MDI in Milan: No Vocabulary to Talk about Diversity?

Date: 9 October 2015

Country: Italy

salvini_bulldozerWith politicians wearing t-shirts with bulldozers representing the razing to the ground of Roma camps, editors vocalising on Twitter their hopes for more Mecca stampedes, and journalists labelling immigration as an “emergency” for a decade, xenophobic discourse in Italy is a problem that needs to be urgently confronted.

Still, while hate speech and hate crimes are still unknown to the majority, workers in this sector (lawyers, judges, CSOs, journalists, teachers, researchers, and engaged citizens) have to face many challenges and questions when it comes to concretely respond to incidents through the existing procedures.

To discuss the possibilities of legal actions, advocacy and formal and informal education, ASGI (Association for the Juridical Studies on Immigration) organised the 1-day conference “Hate Speech and Freedom of expression” on the 9th of October in Milan. The event was held in cooperation with the “Cesare Beccaria” Law Department of the University of Milan and funded by Fondazione Italiana Charlemagne. Media Diversity Institute contributed to the debate within the working group “Hate Speech online and in the media”.

“We need more training on diversity reporting so that journalists can understand the harm they can do simply using wrong words or not putting facts in context” said Giulia Dessi of MDI showing some recent cases of islamophobia and antisemitism in media.

Italian journalists are constantly using words such as ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘nomads’, and ‘filo-Islamic’ often unaware of their misrepresentative or derogatory connotation. “The problem is that we are lacking words to talk about the wide breath of diversity”, said Marcello Maneri, professor of sociology and discourse analysis in the media. “We unconsciously assimilate and repeat those words heard in the media and are not able replace them with more neutral or accurate words simply because we don’t have other ‘archives’ from which to select them.” This fact, however, goes beyond linguistics and has real and concrete effects in our daily life, shaping our perception of what is legitimate and what is not. “The hegemony of language creates an appearance of public opinion”, thus affecting and justifying politicians’ policy decisions, Maneri concluded.

The problem of hate speech in the media also includes reporters’ challenges on how to report hate speech by public figures without running the risk of spreading hatred (see the Ethical Journalism Network’s 5-point test for journalists) and how to tackle the problem of hate speech in the comments section. With this in mind, Associazione Carta di Roma, together with the European Federation of Journalists and the association Articolo 21, recently launched the #nohatespeech campaign. The petition is asking journalists to discredit racist statements, readers to isolate the hate promoters, editors to moderate the comments sections, and social networks managers to remove hate speech more efficiently.

If the existing norms to prevent hate speech are not effective, legal amendments should be put forward and implemented. Among the several concrete actions to employ emerged during the conference, ASGI will build a network for debate and consensus in which lawyers, CSOs, researchers, and journalists will consult each other case by case in order to exchange experience and settle the most successful way of tackling hate speech.