Safeguarding freedom of expression entails preventing hate speech — journalists

AMMAN — Between the fundamental right of freedom of expression and hate speech lies a thin line, which — when crossed — causes grave danger, media officials said at a workshop on hate speech.

Former media minister Nabil Sharif told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of the workshop that freedom of speech should not be sacrificed under any circumstances but upheld, respected and even endorsed in all cases.

However, some media outlets abuse freedom of speech and use it as a weapon to instigate hatred in society, Sharif noted.

“What we witness in Arab media in particular is really alarming; there are some increasing cases of using media as a weapon to sow hatred and division,” he said.

The two-day workshop, which concluded last Thursday, was organised by Imdad Media Trainers and Consultants in cooperation with the US embassy, and aimed to create awareness among media practitioners on the dangers of hate speech.

Sharif, who is director of Imdad Media Trainers and Consultants, said media organisations should make sure that media is utilised as a tool of development to build society.

According to the former minister, media in Jordan is free from hate speech, but is influenced by some Arab satellite channels and other media outlets.

Workshop participants, some 60 Jordanian journalists, agreed that the main mission of journalism is to be a force for good and serve the public interest by reporting the truth independently and responsibly.

Sharif defined hate speech as speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation, which is forbidden because it may incite violence.

“The Arab Spring, mainly in Egypt and Syria, revived many cases of violence and hostility which were not explicit for decades, thus increasing hate speech,” Sharif said, warning that hurtful words “are more painful than bullets”.

He added that in spite of many interfaith dialogues taking place in the area, hate speech has been increasing doubt and fear of the other.

Zuhair Abdulqader, media trainer at Jordan Television, said higher standards in journalism can be promoted through education and training, putting an emphasis on the importance of words and the tone of voice.

“Good-quality journalists usually listen more and talk less, using a normal tone of voice,” Abdulqader noted.

At the end of the workshop, participants agreed to commit to fighting incitement to hate and violence and denouncing it wherever and whenever it happens as a matter of principle.

The journalists said they will also raise their colleagues’ awareness of the codes and guidelines to follow to avoid veering towards hate speech.


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