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Is it possible to deal with hate speech through Legislation?

By Inga Kakulia
Friday, June 14
“The talks regarding the law regulating hate speech will be reopened as soon as possible,” Said the Chairperson of the Parliament Irakli Kobakhidze.

The discussion around hate speech and its regulations have been a topic of concern in the Georgian society as well as the Parliament for a while.

The Chairperson of the Parliament suggested reviving the talks as soon as possible and working on finding the balance between free speech and allowing hate speech.

Extensive research was done in 2017 by the Media Development Fund (MDF) about the hate speech in Georgia. The study showed that the total of 1,926 discriminatory comments was detected during the monitoring period (1 January 2017 – 31 December 2017) in the media. The largest share of these comments accounted for xenophobia (49,1%), which was followed by homophobia (38%), discrimination on the ground of religion (7.3%), hate speech on various grounds (4.5%), racism (1%) and one instance of discrimination on the ground of geographic location (0.1%).

Compared to the previous year, the increase was observed in almost all types of discrimination; however, the sharpest increase was seen in xenophobic comments that were mainly caused by the rise of anti-migrant attitudes (275). Such comments are also reflected in the category of religious discrimination (35), which adds up to the total of 310 comments against migrants; this increase in 2017 may be attributed to the stepped-up activity of ultra-nationalist groups and an anti-migrant campaign.

But a distinguished aspect of this problem is the rise of hate speech during the election campaigns and the period before elections.

“The problem of hate speech is a very relevant topic, and we will have a discussion regarding this issue during the election period,“ said Kobakhidze while speaking with journalists after the meeting regarding the election issues.

The topic was brought up by the Chairman of the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), Kakha Bekauri. Bekauri mentioned that hate speech is currently self-regulated in the Georgian Legislation, which does not correspond to European Legislation. According to him the GNCC had prepared the relevant draft law and submitted it to the Parliament in December 2018, although it has not yet been transformed into an initiative.

The very difficult task of balancing free speech and the regulations on hate crime is hard to achieve. As The Chairman said in his comment, hate crime is a part of free speech, but the task at hand is to find the balance between one's desire to use hate speech and the freedom to speak one’s mind.

This Legislation has already been initiated and is being discussed in the leading committee. The talks on this topic have been suspended for months. It is unclear why. The Chairman says he will do his best to accelerate the process.

The Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani, who also attended the meeting, mentioned that the election process if ridden with emotions, that sometimes manifest in hate speech. Tsulukiani highlighted that hate speech is noticeably more frequent when the electoral candidate is a woman. She said that regulations are crucial for creating the “red lines” to protect the personal space of individuals.

As mentioned in the MDF report on Hate Speech, Georgian Legislation does not criminalize hate speech except for those cases, when it creates a threat of immediate, irreversible, and apparent violence. Program restrictions concerning hate speech are imposed only on broadcast media. According to Article 56.3 of the Law of Georgia on Broadcasting, “Broadcasting of programs intended to abuse or discriminate against any person or group on the basis of disability, ethnic origin, religion, opinion, gender, sexual orientation or on the basis of any other feature or status, or which are intended to highlight this feature or status, are prohibited, except when it is necessary due to the content of a program and when it is targeted to illustrate the existing hatred”.

Standards restricting hate speech are also set out in the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters, the Code of Conduct of the Georgian Public Broadcaster and the Charter of Journalistic Ethics. The Code of Conduct for Broadcasters has been adopted by the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) as a normative act. According to the code, self-regulatory mechanism (commission and an appeal body) has been created in the broadcasters since 2009 to deal with violations. According to the CoE report, the effectiveness of the self-regulatory mechanisms is hampered by the different definition of “affected party” among different broadcasters when NGOs and representative of the certain groups are deprived of the right to complain.

The hate crime has been universal. Recently we’ve seen a resurgence of people through social media, the news, and online publications talking about the importance of protecting freedom of speech. For these people, the regulations on hate speech violate their fundamental right to express themselves freely, and the essential point of discussion for them is the logistics of these regulations. What exactly constitutes a hate speech? What if people start using it for personal gains? All these concerns are valid and reasonable. Maybe more telling is the group of people behind both sides of this topic and what their ultimate goals are within this discussion. The topic of hate speech during the elections or outside of elections remains vital to contemporary discourse. As promised by the Chairmen of the Parliament, the talks on this topic will soon be revived, and we’ll see precisely where the Georgian government stands regarding the topic.