Analysis: No portal banned over hate speech, racism

NEWS 25.03.202319:43
Dmitriy Shironosov / Panthermedia / Profimedia / ilustracija

The Electronic Media Agency (AEM) register in 2022 contained 493 electronic publications which were overseen by only eight supervisors, and no portal was banned over hate speech, racism or violation of the relevant law, shows an analysis by the GONG nongovernmental organisation.

The so far most comprehensive analysis of how, and how fast the Electronic Media Council (VEM), as an independent media regulator, carries out inspections of electronic publications and decides in cases of blatant violation of the law, is part of GONG’s project for support to investigative journalism (PING), to be made public on on Monday.

The author of the analysis, Miroslav Edvin Habek, particularly focused on VEM’s actions in cases of reports concerning the glorification of the Ustasha regime or denial or downplaying of its genocidal nature, hate speech and incitement of hate on racial, religious and ethnic grounds and on the grounds of one’s sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Citing specific cases, Habek says that in November 2022 VEM withdrew the broadcasting licence for CRO TV HD – Croatian Diaspora Television – for more than ten months after receiving a complaint that it broadcast Ustasha songs and promoted Ustasha ideology, used the content of others without permission, and, as established subsequently, violated the Electronic Media Act (ZEM).

However, its licence was not withdrawn because of the glorification of Ustashism but because the broadcaster failed to submit the requested recordings of the controversial programme. VEM, therefore, closed the case by removing the broadcaster from the AEM register almost a year after the complaint was submitted in January 2022. A part of the CRO TV HD’s programme is still available on YouTube.

Reports over racism, xenophobia, misogyny

On the other hand, in late April, VEM decided on a complaint over racism in the media, prompted by an article headlined “Even though there are no Roma among them, residents of Sveta Marija regularly witness littering,” published on the portal. The provider of that electronic publication was only issued with a warning even though, the analysis says, it was a violation of ZEM provisions concerning racism and xenophobia. VEM did not specify if it had notified the Ministry of the Interior of the case, which is its legal obligation, or if in its warning it had mentioned the possibility of banning the portal and removing it from the AEM register.

In April 2022 VEM issued an HRK 100,000 fine for the publisher of the portal after receiving a complaint of misogyny and incitement to violence against women in an article headlined “Feminism as a movement of ugly women.” However, the fine was subsequently withdrawn because it was established that the publisher – the Sloboda association – ceased to exist back in late October 2018 and was removed from the register of NGOs.

VEM, therefore, decided to notify the Ministry of the Interior of the case, “which should have been responded to back in 2018,” says the analysis.

The same publisher, the “Sloboda” – association for the protection of freedom of speech, in November 2022 registered without any problems with the AEM. Meanwhile the portal did not publish new content, but the controversial article containing hate speech disappeared from its pages.

Even though the AEM stresses that electronic publications are continually monitored for toxic and illegal content, in practice sanctions are introduced only following complaints by citizens or institutions, the analysis says.

No electronic publication banned

“The figures are merciless and sobering, at least they should be for those who say that Croatian portals are full of hate speech, and even more for those who claim that hate speech and violation of ZEM is constantly monitored, and, even more importantly, penalised in a timely and predictable way. That simply is not true,” the author says.

According to official data from the AEM, at the end of 2022 a so far record-high number of 493 electronic publications were registered with the AEM, and last year only 171 complaints were filed against them by citizens, agencies or legal entities in 108 cases. The AEM’s eight media supervisors made decisions in only 39 cases.

The cases concerning the protection of minors were the most numerous – 23, 10 referred to advertising and sponsorship, and 5 to concession obligations and legal programmes. Only one case concerned incitement to hate and discrimination.

Thirty-nine decisions were issued – including 35 warnings, one misdemeanour report, and one permanent licence withdrawal.

No electronic publication was banned for hate speech, racism or violation of other, possibly equally important provisions of the new Electronic Media Act, and, most importantly, violation of new AEM rules adopted in 2022, reads the analysis.