THE BURDEN OF INFORMATION MANIPULATION: WHO SUFFERS THE CONSEQUENCES

Evangelical pastor Akil Pano, leader of the Albanian Coalition for the Protection of the Family, in a Facebook post, reported on a form/questionnaire coming from a kindergarten in Tirana, where the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ had been substituted with ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2.’ Pano argued that the “Gay Agenda” has being implemented, stating that “this kind of imposition is violence and is the dictatorship of the minority over the majority,” and calling for the action of the Ministry of Education and other competent institutions to remove this form from circulation. Pano’s post was filled with hateful comments against the LGBT community, who are seen as to blame for the dismantlement of the traditional family.

Changing the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father’ with ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ is, nevertheless, against the law as laid out by the current Albanian Family Code, and perpetuates the controversy that has begun earlier this year regarding the proposal to switch to the terms ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ in school forms in an attempt not to discriminate against those with parents of the same sex. In fact, the dispute led to the LGBT Alliance reporting Pano to the Commissioner for Protection against Discrimination in early September.

Pano’s recent post was quickly picked up by most mainstream media outlets, where hateful comments were in abundance in the comment sections; nevertheless, some outlets themselves used hateful headlines to describe the situation such as calling it a “shameful incident” (Priza). While TemA reported neutrally, its comment section was full of hate speech, and, interestingly, commenters even link these changes with Albania’s EU accession prospects, with a commenter stating that “Albania doesn’t need the EU if such changes have to be made in order to accede.”

In a turn of events, the next day the Municipality of Tirana stated that it “only circulates registration forms with the terms ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ in accordance with the law.”

The LGBT Alliance released a public statement, confirming that they have no information on the form, and adding that they share the same curiosity regarding who has created the form/questionnaire. The LGBT Alliance condemned the media for its lack of professionalism, for fabricating information for public consumption without any filters. “We urge the media and journalists to distance themselves from this unacceptable practice and to play their investigative and informative role, independently and uninfluenced, instead of turning into a source of misinformation and slander, confronting us unfairly and several times with invented waves of hatred,” stated the LGBT Alliance.

In an appearance on the programme “Shqiperia Live” on Top Channel television, where tensions arose, Akil Pano stated that it was a journalist who sent him the form, assuring that other portals reported on the form/questionnaire before him, when, in fact, a simple fact check proves that the news originated from Pano’s Facebook post. Another guest on the programme argued that the form was fabricated to incite hate speech against the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Sali Berisha made a Facebook post accusing current Prime Minister Edi Rama of orchestrating this switch in school forms, thereby undermining the value of family. Berisha stated that “turning parents into numbers is a barbaric, primitive attempt to replace the basic, human and divine values of the family and to destroy and turn it into something worthless.”

While the origin of the form/questionnaire that pastor Pano reported remains unknown, the fact still remains that the debate around the legal change from ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’ has been framed in an inappropriate manner. The information manipulation carried out in this case only serves to further incite division and hatred within society, be it hatred against the LGBT community, against religious figures such as pastor Pano, against political figures who exploit the controversy for their own purposes, or against the media itself for reporting unverified information.

Most importantly, the media should verify the information it has obtained and is reporting on, and “should not mislead the public. They should clearly indicate where manipulated texts, documents, images and sounds have been used” in respect of the Code of Ethics of Albanian Media. Hate speech is further fueled precisely due to a lack of accurate information and transparency on part of the media.

In addition, public figures must be careful regarding what kind of messages they spread, but also how they spread them, as, often, the status of the person who spreads the message has more weight than the message itself. Furthermore, online outlets should adhere to the principles of self-regulation and even employ social media editors to moderate hateful narratives, since, unfortunately, this is a sphere that unfortunately does not enjoy the regulation it should in Albanian legislation.

Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 urges media outlets to act in accordance with the Code of Ethics, to present “truthful, balanced, and verified information,” and calls for the self-regulation of online media and the self-restraint of public figures and private persons in the language used to address such delicate issues. Hate speech and discrimination only serve to undermine the development of our diverse societies.

Author: RDN 2.0 Albanian monitoring team

Photo: KonstantinChristian/ Shutterstock