July 5, 2021

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate on the internet based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or other diversity categories. The Balkan Troll is selected based on hate speech incidents identified across the Western Balkans region.

Our June Troll of the Month was TV Happy which displayed misinformation, strong sexist narratives and misogyny against women and victims of domestic violence.

The incident occurred on Nacionalna Televizija Happy (National TV Happy), a privately owned Serbian TV channel with a national frequency, during the morning show ‘Dobro jutro, Srbijo’ (Good morning, Serbia). This TV show is broadcast both on TV Happy and uploaded on YouTube in which it has received over 8, 421 views.

During the morning show, Vladimir Djukanovic a politician of the Serbian Progressive Party spoke about gender-sensitive language and the issues surrounding this topic. He went on to say that gender-sensitive language was what he classified as ‘language rape’.

He also added  that quotas in parliament aimed at promoting equality amongst both sexes were unnecessary as according to him, “we gave women a chance everywhere” suggesting that enough efforts from both society and parliament have been taken to promote gender equality.  

Djukanovic also talked about women’s inequality and argued that job interview questions deemed sexist and unfair such as asking a women if she plans to have children which could potentially affect their employment is evidence of inequality in certain fields of society. However, according to him “it does not mean that you should now rape the laws in place and make up that there is some inequality..”

As a conclusion on the adoption of such laws, he commented that “this was an absolute rape of society and the rape of language itself”. He furthermore, went on to accuse many women who reported their husbands for violence as merely doing so to have the weekend free to go out with their female friends. He went on to say that “domestic violence is most often reported in police stations on Thursdays. And do you know why? Because when she reports him, there are 48 hours of detention and he can’t go out until Monday and during that time she goes out and spends time with her friends”. In addition to this comment, the host went on to agree and add “or male friends”.

Spread of harmful lies and misinformation

Regardless of Vladimir Djukanovic’s statement regarding women’s position within society and the steps taken towards gender equality, recent studies have shown to disprove such statements, highlighting the continuing gender gap within Serbia.

According to UN Women, “despite laws and policies promoting gender equality, women are under-represented in decision-making in all spheres of Serbia’s social, economic, and political life. Studies have found that half of women in Serbia have experienced domestic violence, and women and Roma are considered the groups most subject to discrimination”.

Furthermore, despite the Serbian governments promise to take greater efforts towards gender equality and fight against sexism within the workplace, “the growing number of femicide, the gender pay gap, and sexual harassment in the workplace (even by government coalition officials), there are many examples of discrepancies between what the Serbian Progressive Party claims to stand for in terms of women’ rights, and what it actually practices”. This further highlights the gap between what the level of gender equality and women’s rights that is promoted versus its actual implementation within society.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) emphasizes that focusing on ending domestic violence and discrimination is crucial in fighting for women’s rights in Serbia. Therefore, by making such statements on a TV shows that is being broadcast nationally, it runs the risk of downplaying the significance of gender equality and the level of discrimination within both the workplace and private sphere in respects to women’s rights and equality to their male counterparts.

Harmful disinformation and misogyny

These statements and comments regarding domestic violence and abuse including political leaders’ casual remarks of them being a tool for women to get ‘free time in the weekend’ with friends or other men, seriously undermines the importance and seriousness of domestic violence as a topic of issue.

Furthermore, such comments contribute to the spread of sexism and misogyny within society with the spread of harmful misinformation and disinformation surrounding domestic violence and gender equality whilst furthermore, downplaying the significant and seriousness of violence towards women by their partners. By making such harmful comments, the politician as well as TV show undermine the experience of these women and their status as victims of domestic violence whilst ignoring the sense of urgency required in tackling these issues to promote equal rights and women’s safety.

Indeed, it is the responsibility and duty of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media in Serbia (REM) to react to such sensitive issues discussed on programmes such as TV Happy, especially as this is not the first instance of hate speech, misinformation and disinformation aired on this channel. Unfortunately, REM did not reacted to this one and many other problematic content that undermines some important processes within society, such as work on gender equality and diminishing gender based violence.