Following discussions during the conference on “Media, Minorities, Diversity”, held in Tirana, Albania, from 24 to 26 October 2011, and organised by the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), with support of the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), and in cooperation with Albania Media Institute and the International Media Centre (IMC), the participants concluded:
1. Many politicians and media representatives in South, East and Central Europe have difficulties accepting diversity: gender, sexual, religious, ethnic, political, etc. Hate speech, stereotyping, negative profiling and discriminatory language have not died out. It has subsided but is widely present. The targets are diverse: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community; ethnic minorities; religious groups; women; neighbouring countries and nations; etc.
2. Although hate speech has many targets, some communities are targeted more often than others. In case of South, East and Central Europe, the LGBT community is targeted in a more degrading way than other groups. Roma have often suffered.
3. Neither governing parties nor mainstream media seem to have a long term vision of the type of society that should be created in terms of incorporation off all citizens, independently of their sexual orientation, ethnic or religious belonging. While legislation may be in place, often as a result of international agreements and even pressure, their implementation is not guaranteed. Hate speech is generally tolerated especially on web portals and among readers’ comments. As a result, there is a spill-over effect between the hate speech in public arena and news reporting. That is, most media simply reflect what is said, without taking a stand or condemning. Even public broadcasters are not immune to these practices.
4. Civil society organisations are not strong enough to defend the interests of different groups. Yet, some groups have better representation than others.
5. In many countries, legislation prohibits discrimination on sexual, gender, ethnic or religious grounds. Yet, implementing international standards and recommendations in daily life and especially in media is proving to be a real challenge.
6. Public at large is often unaware of the exact meaning of discrimination or hate speech. The latter concept is sometimes misused to denote political criticism.
7. Discriminating language, stereotyping, negative reporting is both overt and sophisticated. Both are dangerous. One adjective can change the meaning of a story: portraying sexual orientation as unnatural, a specific ethnic group as violent, a particular religion as uncivilized, women as sex symbols, political opponents as traitors, to give a few frequent examples.
8. Minority groups do not constitute a homogeneous community.
9. Yet, as the conference demonstrated, if civil society groups unite, nationally and regionally, they can all gain and better influence editorial policies; demand the change of government policies; increase pressure to gain public support, etc.
10. Public debate is lacking in all areas of discrimination. Some groups, however, as for example the LGBT community, have additional challenges: they fear to go public with their demands. It suffices to recall that in most South, East and Central European countries gay parades faced numerous problems.
11. Many editors and journalists lack sufficient training in how to report on diversity and minorities.
12. The existing minority do not have the outreach mainstream media have.
13. Minority media need public financial support in order to survive. They are too small in order to generate profit and operate commercial basis.
14. Roma media need special support, national and international, both in terms of funding and capacity building.
1. Education is the first step in combating hate speech and accepting diversity
2. While media reflect what politicians say and politicians quote media, this chain has to be stopped. Educating editors and journalists can be the first step.
3. Workshops, training sessions and conferences should be organized-each format has its advantages-in order to train, exchange information and share both bad and good experiences, as well as best practices.
4. Civil society groups representing different minority communities should be included in training and developing training materials. Networking is a key to overcoming stereotyping as well as combating intra-minority prejudices.
5. Public has to be educated. Yet, in order to engage in educating the public, media, as the main source of information, should be educated first. Inappropriately led and presented debates can create damage.
6. Education and training should encompass different categories of minorities: each has specific problems and sensitivities.
7. Creating international networks, especially in the geographic area with similar historic and cultural heritage, can have a positive effect: most countries compare themselves primarily with their neighbors; learning experiences and exchange of information can be more productive among the societies with similar experiences. Imported experiences are often looked upon and lack the local perspective that is essential in designing appropriate programs.
8. Media should make sure that international standards and recommendations in dealing with diversity are respected by politicians and by their colleagues in journalism. All media – mainstream and minority – have to follow professional and ethical standards.
9. Guidelines for reporting diversity exist. Yet, they have to be adapted to South, East and Central Europe. Imported standards often neglect local experiences and sensitivities.
10. SEEMO should facilitate international and regional networking of minority and diversity media.
11. Considering the Roma experience in and with media, SEEMO should adopt a medium-term strategy in support of Roma media and start organizing Roma Media Days on annual basis.
12. While the role of mainstream and minority media is essential in overcoming hate speech in its different forms, politicians also have to play an active role in combating discrimination, stereotyping, and negative portrayal of different groups as well as avoid inciting hatred or violence on any sort.