Discussions on the draft civil code that would allow same-sex civil unions have seen a sharp ruise in homophobic hate speech, partly engineered by irresponsible media.
The media play an essential role in social and political processes and as such carry many competencies in the way they serve information to the public, especially on sensitive topics.
In recent weeks, amid a heated debate over the adoption of the draft civil code containing a law allowing same-sex civil unions, the level of hate speech against the LGBTIQ + community has risen.
TV debates have lacked gender experts, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and space has instead been given to the clergy and certain politicians.
Statements were meanwhile spread in the online media that incited hatred to the LGBTIQ + community, calling them mentally ill, depraved and a threat to public health. But where is the other side of the coin – the scientific basis?
Unbalanced media articles increase the risk that audiences will consume deficient information and get the wrong impressions about a certain community.
Space should be given to the professionals
The media play an important role in forming public opinion and impressions on certain topics, especially when they are related to culture, morality, tradition, and above all, human rights.
How should society be served in cases where freedom of expression turns into hate speech and violates the basic right to live equally?
Sociologist Genc Xërxa says that sowing hatred, denigrating language and lynching through social networks matches our level as a society in terms of education ormental hygiene.
According to him, a greater evil than this is when it is added to another evil, when individuals who feel hatred give space to “pseudo-media creating a chaotic perception and level of communication in banal frames, intentionally or not”.
To address this topic in public opinion, sociologists, anthropologists and experts in cultural, psychological or related studies should be called.
“Space needs to be given to professionals and to competent people on this issue, which should not be thrown into the vortex of populism, insults and lynching by irresponsible and unprofessional individuals,” he says.
Kosovo society long functioned according to the codex of the medieval Kanun, or canon, religious laws and other traditions passed down through generations and established in our common ethno-psychology.
But Xërxa says a large number of these norms no longer coincide with the Euro-Western value system.
“This is the path that we as a society have chosen, and we’re asking Europe to accept us as part of their societies,” he said, emphasizing that as a state and society we cannot move forward without respecting all communities.
According to him, a reformed civil code is more than necessary, to regulate socio-cultural relations in society.
However, with or without the fault of the media, the draft civil code, containing 1,631 articles, failed to be approved in the first reading in parliament, mainly because it would guarantee same-sex civil unions.
“People without knowledge are carrying ideas, attitudes that are heard in different districts – people that have no knowledge at all about these things,” he said.
According to him, same-sex preferences have always existed, and always will, as long as society exists. Rules and norms should be set by the law granting protection in justice and equality between individuals, he said.
“Those who sow and show hatred should be brought to justice and at least not be given space in the media to express a segregating, lynching and eliminating opinion towards others,” the sociologist added.
Other side of the coin was missing in debates
While clerics, politicians and citizens who opposed the law were called in by some media, the other side of the coin was left missing.
Deputies were free to say members of the LGBT community threaten public health, or are mentally ill, with no scientific basis.
Professor of Journalism at the University of Prishtina Faton Ismajli says that in every case, especially in sensitive cases when the topics discussed are to some extent taboo, the media have a professional, ethical and legal obligation to balance news and debates.
Ismajli says balanced reporting and debates using credible sources directly affects the reduction of hate speech and intolerance.
“When journalists report on socially sensitive groups, they should keep in mind that they should not become platforms for inciting hatred, should not become distributors of lynching and insulting language, and should not become a tool to fight certain social groups,” he said.
In addition to information, the media have a crucial role in educating citizens about human rights, as guaranteed by the constitution.
In addition, according to Ismajli, the media can play an important role in educating the public to have an opinion on a certain issue.
At the same time, the media have a professional obligation to discuss these topics with sources that have a scientific background, and not to report and debate only with sources that increase “clicks” and incite hate speech against certain groups.
“By giving space to credible sources, sources with a scientific background, they help the public to see, read and hear more than one perspective on the topics that are addressed,” said Ismajli.
‘All media have allowed hate speech’
The first transgender person in Kosovo, Blert Morina, also director of the Center for Equality and Freedom of the LGBT Community, says the media play an extremely important role in raising awareness, and in this line should play the role of promoters in various fields.
What they say they have noticed as a community is that any discussion of LGBTI people ignites a tendency in the media to shift the debate and treat these rights in a sensational way.
“This is certainly extremely harmful if we consider the perception of the masses towards LGBTIQ + persons, and so, due to misinformation, this community in Kosovo remains in an unfavourable position,” Morina said.
According to Morina, media reports have often violated all possible journalistic ethics, and, with the debate on the civil code, “we have witnessed almost all media allowing the use of hate speech and slander on their platforms.
“Such shows must be careful in their invitations to debate, they must ensure that their platforms do not use exclusionary language and incitement to hatred,” said Morina, stressing that unfortunately the media have contributed to this escalation of hate speech.
Article behind the public debate
The draft code, in Chapter II, in Article 1,138, states that marriage is a legally registered union between two spouses of different sexes, by which they freely decide to live together as husband and wife.
“Marriage is a continuous lifelong union of a man and a woman, legally regulated. Marriage is related to giving the consent of the husband and wife and their signing before a civil official,” it says.
Rina Kika, a human rights lawyer, told BIRN that allowing same-sex civil unions is an important step towards legal recognition of same-sex couples.
“The constitution guarantees the right to marriage for every person and stipulates that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation,” she noted.
Habit Hajredini, from the Office for Good Governance, told BIRN that the Office of the Prime Minister is committed to putting human rights at the center of the values represented by the Republic of Kosovo, based on the principles of democracy and non-discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The issue of the Civil Code aims at unifying and harmonizing the laws of the civil field as a whole. The code has 1,631 articles structured in five sections which include the general part, obligations, property and property rights, family and inheritance.