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News 29 Mar 16

Hate Speech ‘Thriving’ in Bulgarian Media

Hate speech targeting the Roma minority, refugees and migrants has significantly increased in the Bulgarian media and on social networks over the past year, a new study says.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Sofia
Bulgarians campaiging against hate speech in Sofia. | Photo: No Hate Movement/Fickr

There has been an upsurge of hate speech in the Bulgarian media, mainly targeting the Roma minority, refugees and migrants, says a study by the Sofia-based Media Democracy and the Centre for Political Modernisation, which was published on Monday.

According to the study, the use of aggressively discriminatory language has become even more commonplace in online and tabloid media than on two Bulgarian TV stations which are owned by the far-right political parties Alpha and SKAT and are known for their ideological bias.

The study suggests that website owners see hate speech as a tool to increase traffic.

“This type of language has been turned into a commercial practice,” said Orlin Spassov, the executive director of Media Democracy.

The two NGOs interviewed 30 journalists and experts and monitored the Bulgarian media for hate speech in 2015 and at the beginning of 2016 for their study, entitled ‘Hate Speech in Bulgaria: Risk Zones and Vulnerable Objects’.

Among television stations, the main conduits for discriminatory language are the two party-run channels, Alpha and SKAT, where hate speech is used even during the news programmes, it says.

But hate speech is also penetrating the studios of the national television stations, mostly via guests on morning talk-shows, it claims.

“The problem is that the hosts make discriminatory remarks without any reaction,” it says.

The most common victims of hate speech are the Bulgarian Roma, mentioned in 93 per cent of the cases cited in the study, followed by refugees (73 per cent), LGBT men and people from the Middle East in general (70 per cent each).

Also targeted are human rights activists, with their work campaigning for minorities’ rights attracting derision.

The main purveyors of hate speech are commenters on social networks and football hooligans, but journalists and politicians have also been guilty, the study says.

Georgi Lozanov, the former president of the State Council for Electronic Media, also expressed concern that hate speech was on the rise in the country.

“There is a trend towards the normalisation of hate speech. My feeling is that the situation is out of control,” Lozanov said.

He argued that anti-liberal commentators were responsible because “anti-liberalism believes that hate speech is something fair”.

In order to combat the trend, the two NGOs have launched an informal coalition of organisations called Anti Hate, aimed at increasing public sensitivity to the spread of aggressive discrimination. 

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