When the freedom of expression is replaced by hate speech
Everyone writes, comments, criticises and analyses – politicians, sympathisers, idlers. They are well “versed” in everything, from politics through the media to football.
“I was killed by a word too strong”, B. Miljković
Where is the limit of the border of freedom of speech, and where does the hate speech begins – are the issues the profession, but also listeners, readers, and spectators testify to daily. Yet, the transition and various understandings of democracy have justified numerous individuals to increasingly destroy the borders of freedom of speech entering the space of hate speech.
THE CONSTITUTION OF MONTENEGRO
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression by speech, writing, picture or in some other manner. The right to freedom of expression may be limited only by the right of others to dignity, reputation and honour and if it threatens public morality or the security of Montenegro.
Montenegrin society is very divided today regarding numerous issues, from religious, through identity issues to national and political. It is an opportunity for individuals to manifest in the media, most often on social networks, hate speech that is on the rise.
In the latest report of the European Commission for Montenegro, it is stated that incidents on an ethnic and religious basis, as well as hate speech, are constantly growing! The European Commission states that Montenegro must take additional efforts to limit the effects of misinformation, internet harassment and hate speech, ensuring that such measures do not limit the freedom of expression.
Are the normative frameworks good enough to sanction, and are those who do that adequately punished? Although legal norms exist, they are not, as perceived in public, adhered to in the expected measure. Those more malicious, or perhaps more realistic, would say that regulations are often (half)dead letter.
In Montenegro, the oral word used to put people under obligation. It was respected better than today’s written laws. It was enough to promise, swear, give the word, or besa (*given word or solemn promise). Today, the situation is significantly different. A word not only lost its “weight”, but it sometimes becomes murderous, much more than Miljković’s “a word too strong”. It is impossible to explain the reason for that in several lines. I believe that the multidisciplinary and, above all, scientific approach is the only one that will answer the question.
Modern media, often guided by the aspiration to share exclusive stories, put simple rules of the journalistic profession in the background. The desire for circulation and greater viewing figures become more often the measure of “success”. In these circumstances, the public service, which must be balanced, accurate, objective, and timely has a particular responsibility. The latest report of the European Commission mentioned at the beginning of the story says that “Public service began presenting more diverse content”. Although the statement does not mean much in Western European countries, it speaks more than words in the Balkans. The fact should become one of the first steps when it comes to professionalising the most responsible among the media - public service, and to be a parametre for fighting hate speech and false news. It will signpost how to affirm media literacy that becomes more and more significant in our area.
Hate speech has almost become a custom, and we must all work to change society’s awareness, primarily through recognising hate speech and then through adequate legal sanctioning. When hate speech is strictly and indispensably punished, there will undoubtedly be fewer such cases in the media and public. Until then, every individual should do everything in their power, which is more than enough, at least to start with!