Intensity of hate speech increases in election campaigns, roundtable meetings

The intensity of hate speech and discrimination grows during election campaigns, when this is used as a method of struggle between election contenders. For now, the Republic of Moldova hasn’t made progress in adopting legislation to improve the situation and the authors of hate speech remain unpunished as a result. The subject was discussed in a roundtable meeting entitled “Complex approach to combating hate speech in the Republic of Moldova”, which was organized by the Council of Europe, IPN reports.

Giulia Re, deputy head of the Council of Europe Office in Chisinau, said reports show that hate speech remains a problem in election campaigns. Hate speech incites violence and hatred and, as a result, undermines respect for the minority groups and damages social cohesion. Hate speech means abuse of the right to expression and it becomes more dangerous when it is promoted by public figures. In some of the countries where measures were taken, it was possible to create hate-free policy communication culture. The international observation missions, the Council of Europe should contribute to amending the country’s legislation by introducing penalties for hate speech.

Vladimir Șarban, vice president of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Moldova, said the fight against hate speech should cover not only the messages against election runners, but also those against social groups, as in the case of the establishment of polling stations abroad and in the Transnistrian region. The election should not be a confrontation between people who think differently. It should be an honest competition based on ethics and common sense. It is important not to allow the hate attacks witnessed in the previous election campaigns to repeat. The fight against hate speech should be a condition for all the electoral players, electoral bodies and the voters and the mass media should also react to signs of aggression that go beyond common senesce. To fight discrimination and incitement to hatred, the CEC proposed that the election competitors and the mass media should sign a Code of Conduct.

Ala Ursu-Antoci, president of the Audiovisual Council, noted that hate speech is a form of expression and it is hard to determine where the freedom of expression ends and where hate speech starts. The Council will make sure that the newscasts on radio and TV do not incite, promote or justify racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hate speech. If violations are committed, the Audiovisual Council will impose harsh penalties in accordance with the law.

Michael Farrell, vice chair of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, explained that hate speech means statements or comments about minority groups, with reference to the color of skin or the ethnic context, or sexual orientation and gender or comments that denigrate or humiliate an individual or a group and that will most probably be used to discriminate. Such hate speech should be punished as a criminal violation. The regulatory bodies should have the power to remove hate speech and punish the persons using it and should also have the power to withdraw the license and punish the TV channels that promote hate speech.

Mara Georgescu, project coordinator at the Council of Europe, said a CoE report on hate speech shows that hate speech in the Republic of Moldova cannot be disconnected from the idea of alignment, marginalization, discrimination and normalization of intolerance at social level. Hate speech is related also to the identity and how the people perceive it and the values based on human rights and democratic principles. Hate speech is also related to particular geopolitical influences, how particular institutions, the neighboring countries are perceived, to the presentation of minorities in the mass media. When hate speech is used in an election campaign, sexism in society can grow and hate speech is normalized, but this is dangerous.

The head of the Council for Prevention and Elimination of Discrimination and Ensuring of Equality Ian Feldman stated that to improve the situation, the legislation should be improved. The Council should be empowered to examine and ascertain cases of hate speech. The Prosecutor’s Office should create a database to see the continuity of each case of hate speech. Also, a working group consisting of representatives of the institutions that monitor the area should be constituted to coordinate the required intervention actions.

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