Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are attempting to pass new laws under the guise of addressing what they call ‘hate speech’ in the media. However, many civil society activists and journalists, believe these laws are being promulgated simply to stifle freedom of the press.
The new laws include new draft cyber crimes laws in Jordan(1) and Saudi Arabia(2) and extreme defamation laws and penal codes in Tunisia(3) and Egypt(4). As a reaction to this, a number of local civil society organisations across the region have launched initiatives of their own in order to deal with the growing incidence of hate speech in the Arab media as well as support freedom of the media.
The Maharat Foundation in Lebanon has produced a number of reports that monitor the Lebanese media for hate speech and violent incitement, in particular incitement of religious hatred, which in the context of Lebanon’s polarised religious groups becomes extremely relevant. An initial report produced in 2016 as a part of the United Nations Development Programme’s ‘Journalists’ Pact for Strengthening Civil Peace in Lebanon’ has been supplemented with a number of subsequent content analysis studies examining both legacy media and their social media platforms as well as social media in general during the recent elections.(5)
The Jordanian media credibility monitor, Akeed.jo, tracks content across the Jordanian media for everything from hate speech to accuracy in the media. Their monitoring reports have focused on a number of key topics that are used to promote hate speech in the Jordanian media, for example, coverage related to Syrian refugees living in Jordan and anti-Christian rhetoric. Akeed.jo focuses on professional principles that guide ethical journalism, such as accuracy, balance, fairness and humanity, in analysing content in order to determine whether they can be considered hate speech.(6)
In September 2017, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) launched a project, Observatory of Hate Speech and Incitement to Violence, in partnership with UNESCO. A group of trained media monitors not only analysed media content for hate speech but also assessed the impact of this hate speech on Syrian audiences and developed tools in order to help the Syrian media community to avoid using hate speech. The Observatory focuses on violent incitement and discrimination towards women and marginalised groups as well as the on-going religious and politically incendiary rhetoric, which has become endemic in much of the Syrian media. SCM has also produced a study on the use of hate speech in Syrian media with detailed numbers and percentages for each outlet (soon to be published) and, a dictionary of terms was also produced with 134 terms included.
The Iraqi Media House, a civil society organisation that monitor hate speech and violence in the Iraqi media, has begun work to develop a hate speech glossary, which takes into account the challenges that come with trying to define the term ‘hate speech’ as well as acknowledging the limitations of media monitoring. Their glossary focuses on words and phrases that call for ‘murder, violence, revenge, exclusion, humiliation, discrimination and insult’(7) from across the media and social media landscape. They have attempted to include influential blogs in their analysis.
The Ethical Journalism Network is continuing its work on tackling hate speech in the Middle East and North Africa through its ongoing project, the Arab Media Hub Against Hate Speech. It is currently supporting the development of hate speech glossaries in Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in collaboration with local partners, Jordan Media Institute and CARE Palestine.
- For further information on the draft Jordanian cyber crimes law can be found here, https://privacyinternational.org/state-privacy/1004/state-privacy-jordan and also here https://www.accessnow.org/cybercrime-law-in-jordanpushing-back-on-new-amendments-that-could-harm-free-expression-and-violate-privacy/
- A more detailed Chatham House report on Cyber Crimes laws in the GCC is available here https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2018-07-04-cybercrime-legislation-gcc-hakmeh.pdf
- Further information on the Tunisian legal framework can be found here https://www.menamedialaw.org/sites/default/files/library/material/tunisia_chp_2018.pdf
- A 2016 report by the EU-funded Media Conflict and Democratisation programme looks in more detail at the use of defamation laws and penal codes in Egypt to stifle free expression in the name of tackling hate speech and can be found here http://www.mecodem.eu/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Elliot-Chuma-ElGendi-Marko-Patel-2016_Hate-Speech.pdf
- The report can be found here at http://www.maharat-news.com/Temp/Attachments/8853938d-7475-42b3-8559-cf0634685adf.pdf
- A selection of Akeed’s monitoring reports on hate speech on other topics can found in English on their website at https://akeed.jo/en/home
- Glossary available here in Arabic, http://www.imh-org.com/%D9%85%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B9%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A