Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Hate Speech Debate

In the past two weeks following Hurriyet columnist Yilmaz Ozdil's seeming praise of the April 12 attack on Ahmet Turk, a lively debate emerged in the Turkish press about the value of a new law regulating hate speech in the Turkish press (for a short summary, see Today's Zaman columnist Fatma Disli Zibak). Some opinion leaders argue that Article 215 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which criminalizes speech that "incites hatred and hostility amongst the public" is simply not enough. For instance, Today's Zaman columnist Yavuz Baydar argues that
Article 216 of the Penal Code, covering ‘inciting hatred’, must be more clearly formulated as to include racism and anti-Semitism. It must be rigorously implemented. But in order to avoid, court rulings, the media outlets must set a filter mechanism inside newsrooms.

. . . .

Columns that contain hate speech must be prevented from going to print or edited out. Each media outlet must internally ‘educate’ its reporters and editors on the subject. And, both ombudsmen and the press councils must pay attention to violations. Lastly, civil society must display vigilance and monitor the media on a daily basis and publicly complain or file for indictment.
At a conference held earlier this month by the Hrant Dink International Foundation, a study was unveiled that documented hate speech in the Turkish press among members of ethnic and religious minority groups. The study did not include other marginalized groups, such as women, LGBT people, or people with disabilities, nor did it cover all minority groups subject to hate speech or claim to do so. From Today's Zaman:
The study, which made public the results of the foundation’s study of the Turkish national press, looked into 24 newspapers with high levels of circulation, leaving aside their supplements.

The most targeted groups were Turkish citizens of Kurdish and Armenian origin. Greeks, Christians in general and Jews were also often the subjects of news stories or columns that contained hate speech.

The study considered bad language/defamation/insult; animosity/wartime discourse; exaggeration/ascribing/distortion; and stereotyping while examining the articles.

Three quarters of the hate speech identified by the researchers was found in columns; the rest was in news articles. The study examined newspapers published in August, September, October and November of last year.

While hate speech found its way easily to the pages of the H.O. Tercüman, Ortadoğu, Vakit, Yeniçağ, Sözcü and Türkiye dailies -- considered nationalist and conservative, and somewhat marginalized with their limited circulation -- it was also in the mainstream Hürriyet and Star dailies, although less so in the latter.
For more on the conference, see this Bianet report. For Baydar's op/ed on the subject in Today's Zaman, wherein the columnist also points a strong accusative finger at Hurriyet and the Dogan Media Group, click here.

For more on the lawsuit filed by the Diyarbakir Bar Association against Yilmaz Ozdil, see this Bianet report.

Further, it should be noted that Article 216 has been used against minority groups before. While a new law may well be needed, I am skeptical as to just how it would work and who all might be using it. For more on this point, see Jan. 24 post. Hate speech legislation is rarely easy, even with a well-functioning judiciary.

1 comment:

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I'd like to, once again, point out that more or less the same people who make extremely superficial and misleading comments about internet censorship here (and were silent when the law was passed in '07) are now pushing for punishing speech. The lesson here for me is that we have a very low quality intellectual class and their exposure to the 'West' (esp. the US) has not quite worked the way one would expect. I'm interested in the latter bit, because I find it odd/disturbing that the kind of interaction that more or less works and improves the level of understanding in sciences and engineering, seems to work in the opposite way in social/political science. (EG: I don't know if you realize this but for a while there a lot of ridiculous stuff got published by Turks and spread by foreigners about how nutty Turkish foreign policy had been up till the AKP came to power. Then someone like Danforth writes a paper about how it had been pragmatic all along and people go aha, yes. I'd watch the Turkish authors that produced the previous tripe about this. Maybe they'll sniff the air and start producing stuff that now goes counter to what they'd been feeding people. If I can sit down with no qualifications whatsoever and in 15 minutes and so trash what an acclaimed-by-foreigners professor writes and publishes, I tend to lose respect for the entire process that places such people where they are.)