Thursday, April 26, 2018

In the name of freedom of expression

January 30, 2014

 Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Kosovo (YIHR KS) supported by Civil Rights Defenders, during a conference published its latest report, which focuses on the usage of hate speech in online media in relation to freedom of expression. The report portrays the results of monitoring of comments that are published from online media (newspapers and portals) during 2013.

The attendees were representatives from different institutions and human rights activists. Whereas the panellists included: Mr. Imer Muskolaj – Vice-Chair of the Board, Press Council of Kosovo, Ms. Alma Lama – Deputy in the Assembly of Kosovo, Mr. Joel Mermet – Head of Office, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Stand alone office in Kosovo, Mr. Artan Haraqija, Editor/Multimedia, Zëri Newspaper, Mr. Adriatik Kelmendi – Journalist, KTV and Ms. Flutura Kusari – Legal Advisor, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Ms. Lama, a true defender of freedom of expression, in her speech revealed the threats that she had received through comments on online portals in the name of freedom of expression. “I am a victim. I have received threats against my life and my family’s. I don’t feel safe for myself and my daughter. I live in fear”, said Deputy Lama.

Mr. Mermet expressed his concern regarding the findings of the report and discussed the work that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is doing around the globe to combat hate speech. On the other hand, he said that there is a need for a careful approach when talking about restricting freedom of expression, since it is one of the most important human rights. “Ways must be found to filter hate speech, in cases where a comment has to be deleted, the individual should be notified or the journalists could engage in debate with the person commenting. Although anonymity should be retained as it is an essential element of freedom of expression”, said Mr. Mermet.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mushkolaj said that “citizens should complain and the media need to increase their awareness.” Particularly, citizens should oppose hate speech by initiating complaints and follow the example of YIHR KS, which has filed a number of such complaints. Additionally, he talked about the role of the Press Council of Kosovo in addressing hate speech in online media.

One of the representatives from the media, Mr. Haraqija from the Zëri Newspaper declared that the only reason for the publication of hate speech in the comments section of papers online is lack of staff and the financial situation of these papers. Zëri is currently making efforts to control comments that contain hate speech and will continue with this process in the future. Whereas, Mr. Kelmendi said that staff shortages and financial reasons were not at all sufficient for the existence of hate speech in news portals. According, to Mr. Kelmendi, “education and raising awareness among citizens is key to eliminating hate speech”.

The final panellist, Ms Kusari from BIRN said that Deputy Lama’s case is the clearest indicator that the prosecution is failing in meeting its obligations. Additionally, she added that it is very important to eliminate hate speech from online portals and that this can be done if the example of Jeta Në Kosovë Newspaper is followed in monitoring and not publishing comments containing hate speech.

The conference was concluded with discussion among the participants, where they expressed their views in relation to the findings of the report.

The report can be found here.