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News 31 Jan 14

Kosovo Online Media Urged to Curb Hate Speech

An NGO in Pristina has urged online media outlets to ban readers’ comments that are flagrantly offensive and incite hatred - saying very few of them now exercise any such control.

Edona Peci

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights said a large number of online media in Kosovo permit "offensive, denigrating and humiliating language, which potentially incite hatred”.

After monitoring nine Kosovo websites in 2012 and 2013, the NGO concluded that most portals "do not filter comments at all, allowing hate speech through insulting expressions, denigration, humiliation and often also calls for violence against certain persons or groups.

“Expressions like ‘shkijet’ (an offensive term for Serbs), ‘maxhup’ (an offensive term for Roma), ‘pedera’ (an offensive term for gays) are common in portals, with some exceptions”, the organisation said it its report, “In the name of freedom of expression”.

Alma Lama, a lawmaker, harshly criticized Kosovo's news portals, claiming that “most are part of someone’s political agenda and serve political parties. I am not talking just about parties which are fundamentalist and want Sharia law, I am also talking about other parties,” she said.

Lama was attacked in various news portals after she criticized the speech of a Muslim cleric on the role of women in society. “These media do not obey the law,” she said.

Incitement to hatred is a criminal offence in Kosovo, punishable by a fine or imprisonment up to ten years.

However, Adriatik Kelmendi, an editor at TV KohaVision, said censorshop was not the answer.

“This problem cannot be solved by closing comments or detaining people,” he said. “There is a need to educate and raise awareness among the media. On the other hand, the media have to become more determined [to address the matter].”

The Press Council of Kosovo, one of the main bodies responsible to tracking the print media, has no power to fine media outlets, but advocates obedience to a code of conduct for the media.

The code, based on international standards of journalistic practice, is intended as the foundation of a system of self-regulation that should be considered binding on reporters, editors, owners and publishers of newspapers and periodicals.

Imer Mushkolaj, deputy head of the board of the Council, said online media are responsible for the comments they publish, "just as they are responsible for the news articles they print”.

The annual report for 2012 of the Independent Media Commission, IMC, said 83 radio and 21 TV stations were operating in Kosovo in 2012 alongside eight daily newspapers. There are no figures on the number of news portals operating in the country.

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