Monthly Monitoring Highlights – discrimination and sensational reporting

September 12, 2023

Throughout the month of August, the RDN monitoring team has detected a range of hateful narratives and discourse. This month we have seen hatred based on gender, disabilities, sexuality, and ethnicity; as well as sensationalism in the media.

Gender discrimination in Serbia

Ivana Parlić, a Member of Parliament coming from the People’s Party recently took to Twitter where she attacked singer and influencer Filip Marinkov known as Filarri, who used to frequently do makeup tutorials at a young age. Parlić went on to attack Filarri for wearing makeup, posting photos of him, and reinforcing gender stereotypes by implying that men cannot wear makeup. Filarri gained more popularity over the past year and was even part of the contest for Eurovision, where he was contesting to represent Serbia in the popular music show last year.

A few days later, Ivana posted a photo of Filarri in which he looks pregnant with the caption: “I am against this. As a woman, a mother and as a Member of Parliament. To make it clear to everyone…this photo was part of a photoshoot he did.” This received a lot of criticism in the comments from various users. Filarri responded with a video addressing the situation saying that he got hateful messages after the posts and holding her accountable. Parlić likewise received sexist and insulting messages directed towards her.

This is a clear example of trolling and attacking an individual. Ivana Parlić is not only an MP who holds a position of power and influence, but also has a professional responsibility to be accountable for her actions. Spreading hate online and targeting individuals is extremely hateful and likewise, no one should be subjected to these type of insults in any shape or form.

Hatred Against People with Disabilities in North Macedonia

Zoran Mijalkov is a civic activist and a father of two children who have autism. Recently he got involved in an argument on Facebook with an online user known as Ranko Srbakoski. During this exchange, Ranko directed several obscene insults towards Zoran and his children, calling the father of two, a ‘rotten seed’ thereby, implying that he is to be blamed for his children’s autism, and that he should stop having children. Ranko also called Zoran’s children ‘sick’ and used a number of other derogatory words. It was unclear what provoked Ranko to share these degrading and personal insults. Furthermore, all comments in question have since been deleted.

The public were quick to respond to this incident, flooding social media with requests for Ranko to take accountability for his insulting comments and pointing out that comments like these can have dangerous implications and consequences especially for the lives of those with autism in the country, and their families. The media also responded to this incident, with leading newspapers and online news channels covering the issue. Furthermore, both Mijalkov and the organisation First Children’s Embassy in the World ‘Megjashi’ filed an official complaint against Srbakoski based on hate speech. According to legal provisions, if found guilty, Srbakoski is facing a prison sentence ranging from 1 to 5 years for hate speech and the promotion of violence on social media.

Seeing such comments and insulting, derogatory language being posted and shared online is extremely upsetting and merely serves to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Words matter, and they can have a direct impact on behaviour. There is a strong stigma in relation to individuals with disabilities and mental disabilities, and these cases are a result of the constant stigma we see in society. There is also a lot of ignorance and lack of understanding when it comes to (mental) disabilities, Srbakoski’s attitude only contributes to that. Everyone should be treated equally and with respect. All forms of hate, aggression and hateful language should be condemned and accounted for.

Ethnic Discrimination in Montenegro

IN4S is a pro-Serbian portal in Montenegro which recently targeted ethnic Albanians by calling them ‘shiptars’, derogatory term used for Albanian people. This, is an insulting expression for Albanians in Montenegrin as well as other languages in the Western Balkans.

This reaction from IN4S was instigated by a wave of online hatred due to a group of Kosovan young people in Ulcinj name-calling Serbians in Montenegro. They called for violence against Serbs on the day commemorating operation Oluja (Storm) by shouting derogatory chants. Pro-Serbian portal IN4S therefore, responded to this incident by insulting Albanians in their headline.

No matter what the incident or where the source stems from, hate should never be met with hate. There is no justification for the use of insulting, derogatory terminology. Furthermore, a portal which is widely read and followed in the country should not be using their platform to spread ethnic hatred or language.

Transphobia and homophobia in Kosovo

Every August, Prizren hosts the DokuFest, International festival of documentary and short films. This year, Canadian musician Peaches performed at the opening of the festival. Images from the performance which featured revealing costumes caused much controversy amongst the public in the country.  Peaches also showed support for the transgender community during the performance. In reaction to this, MPs Duda Balje and Eman Rrahmani took to their Facebook to post several photos from the opening act in which they claimed that such a performance was shameful, and that such scenes and events cannot be funded by the budget of Kosovo.

Adding to this, the head of Prizren’s Islamic Community, Besim Berisha also reacted on his Facebook. He claimed that it was shameful to have such images and messages being promoted at the festival. He also claimed that DokuFest has no values and that children should be kept away from such ‘degeneracy’. In another post, Besim Berisha called for a protest to be organised against DokuFest, and on a post with a photo of the words ‘DokuFest’ was a prohibition sign.

The protest kicked off with a large gathering of people holding up signs and banners which read ‘not with our taxes’ and ‘keep drugs away from our children’. Upon being asked if they believe the Islamic preacher, some of the protestors reacted aggressively and physically attacked journalist Vullnet Krasniqi and his cameraman. This resulted in the Association of Journalists of Kosovo condemning the attack and requesting that the police carry out an investigation for those responsible. The police since confirmed that they arrested one of the suspects, with no other updates just yet.

Here we can see the negative outcomes which stem from hateful speech and the spread of negative attitudes due to the support of marginalised communities in society. Universal equality of treatment should be granted to all. The call for protests and use of hateful language by members of parliament can have serious outcomes and consequences. In this case, we have witnessed a link between violent language and violent acts.

Sensational reporting on femicide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania

On the 11th of August, murderer Nermin Sulejmanović physically attacked his ex-partner and proceeded to broadcast her murder live on Instagram. The same day, he killed two more individuals and wounded another three. While he was being chased by the police, he took to Instagram once more to talk about the murders and to ask his audience to guess how many people he had killed. Altogether it took more than three hours for Sulejmanović’s video to be removed and for his account to be blocked. Before the police could catch him, Nermin Sulejmanović committed suicide the same day.

The live reached over 15,000 views at one point, before it was taken down by the platform. This video also kept gaining more likes, meanwhile his account received more followers before the police and Meta reacted.

The media in the country began to report on the events which took place including republishing snippets of the video itself and various photos of the perpetrator on his motorcycle and in the gym. The media described the event as a ‘family tragedy’, a ‘bloody persecution’ and a ‘bloody feast’ – all extremely loaded terms used to gain the attention of readers, but equally extremely harmful, and insensitive. The media dedicated unproportioned attention and focus to the perpetrator, focusing more on stating details which could result in individuals appraising and sympathising with him, despite him being the perpetrator of a horrific crime.

It is extremely important for the media to report on incidents of violence in a professional manner. As a main source of news and information to the public, the media holds a responsibility and duty to ensure that they are unbiased when relaying information to their readers / viewers. The media has a role to play in raising these issues and holding the rightful institutions accountable to respond and prevent such incidents from (re)occurring in the future. They can also use their platform to raise awareness about pressing issues, such as tackling topics like gender-based violence, which has deep-rooted societal causes and remains prevalent in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Equally, social media platforms should utilise incidents like these to improve on their removal of violent content and improve their mechanisms of response to ensure incidents like these are not repeated in the future.

In Albania, the murder of a 32-year-old woman in the coastal city of Dürres in the beginning of August resulted in insultive news reporting. The woman herself was a sex worker which was met with negative judgement from the media reporting on the event. Many headlines and comments highlighted her job. Furthermore, details of the crime, including photographs from the crime scene were made public through a media frenzy, thereby, completely disregarding media ethics and journalistic standards.

Any victim of murder is a victim, someone who has been subjected to violence and a crime. Regardless of their job or profession in life, they deserve equal respect and consideration. What the job of the victim was has no relevance to the crime itself and does not need to be mentioned or highlighted. Sensationalistic reporting like this is extremely harmful, insensitive, and disturbing. Furthermore, disregarding all standards and practices of ethical reporting by sharing photographs of the scene is furthermore, both wrong and should be accounted for. The media should maintain their professional role and refrain from publishing derogatory headlines and details for clickbait, and should equally take responsibility and face the consequences when disregarding such standards.