By Raphael Olugbenga ABIMBOLA, Ph.D.
Department of Mass Communication,
Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State
A paper delivered at the Nigerian Press Council (NPC)’s workshop for Journalists in the South West Nigeria with the theme: Responsible Media Coverage of Elections,from April 19-20, 2018 at Crystal Suites, Ijapo , Akure.
The Nigerian Press Council, organisers of this workshop, must be commended for bringing this topic to the fore at this point in time when the media are facing the challenge of hate speech/ publications. To start with, let us define, briefly the key words: media, ethics, and hate speech.
Media: Better used as the plural form of medium, media refers generally to a broad spectrum of channels used to disseminate information to a large and heterogeneous audience separated by time and space. In its strict or conventional sense, it refers to the print media of newspaper and magazine and the electronic media of radio and television, where the participants at this workshop ply their trade. Added to the conventional media are the various social media platforms generally referred to as the online or the new media.
Ethics: it is a branch of philosophy which prescribes the rightness or wrongness of human conduct. It is also known as the study of morality, which means a set of rules or codes of conduct which governs a people’s way of life. Professional ethics thus refers to a moral code that governs the conduct of practitioners in a particular field like journalism, medicine, law, teaching, etc. For example, a fifteen- item code of ethics for Nigerian Journalists was approved by the Nigerian Press Council in March 1998 and it is still in force today (Nigerian Press Council,1998).
Hate Speech: hate speech has been defined in different ways but all the definitions point to the same direction. Simply put, it refers to any statement or expression that demeans or vilifies an identifiable group such as a race, religious community, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity; and such an expression is capable of causing harm to the victims (Adelakun, 2017; George, 2018). Media professionals are very likely to engage in hate speech knowingly or unknowingly because theirs is a trade that uses speech (expression) daily either in written or spoken form.
1.1 Media Role in the society
The role of the media in any given society is so important that both the rulers and the ruled seek access and use of the media to their advantage, because of the influence the media wield. Abimbola (2016) states that:
The power and the influence of the media in any given society are enormous. This is because the media are the best and fastest route individuals, groups and organisations have to the public space. The media provide the coveted opportunity for the rulers and the ruled to meet and interact between and among themselves in an unending debate and mutual suspicion. (p.41).
In Nigeria, media role and their influence have gained public acceptance both by government and the people as Section 22 of the 1999 constitution has ascribed special function to them as follows:
The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold responsibility and accountability of the government to the people (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999).
To this end, the media are charged with the responsibility of holding government accountable to the people. As a result, the media can make or mar any society depending on how and what they disseminate. It is believed that threats to national interest, security and negative attitudes in the wider society feature in the media conduct (Pate, 2018).
1.2 Understanding Hate Speech
Although the term hate speech has become very common today, it has existed for a long time. As a matter of fact, its definition shares a common ground in the documents produced by international institutions after the Second World War(ResourceCentre on Press and Media Freedom, 2018). A recommendationby the Council of Europe in 1997 says:
hate speech includes ‘’all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti- Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility towards minorities, migrants and peoples of immigrants origin” (Resource Centre for Press and Media Freedom, 2018.p.1)
From the above, it is a known fact that hate speech had existed with us for a long time and has gained world-wide popularity in recent times.
1.2.1 Is hate speech on the rise?
The debate on expressions that incite to hatred has a long history. Nevertheless, the attention gained by hate speech has grown over the years especially with the occurrence of the term in the digital space (Resource Centre for Press and Media Freedom, 2018). See the graph in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Occurrence of hate speech in the English-language publications indexed in Google Books.
Source: Resource Centre on Press and Media Freedom www.rcmediafreedom.eu/
This is evident in different studies carried out across the world especially in Europe. For example, Positive Messengers, bodies of seven different countries, monitored hate speech against migrants and refugees, and their 2017 report showed an increase in hate speech (Positive Messengers, 2018). Also, a study by the University of Warwick on Germany highlighted a correlation between occurrence of racism online and crimes against refugees. Still, white supremacy groups in the US were quick to use the web to spread racist,xenophobic messages including through the creation of ‘hate cities’ while many extremist groups in Europe rapidly developed a sophisticated online presence(Council of Europe, 2018). The Resource Centre (2018) also reported that authorities have devoted increasing attention to speech on the Internet as the council of Europe adopted the convention on cybercrime in 2001 followed by the Additional protocol in 2003, a document promoting several measures to combat hate crime online( Council of Europe,2018).
1.2.2 Is hate speech a crime?
To criminalize hate speech, the United Nations had drafted several documents and recommendations which member states are invited to follow. As early as in 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prescribed that ‘’any appeal to national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence must be forbidden by law(United Nations, 1976). This treaty has, over the years, greatly influenced the measures taken by nations and institutions against hate speech.
- Types of hate speech
Hate speech covers a broad spectrum of expressions. Such expressions include those that vilify an identifiable group. George (2018.p.1) listed such groups as :’’race, religious community, or sexual minority.’’ He, however, makes some vital distinctions among the following examples that are often classified as hate speeches:
- incitement to cause harm such as negative discrimination and violence
- expressions that hurt a community’s feelings, including by insulting beliefs; and
- criticism of politicians and other powerful interests, exposing them to contempt.
According to him, the first is the only category that can be properly labeled as hate speech which is what human rights standards say warrants legal intervention. The second,he said, raises ethical issues, but should not be subject to legal restriction, since freedom of speech must include the right to challenge religious orthodoxy or other deeply held beliefs, while the third may be felt as hatred by its elite targets, and is what officials, military and police are thinking of when they cite hate speech as a justification for clamping down on media.
Nevertheless, the following aspects of hate speech are identified
- Racial hate
- Religious hate
- Gender hate
- Sexuality hate
- Ethnic hate
- Xenophobia hate
These are graphically illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Types of hate content removed from platforms that have signed the EU Code of Conduct (January 2018 )
Source: Resource Centre on Press and Media Freedom www.rcmediafreedom.eu
- Media and hate speech- dilemma for journalists
The media, no doubt, are the gateway, and indeed fastest route to the public space. Thus, both favorable and unfavorable information find their way into the public space through the media. However, journalists working in the media have a dilemma of differentiating between making legitimate criticism of activities of persons and groups and the tendency to be involved in or accused of disseminating hate speeches. This view is corroborated by George (2018.p.1) as he states;
Socially conscious journalists have been rightly alarmed at how rapidly hate-filled messages seep into, and often overwhelm, comment on the internet. Less talked about is how journalists own professional procedures including how news is defined- may amplify the voices of hate propagandists.
Journalists are more at a risk because of what George (2018) terms the ‘’newsiness of hate’’ this is because media are less conscious or perhaps more confused about their responsibilities in covering newsmakers who advocate intolerance. The author further amplifies the complexity of this dilemma noting that best journalism practice entails alerting society to agents of hate, but without giving them a free ride that exaggerates their importance and amplifies their views uncritically. He however said that what sways journalists’ decision in such situations, is the media’s appetite for controversy. Examples abound in different countries e.g Donald Trump of the US gains media popularity because he understands controversy as a news selling commodity. In Nigeria, the blame game between the APC and PDP; the various comments by individuals and groups on the internal security challenges like the one made by T.Y Danjuma are handy.
A worrying trend, however, is the vilification of the media as individual journalists have always faced personal attacks (George, 2018).
- How to prevent and counter hate speech in the media
Since hate speech has come to limelight in our time and its effects undesirable, it therefore behooves on all and sundry (stakeholders) to rise against it. Two major approaches can be sought to preventing and countering hate speech especially as it affects the media profession. First is the ethical approach and second is the legal approach.
1.4.1 Ethical and self-regulation
The code of ethics forNigerian journalists is a moral document that prescribes what journalists should avoid in order to prevent hate speech. For instance, the following sections of the code clearly warn journalists to desist from the following:
- Ethical Code 5 sub section ii(Decency): A journalist should refrain from using offensive, abusive or vulgar language
- Ethical Code 6 (Discrimination): A journalist should refrain from making pejorative reference to a person’s ethnic group, religion, sex or to any physical or mental illness or handicap.
- Ethical Code 8 (Violence): A journalist should not present or report acts of violence, armed robberies, terrorist activities or vulgar display of wealth in a manner that glorifies such acts in the eyes of the public
- Ethical Code 11 (Public interest): A journalist should strive to enhance national unity and public good.
- Ethical Code 12 (Social responsibility): A journalist should promote universal principles of human rights, democracy, justice, equity, peace and international understanding.
JameKolok (2018. pp.1-2) listed five ways to counter hate speech in the media through ethics and self- regulation, these include:
- Education on media ethics- education on media ethics should focus on the rights and freedoms of journalists and their role in creating and promoting peaceful societies. Journalists must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to identify hate speech and to counteract hate speech messages
- Encourage conflict sensitive reporting and multicultural awareness campaigns– journalists should be taught conflict sensitive reporting skills. Multicultural awareness campaigns should emphasize knowledge about and respect for the diversity of cultures and traditions.
- Regulate social media- this is a very controversial suggestion as it is difficult to implement without revoking the right to free speech but this freedom can be enhanced through education on existing laws and ethics.
- Encourage victims and witnesses to report hate speech related crimes- Hate speech remains largely invisible simply because many victims do not know where to report the cases or even understand that they are victims of hate speech.
- End impunity against hate crimes- impunity against hate crimes can be tackled by establishing monitoring and evaluation units in newsrooms. These units would then be tasked with monitoring hate speech trends, compiling reports and bringing these to the attention of key institutions and the civil society.
1.4.2 Legal framework
As stated earlier in this piece, the United Nations had criminalized hate speech since 1966 through its organ, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Most member states have since been formulating laws in consonance with the UN treaty.
In Nigeria, the Federal Government out of its concern for handling hate speech, had attempted to classify hate speech as a specie of Terrorism and Prevention Act 2011 as amended which states: ‘’terrorism is an act deliberately done with malice, which may seriously harm a country or is intended or can be reasonably regarded as having been done to seriously intimidate a population’’ (Hamzat,2017). Corroborating this view, Human Rights Lawyer, Femi Falana wrote:
The National Economic Council… agreed that a special court be established for the arrest and prosecution of purveyors of hate speeches, kidnapping and terrorist acts (Falana, 2017).
However, the legal luminary frowned at the establishment of a new hate speech law arguing that Nigeria has enough laws to deal with the menace, and advised that what is needed is the political will to arrest and prosecute those who contravene the provisions of the relevant laws.
This is coming on the heels of Nigeria’s Senate debate on the proposed bill to establish an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches. Sponsor of the bill, Senator Sabi-Abdullahi, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs argued that the existing Laws of Defamation, Sedition, Public Conduct, among others had failed to check hateful speeches being made by Nigerians. Debunking this claim, Baiyewu (2018) writes: ‘It is more of an attempt by a few members of the ruling elite to seek extra arbitrary power to stifle the people further of their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression, speech and right to their liberty’ Similarly, Ibelema(2018) advised that it is more productive to focus on reducing the causes of hate than to criminalize hate speech.
In Nigeria, people have been arrested for speaking against the government on social media. In 2011, one Mukhtar Ibrahim Aminu was arrested and jailed for praying for divine retribution against Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State on Facebook. In February, 2018, Chocolate City boss, Audu Maikori, was arrested for exaggerating the number of victims in the Sourthern Kaduna killings. As a matter of fact, the perpetrators of the killings were yet to be arrested before the man who tweeted about them (falsely, through) was hurriedly brought to jail. Also, in March 2018, a Katsina Chief Magistrate’s Court sentenced one Gambo Saeed to nine months’ imprisonment for ‘’insulting and defaming’’ the governor’s character on social media (Adelakun, 2017). She, however, cautioned against muddling up hate speech with other forms of social and legal acts. In her words:
It is important to draw the borders of what can be characterized as ‘’hate speech’’as against libel, slander, insults against political leaders, satire, comedic, jibes against floundering politicians, anti- government policies, political dissension either as a group or as individual and even malevolent wishes against political leaders (Adelakun, 2017)
- Conclusion The media, and indeed, journalists are part of the section of the society that are more at the risk of disseminating hate speeches either advertently or inadvertently due to the nature of the profession. However, efforts should be made to sensitise journalists on the need to guard against hate speech; through ethical and legal approaches. As ethical and legal education can help prevent and curtail hate speech among journalists and the conventional media, the same cannot be said of the social media where anything goes. Nevertheless, social media users can be sensitized through digital citizenship education as recommended by UNESCO. This includes education to human rights and safe use of the internet, promotion of information and media literacy and development of critical sills. Ina nutshell, all stakeholders in the media industry should work together to tame the monster of hate speech.
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