Hate Speech Regulation and Freedom of Speech in Bosnia-Herzegovina

//Lejla Turcilo, PhD, Professor at University of Sarajevo and future AnOx participant discusses hate speech regulation in Bosnia- Herzegovina. Her upcoming paper will include policy suggestions for combating hate speech without direct state intervention.

In May 2013, the Press Council in Bosnia- Herzegovina (the self- regulatory body for print and online media) organized a seminar under the title “You Are Not Invisible” which focused on the prevalence of hate speech in anonymous comments on web portals. The seminar argued that the Press Council, the police, and court authorities should take action to prevent increasingly prevalent hate speech.  For example, it was suggested that the Press Council send reports to police about individuals who spread hate speech so that police can reveal their IP addresses and send them to court, making sure these individuals are “not invisible.”

According to the Committee of the Ministers of the Council of Europe’s definition:

Hate speech implies all kinds of expressions that disseminate, instigate, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including the intolerance expressed through aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and animosity toward minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin.

The Internet has been the center of the hate- speech debate as it is the fastest growing media in Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Prior analysis of the prevalence of hate speech in the mass media of Bosnia–Herzegovina demonstrated a worrying trend in the presence of hate speech in the comment portals of electronic media.  Additionally, the research found that hate speech is frequently transmitted by journalists and the media when repeating a statement by a public figure, without direct disassociation on the part of the media and often used in headlines for the purpose of sensationalism.

While hate speech is a detriment to creating an atmosphere of tolerance in the society, there are two problematic elements in the action suggested by the Press Council to combat hate speech. Firstly, freedom of expression is essential to every democratic society, especially those in transition.  This cooperation between the Press Council and police is a form of direct intervention of the state into the online sphere, and goes against the nature of the Internet as an unregulated media that transcends state bodies and borders. Second of all, prevention of hate speech is very important in a post- war society , such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, but experience with its regulation so far in the country shows that in many cases political and other elites consider every critical writing about them to be hate speech. There are more than 200 law suits on courts for defamation currently. In other words, hate speech is a great excuse for limiting free speech and critical thinking and writing in Bosnia- Herzegovina and in public discourse the two terms, hate speech and defamation, are often used inaccurately as synonymous.

The “No Hate Speech Movement,” a campaign created by the Council of Europe, could serve as one of models for Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The campaign aims to raise awareness about the negative effects of online hate speech, and mobilize individuals, specifically youth, to end hate speech online.  National campaigns under this umbrella campaign have begun to launch.

Additionally, defining hate speech more precisely, educating citizens on difference between hate speech, defamation, libel and critical writing is essential and should be promoted more.  Lastly, rather than utilizing the police to discover the IP address of users commenting,  web portals should rather employ moderators for editing comments.

//Lejla Turcilo

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