In a free and democratic society, where do your freedoms end and mine begin? As journalists and members of the media fraternity, we greatly value the freedom of speech and communication as a means to carrying out our duties of informing the public. Technological advances have enabled the media to counter efforts by governments to censor journalistic content. Web based publishing as well as satellite television have made government control of the media much more difficult. Content can now be published or broadcast from other jurisdictions in which suppressive governments have no authority. Information spreads much faster on the web than it did on printed newspaper. But as every journalist knows, the freedom of expression comes with a great responsibility. Abuse of this privilege has led to dire consequences in the past, more so when journalists engage in hate speech and propaganda.
The genocidal killings that took place in Rwanda in 1994 are a classic example of a time the media played a strategic role in inciting hate and violence. The media often finds itself caught in between struggles between societies and groups that differ between religious, racial, or ethnic lines. Intolerance between communities, fueled by sensationalism and inflammatory speech, continues to be the cause of conflict and violence in many parts of Africa.
This year’s African Media Leaders Forum takes place in South Africa; a country that recently saw an upsurge of violence against foreign nationals whose gruesome progression was widely covered by the media. Coverage of the xenophobic attacks was widely dissected, with many offering their opinions on whether the media played an appropriate role in tackling the issue. Did the press ask the tough questions that needed to be asked to both the government and the public? Could better coverage of the socio-economic politics in South Africa prior to the attack have averted the ugly incidents witnessed? What about in the aftermath of the attacks? What can journalists do to reverse the tide of hate and intolerance that seems to be sweeping through many communities in Africa?
The AMLF 2015 will feature a special symposium on overcoming hate speech in the media , and will reflect on the role and responsibility of the media in protecting citizens, reporting fairly, and when necessary, providing a moral compass for society. Last year, the African Media Initiative spearheaded a campaign against hate speech that was carried out online and on a range of media platforms. At the launch of this campaign, Jay Naidoo, who is a co-chair in this year’s forum underscored the significant role that the media has played in combating intolerance, including the fight against apartheid in South Africa, some two decades ago. This year’s symposium will seek to build on the conversation we began last year with the campaign, and will be geared towards developing a road map towards reversing the tide of hate and intolerance through the media.
Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network will be among the key speakers featured at the symposium. Watch the video below to get his perspective on the link between hate speech and journalism.