Media leaders, professionals and interested citizens came together in Nairobi on Wednesday evening to launch the pan-African Turn the Page on Hate Speech (#TurnthePageonHateSpeech) campaign. The initiative aims to fight the spread of hatred across the region by promoting discussion of how the media can contribute more positively. The African Media Initiative (AMI)-led campaign, supported by the Ethical Journalism Network and other global and regional organisations, will culminate in November with the hosting of the African Media Leaders’ Forum in Johannesburg, following an online engagement period to draw from the experiences of both media professionals and the general public.
In an earlier speech in Nairobi, the director of the Ethical Journalism Network, Aidan White, said the campaign “helps remind us that as journalists our ethics – to tell the truth, to respect the facts, to be independent, to be responsible and, above all, to show humanity – oblige us to avoid becoming propagandists and foot soldiers in political campaigns that nourish hatred by feeding on the insecurities of people.”
The campaign was kicked off through a panel discussion on “The Limits of Press Freedom”, featuring insights from leading media figures, including the managing editor of Kenyan broadcaster NTV, Linus Kaikai; hate speech researcher Nanjira Sambuli; and award-winning photographer and social activist Boniface Mwangi.
The launch of such a project in Africa is especially important as recent reports suggest that hate speech is on the rise across the continent. The chief executive of the AMI, Eric Chinje, earlier spoke to the Mail & Guardian and pointed to countries from Mali to Kenya where the problem was evident.
“It’s happening all around us,” Chinje said. “All of a sudden, Africa again is becoming the land of strife. And in different ways, its not always like Rwanda in 1994 but there is a growing sense of exclusion on the continent, and the media appears to be a part of it.”
Yet Africa is by no means the only region where this kind of hate speech is a problem – it is a truly global issue that touches every corner of humanity. The war between Russia and the Ukraine has seen both countries locked in separate media bubbles that feed the spread of government propaganda. Both sides tell their own story to their own people, at the expense of free, fair and perhaps even conciliatory dialogue. Similar situations can be seen across the Middle East, from media coverage in India and Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute, to the recent (and previous) conflicts in Gaza.
These areas are complex and diverse, geographically and culturally, but what they have in common is a need for greater discourse amongst the media about how journalists can overcome the intense political or professional pressures they often face. They must promote the importance of editorial independence and be more conscious of how they can avoid being vectors for hatred and incitement to violence.
Which makes what is happening in Africa at the moment all the more important. The Turn the Page of Hate Speech campaign and African Media Leaders’ Forum represent exactly the kind of dialogue that is desperately needed. It is an opportunity to discuss these issues in an tolerant and open manner, and to learn to contribute in a positive way to resolving disputes and conflict – not just in Africa, but in lessons to be shared around the world.
Follow the campaign on Twitter through the hashtag #TurnthePageonHateSpeech.
Visit the Online Discussion Forum to offer your point of view on important issues.
Learn about the African Media Leaders’ Forum to be held in Johannesburg and find out how you can participate.
View our Five-Point Test For Journalists hate speech checklist.