The Council of Europe has published a series of guidelines on preventing and combatting hate speech. EURACTIV Italy reports.
On Monday (21 March), which also happened to be the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Council of Europe’s committee against racism (ECRI) presented guidelines to its 47 member states on how to prevent and combat hate speech, and how to support people who are directly and indirectly affected by it.
Hate speech, stressed the ECRI, encourages acts of violence and discrimination that undermine respect for minority groups and social cohesion and governments should therefore intervene with timely and effective measures.
The ECRI’s recommendations include urging governments to encourage prominent, public figures to react appropriately when hate speech rears its head and to promote self-regulation of the media, as well as raising awareness of the dangerous consequences that hate speech can have on society.
The committee also emphasised the importance of developing tailored educational programmes for young people, university staff, public officials and the general public.
The Strasbourg-based organisation also suggested that governments should withdraw any form of aid, financial or otherwise, from political parties that incite hatred and criminalise the most extreme forms of it, while still respecting the principle of freedom of expression.
It cited an Estonian case that was brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2015, in which the Delfi news portal was found liable for anonymous defamatory comments that were left on its site. The Court ruled 15-2 against Delfi, stating that the portal’s freedom of expression had not been violated, as the comments were ruled to be extreme in nature.
The ruling was unexpected, and led many commentators to raise concerns about the future of press freedom.
The Council of Europe has no remit to provide binding resolutions or laws, and the ECHR’s ruling on the Estonia case has no effect on European or national law, although it may have an effect on future law-making.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks hit Brussels yesterday (22 March), the hashtag ‘#stopislam’ started trending on social media. It seems likely that the CoE’s guidelines will be given a baptism of fire as people continue to react to the horrendous events that unfolded in the Belgian capital.