During the electoral campaigns the risk of the use of hate speech in the media increases and the heated political debates may affect the ethical norms and standards of a democratic society. To address this topic and discuss about challenges and solutions to counter hate speech and the important role of media in this process was the main focus of the event on “Electoral campaign: ethical standards and media’s role and responsibility” organised today in Tirana, 20 March 2023 with the support of the EU and Council of Europe joint “Horizontal Facility III” programme and OSCE in Albania.
The event brought together representatives from the main political parties in Albania, media representatives, equality bodies and civil society actors to exchange their views and opinions on monitoring electoral campaign finances, fight hate-speech and discrimination as well as promote ethical standards during electoral campaigns.
Ilirjan Celibashi, State Elections Commissioner underlined the lack of legal provisions for regulating the behavior of online media and social media during the election campaign and that Albanian legislation does not have any rule to impose on the behavior of social media. Therefore, he encouraged the idea that within the framework of the new electoral reform, this aspect will also find its own solution. Even though online media and social networks, which are a novelty, do not have the regulation they ought to have, does not prevent the political parties and the Parliament of Albania from addressing the relationship between political parties, election campaigns and social media.
Ambassador Guido De Sanctis underlined that the impact of campaign finance on the media's coverage of elections should not be overlooked and that candidates with more money can potentially control the narrative and dominate the media's coverage of the election. He added that the OSCE strongly supports and encourages a stronger professional and ethical media watch over the electoral contestants’ campaign activity and transparency by keeping the public informed about the origin and extend of funds used on engagement for electoral purposes.
In his remarks, Olsi Dekovi, acting Head of the Council of Europe Office in Tirana, emphasized the support provided by the Council of Europe and the European Union to Albanian institutions in initiatives taken to avoid hate speech as a promoter of divisions, intolerance and discrimination. He underlined that hate speech during election campaigns influences and discourages citizens to vote, marginalizes and incites hatred between different groups of citizens. Therefore, civil society and the media have an important role in promoting respect, banning hate speech and discrimination, and discouraging political parties and candidates from using hate speech.
In his address, Jean-Baptiste Le Bras, Deputy Head of Political Section at the European Delegation to Albania stressed the importance of local government elections within the European Union integration and the essential role of the media especially during election campaigns. He added that the challenges raised at this table should be addressed by the responsible institutions so that the electoral processes reach the required standards.
During the discussions the participants had the opportunity to tackle important aspects on how to raise awareness through public information campaigns and the importance of voter education programmes in this context. All these contribute to the fight against disinformation and promote freedom of expression but at the same time aim to draw a fine line between free speech and hate speech whenever they can come into conflict with each other and can be difficult to balance.
Freedom of expression is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and protects citizens from interference with their right to freely express their opinions. This freedom is essential when it comes to the electoral process however must not give rise to hate speech that would undermine the electoral process, by polluting the campaign and political debate necessary for voters to make an informed choice.
The event was organised with the support of the Action on “Advancing the Protection from Discrimination in Albania” part of the joint European Union and Council of Europe “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Türkiye”, and the OSCE Presence in Albania.