Countering hate speech in the Media through Ethics and Self-regulation

Guest Post by: Poni Alice Sheila

I am writing this article as a journalist from South Sudan, a country that has gone through several decades of civil strife, conflicts and the ever simmering communal fights and clashes.

At the heart of these tension is hate speech which fuels and fires up the divisions, discrimination, violence, conflict and disintegration. Hate speech corrodes the very fabric that unites societies and Hate speech incites anger and remains a major spoiler in efforts to bring peace.

“Huts have been torched because one tribe believes the tribe living in that hut does not deserve to live or they are simply enemies.” This is why I believe that hate speech, simply defined as speech that incites one group of people against the others is fire that burns the threads that hold societies together.

Hate speech creates traditional stereotypes that elevate one tribe over the other. Hate speech targeting tribes, in what I could describe as tribalism hate speech. Tribalised hate speech is designed to humiliate objectify, and destroy tribes, by creating fear and vulnerabilities.

Tribalised Hate speech has created a platform for social and communal shame, reinforcing and perpetuating tribal hierarchies in the country.

Five critical actions must be taken to counter hate speech:

Education on Media Ethics: To counter tribalised hate speech begins by a realization that while Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, the emergence of the social media has created multiple platforms for the production, packaging and dissemination of hate speech. Education on media ethics should focus on rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of journalists and their responsibility to create and promote peaceful societies.

Awareness must be raised on the political, social and cultural rights of individuals and groups, including freedom of speech, responsibilities and social implications that come with press freedom. Journalists must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to identify hate speech and to counteract hate speech messages.

Encourage conflict sensitive reporting:  Conflict sensitive reporting will help dispel the fallacy that lies with the “US” against “them” fallacy. Journalists should be given more conflict sensitive reporting skills

Regulate social media. I know many of you reading this article will ask how you regulate the social media without revoking the right to press freedom. Press freedom must be exercised rightly and I am convinced that the right way for this is the education way. Education on media laws and ethics

Introduce objective multicultural awareness campaigns that emphasize knowledge about and respect for diversity of cultures and traditions. Journalists must be objective in this and can write articles, air programs and even speak orally to people without taking sides.

Encourage victims and witnesses to report hate speech related crimes: Hate speech remains largely invisible simply because many victims do not know where to report the cases or even understand that they are victims of hate speech.

End impunity against Hate Crime: Impunity against hate crimes can be tackled by establishes monitoring and evaluation units in Newsrooms. These units would then be tasked with monitoring the hate speech trends, compiling these reports and bringing them to the attention of key institution and the civil society.