Free media speech is not only the right of journalists but is inextricably linked to the right of all citizens to be objectively informed, which is why the media must not be a tool of manipulation and a training ground for hate speech, and journalists the targets of pressure and attacks said the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Brankica Janković, on the occasion of World Media Freedom Day.
The Commissioner reminded that the free media is not only a source of reliable and accurate news but should be a corrective to society, correct injustices and discrimination, encourage pluralism of opinion and constructive dialogue, and support institutions and the rule of law, as illustrated by this year’s topic with which the UN celebrates May 3: “Shaping the future of law: Freedom of expression as the driving force of all other human rights”.
It is worrying that journalists often face pressure, intimidation, and attacks, and that many of them work in a disagreeable financial and labor-legal status. The Commissioner points out that it is essential to improve their position, as protecting their personal safety and professional integrity must be the focus of the institutions.
Janković also calls for the responsibility of the media as an influential channel through which messages are transmitted and shape the public opinion, recalling the long-ago pronounced assessment that journalistic coverage can “easily create or tarnish the reputation of any person”. Freedom of the media comes with a special responsibility to report impartially and professionally, respecting ethical standards and journalistic codes, without fear or favor, censorship or self-censorship. On the other hand, no one has the right to abuse the media to deal with those who have a different opinion, especially when these attacks are being justified by freedom of expression. Otherwise, bigotry and inflammatory rhetoric create a public space where it is common for schools and streets to be covered with offensive and threatening messages that incite fear and create a hostile environment where it takes little for anyone to feel invited to deal with the “traitors” in the way they think traitors should be treated, concluded the Commissioner.
For the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, the media are essential partners in the fight against hate speech, discriminatory statements, and sexist attitudes, so for years, the Commissioner has been working on training and manuals for reporting on the marginalized and all the groups that are at greater risk of discrimination and social exclusion, and gives annual awards for the best media content on the topic of fighting against discrimination and promoting equality and tolerance.