THE COMMITTEE of Journalistic Ethics (EDD) issued a statement on Tuesday saying it had studied the recent involvement and role of a section of the media in cultivating a climate of hate and intolerance.
“The difficult times the country and society are going through necessitate that everyone shows tolerance and respect for different opinions and ideology, while debate should be conducted soberly and be based on arguments and not slogans and characterisations,” said the committee, whose main role is to investigate complaints made against the news media by members of the public.
These are fine sentiments, but the committee wields soft power and is unable to impose any penalties on offenders, restricting itself to issuing announcements about its findings or arranging the publication of corrections in newspapers after it mediates between the two sides. In short, it is a low-profile body that invariably uses a discreet and soft approach in dealing with the issues brought before it.
Tuesday’s statement was indicative of this approach. While reminding journalists that the incitement of hatred and racism is a criminal offence, it avoided citing any examples of this reprehensible journalism, opting instead to refer to a debate in the legislature during which deputies supporting a certain bill were labelled traitors. It is rather ironic that a body dedicated to defending journalistic ethics would issue an announcement making serious allegations against a section of the media without offering any evidence to substantiate them.
When asked about the issue by CNA, the committee’s secretary Petros Petrides commendably said the media had a responsibility to protect groups that are vulnerable to hate propaganda, but again he refused to give specific examples. The committee had received a complaint about a broadcast that was intolerant and racist, but had also identified several articles in Cypriot publications that expressed hatred and intolerance, he said.
Nobody doubts the veracity of the committee’s claims, but if it wants to be taken seriously and have an impact, it should not act so timidly, terrified of naming offenders. How will we stop the racists and bigots if we are afraid to name them and give examples of their journalism of hatred? These people will not become bleeding heart liberals championing the rights of ethnic minorities because they have read the committee’s statement, meekly informing them that incitement of hatred is a criminal offence.
If the committee sincerely wants to tackle intolerance and racism in the media, it should not tip-toe around the issue, afraid to name the perpetrators and cite specific examples of their incitement to hatred. As long as they are not directly and openly challenged the racists and bigots will carry on with their toxic journalism, because they are unlikely to heed gentle requests to change their ways.