Why this story matters:
Social networks and online media users are increasingly exposed to hate speech, and previous legislative practices to stop it have been inadequate. As a result, the Croatian Central State Office for Digital Society is calling for a special law banning hate speech online.
Journalists are a popular target for hate speech and threats. Last month, several journalists from Croatia received death threats and insults on social media for criticizing Croatia’s involvement in the Bosnian war. The journalists had reported about a trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against six Bosnian Croats who were charged for war crimes.
The threats included one saying, “I will f*** your treacherous mother. You are a dead man,” and another saying, “There will be time when your 18-year-old daughter will be walking alone around the town."
It might take a long time for Croatia to deal with the hostile online environment, one in which journalists are especially vulnerable.
While the Croatian government is at least considering new strategies for fighting hate speech, other Balkan countries are doing little to make journalists feel safe.
According to the BH Journalists Association, there have been 91 physical attacks against journalists or threats of death in the last 10 years. While 14 cases are still under investigation, 37 others have been ignored by police or judicial institutions.
Freedom House reported that the the government has shown growing hostility toward independent and critical media in recent years. Investigative journalists or those critical of the government encounter aggressive rhetoric from senior officials, and are smeared in pro-government media as criminals or members of foreign intelligence agencies.
In Serbia, nine journalists were physically attacked in 2016, according to Serbia’s Independent Association of Journalists. Such incidents are rarely investigated.
In neighboring Macedonia, attacks and harassment against journalists are increasing, with many violations taking place as journalists cover the news, according to the Freedom House. Security forces are accused of committing several such violations.
The fact that Balkan countries have failed to adequately investigate and prosecute attacks on journalists was confirmed by other sources such as the Human Rights Watch 2015 report on media freedom and IREX Media Sustainability Index.
This is how self censorship becomes a reality.
Details from the story:
- The Western Balkan’s Regional Platform for Advocating Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety has registered several death threats against Bosnian journalist Dragan Bursać.
- Bursać was forced to leave Banja Luka in July last year out of fear for his safety.
- In recent years, Mapping Media Freedom has documented cases of threats to journalists in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Media workers were threatened, intimidated and bullied for questioning nationalistic dogmas.
- Dostajemrznje.org is a website created by Croatian association GONG which citizens can use to report hate speech and discriminatory messages published on Internet and by media.