In this report, ARTICLE 19 seeks to contribute to the development and strengthening of media self-regulation as a means to address ‘hate speech’ in Belarus.
In Belarus, ‘hate speech’ is a pervasive problem that affects various segments of society, in particular LGBT persons, ethnic and racial minorities and women; while the media regularly serves as a platform for the expression of ‘hate speech.’ Generally, the environment is one in which hateful statements are at least tolerated if not deemed acceptable outright. This problem is exacerbated by a lack of comprehensive legal protection against discrimination.
The Belarusian Government tightly controls civic spaces, curtailing the right to freedom of expression. Independent journalists and media-outlets work in a very difficult environment, facing harassment by State and non-State actors and stringent controls that are tantamount to censorship. At the same time, State run media is used by the authorities as a tool to campaign against human rights defenders and opposition politicians, among others. Given the restrictions on human rights, opportunities for promoting equality and combating ‘hate speech’ in Belarus are limited. Legislation is often abused to impose illegitimate restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, rather than to protect groups at risk of discrimination and marginalisation.
Despite these challenges, ARTICLE 19 believes there are a few limited opportunities for civil society in Belarus to tackle ‘hate speech’ without using the repressive State machinery, including through independent media self-regulation.
This report outlines relevant international law and standards in the area and examines existing models of media self-regulation across a number of European States and their role in addressing ‘hate speech.’ The practice of the Belarusian media self-regulatory body is contrasted with examples of practice from several European countries, looking into ethical standards and functions, as well as the means used to promote and enforce them. Finally, the brief provides suggestions for further developing and strengthening self-regulation of the press in Belarus, with a view to enabling it to effectively address ‘hate speech.’