Turning the Page of Hate: Challenges for Ethical Journalism in times of Conflict

From 12th– 13th May 2015 the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Tanzania Chapter (AWRTT) in collaboration with the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN) organised an event to raise awareness about hate speech. The event was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs .

The main objective of the Turning the Page of Hate: Challenges for Ethical Journalism in times of Conflict workshop, which is carried out in the context of the Africa-wide campaign Turning the Page of Hate and the upcoming elections, is to help the journalism community push back against editorial practice that can reinforce stereotypes, incite intense hatred and violence, and ignore the reality of violence against women at work and home.

In particular, gender violence remains a serious problem and a challenge for media reporting. Transformative stories on gender-related issues slid by six percent in 2013 compared to the corresponding period 2012. This means that media outlets need to ensure greater prominence for gender equality issues.

Tanzania returned to multiparty democracy as part of wide-ranging political and economic reforms in 1992. It has most recently embarked on a Constitutional review process, which will be finalized in 2015 ahead of the general elections in October. This review process currently forms a major part of public debate along with topics such as corruption and poor service delivery in which the media has a major role to play.

For the election to be fair and peaceful, political parties, candidates, and other actors, including the media, need to agree on the rules of the game. Such rules may include refraining from practices of hate speech, electoral violence, and defamation.

This agreement can be informal, through a voluntary Code of Conduct, and/or supported through a legal framework with enforceable sanctions and is usually contained with the Electoral Code.

During the 2010 elections journalists and media practitioners agreed on a Code of Conduct for covering the elections – among other things;

  • To refrain reporting the opinions of those who advocate discrimination or violence on any grounds, including race, gender, language, religion, political or other opinions, and national or social origins. Journalists should do the utmost to put such views in a clear context and to report the opinions of those against whom such sentiments are directed.
  • Journalists should promote the participation of the vulnerable and marginalized, including women, the disabled and the youth to take part in the election; they should also refrain from coverage that is biased or reinforcing existing prejudices against such groups.
  • Media should encourage minorities and marginalized groups to participate in the election, irrespective of their political affiliation, by raising public awareness of their importance in public life, and by rebuking all moves aimed at suppressing them. Journalists should highlight the leadership potential that lies in the marginalized groups.

Media regulation has failed to keep up with the rapid liberalization of the airwaves or the emergence of new technology such as SMS messaging and social media. There has, for example, been too little discussion on what constitutes hate speech online or how governments should address the challenge when it occurs. At the same time, a nuanced media policy that is rooted in political realities would recognize that it might not be possible to develop media policies that can effectively keep up with a continuously changing media environment. As such, it may be necessary to ask what the next best solution is or what is most appropriate at the moment, and to be willing to reevaluate policy decisions in the future.

The Tanzanian chapter of Gender and Media in Southern Africa (GEMSAT) has monitored election coverage and produces a weekly publication entitled Election Monitors during campaign periods. They assess adherence to ethical standards, the gender balance of coverage and provision of informative content and civic education. This enables public challenges to be made to bad performers. Journalistic professionalism has been frequently mentioned as a factor exacerbating tensions. Radio presenters for example, have been described as being unable to moderate discussion and mediate conflict during phone-in programmes.

Levels of ethnic polarisation and the role of the media in relation to the existence of a broadcaster in a ‘national’ language is an issue not to be ignored. Taking Tanzania as an example, the different roles of Swahili versus English media was flagged as an important issue for further research. Many people in rural Tanzania do not speak English, but is the issue that most Tanzanians communicate in Swahili a homogenizing effect? How is this different from the fact that Somalis enjoy a shared language yet have struggled with building a nation?

Due to the electoral context – Constitutional Referendum in 2014 and General Elections scheduled for 2015 – it is important to implement the training before the electoral campaign.

This workshop, therefore, is directed at media professionals including reporters, editors, programme producers, and media decision makers to explore the obstacles related to hate speech and gender equality that keep journalism from playing its full part as one of the twelve critical and challenging areas in the Beijing +20 Platform for Action for advancing gender equality.

Key objectives

  • To raise awareness in general about the dangers of hate speech in media by examining the existing policies that reinforce hate speech
  • To promote ethical coverage of the upcoming elections.
  • To discuss weaknesses in the existing systems that prohibit or hinder journalists to practice good journalism
  • To examine the impact of social media and the internet on the way media work on these issues and to identify best practices to counter online hate as well as the materials and training needed to improve journalism in this area.
  • To strengthen gender and social inclusion in democratic processes, promoting participation of women, youth and people with disabilities.
  • To develop high quality, ethical, and objective reporting to promote peaceful democratic discourse
  • To develop mechanisms to ensure follow-up on the work of the media to improve media awareness and the role they play in ensuring balanced reporting on various issues and particularly strengthening the role of media to highlight solutions including victim support mechanisms.

Please contact EJN coordinator Oona Solberg at oonasolberg@gmail.com for more details.


Further reading:

The 5 point test for hate speech (we also have an infographic on the subject here)

The Kigali Declaration and Kampala Declaration, which were the final results of last year’s Turning the Page of Hate workshops

– EJN videos on hate speech which can be found on YouTube: Is slow journalism a possible remedy for hate speech?, Stopping the republication of terrorism propaganda and reducing hate speech, Publishing offensive images and the right to know (We also have a series of education videos on the basics of journalism ethics which might be of interest). Also don’t forget to subscribe to our channel for more videos!