the need for political will to address the long-standing cases of slain Serbian journalists. Censorship through the killing of journalists is a grave violation of human rights and should not be tolerated. Impunity cannot prevail in such cases, and the government must demonstrate a clear commitment to upholding international standards of freedom of expression. Passing laws alone is insufficient; it requires decisive political leadership to enforce these laws effectively and safeguard freedom of expression for all citizens.
Travel to Kosovo
During her tour, Ms. Khan also visited Kosovo and acknowledged the pluralistic media landscape there. She urged the government to maintain and expand press freedom in Kosovo. It is crucial for the international community to provide support for independent Serbian language media and ensure the full execution of the law on languages. Additionally, it’s important to wrap up investigations into previous journalist murders and forced disappearances.
What are the Government’s efforts to protect free speech in Serbia?
The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Expression acknowledges that the Serbian government has made an effort to update media laws in line with international standards. These efforts aim to establish a robust legal and constitutional framework that supports free speech.
What is the impact of toxic public discourse on media freedom?
Toxic public discourse, often fueled by politicians, public officials, and tabloids, erodes public confidence in the media. It increases the risk of attacks on the press and has adverse effects on media freedom and democratic discourse.
How can the government combat hate speech and false information effectively?
The government should ensure that all state organisations adhere to the legal and constitutional framework supporting free speech while actively battling false information and hate speech. This requires robust regulatory bodies, such as REM, that are independent.
What actions can be taken against tabloids spreading hate speech?
It is essential for the electronic media regulatory body (REM) to take appropriate action against tabloids that disseminate hate speech. REM should fulfil its role as an independent, effective, and accountable regulatory body by promoting media pluralism and combating smear campaigns and harassment. The government should prioritise investigations and legal actions against threats and attacks on journalists to ensure their protection.
What is the role of political will in protecting freedom of expression?
Political will plays a crucial role in safeguarding freedom of expression. The government needs to demonstrate a clear commitment to upholding international standards of free speech. This includes addressing long-standing cases of slain journalists and ensuring that perpetrators do not enjoy impunity. Passing laws alone is not enough; political leadership is necessary to effectively enforce these laws and protect freedom of expression for all citizens.
What is the situation regarding press freedom in Kosovo?
During her visit to Kosovo, the Special Rapporteur acknowledged the pluralistic media landscape there and urged the government to maintain and expand press freedom. It is important for the international community to support independent Serbian-language media and ensure the full implementation of the law on languages. Additionally, it’s necessary to wrap up investigations into earlier cases of journalist killings and forced disappearances in order to pursue justice.
Protecting free speech while combating hate speech is a delicate balance that requires a robust legal and regulatory framework as well as political will. The Serbian government’s efforts to update media regulations in line with international norms have been acknowledged, but challenges remain. It is crucial to address toxic public discourse, hold tabloids accountable for spreading hate speech, and ensure justice for slain journalists. By doing so, Serbia can strengthen its commitment to freedom of expression and create an environment where diverse opinions can thrive while safeguarding against harmful speech.