November 10, 2023

The Balkan Troll of the Month is an individual, a group of individuals or a media outlet that spreads hate 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. 

Vanja Ćalović has recently been openly exposed and attacked by – an online media portal in Montenegro with a wide readership, known for being supported by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), led by Milo Đukanović, until recently. Ćalović is an economist, executive director of the Network for the Affirmation of the Non-Governmental Sector (MANS) and is focusing on fighting corruption and organised crime in her work. 

In two articles published by the media portal, Ćalović was named the “starlet of the grants”, or in other words, the “NGO starlet”. This term is used to describe a young woman in the entertainment industry whose main asset is her appearance, rather than talent or work, and is usually used in quite a derogatory tone. The intention behind this message was to discredit and undermine Ćalović as a professional by using sexist insults.  

The articles explain how she is “compromised and burdened by various affairs”, claiming that no one can take her seriously anymore. What they are referencing is a so-called “zoo sex affair”, or more precisely, a media campaign against Ćalović, which started in 2014 when she was accused of ‘having sexual relations with her two dogs’. This story was published on the front pages of tabloids in Montenegro and even made it to Serbian media. The campaign was launched almost 10 years ago to discredit the work Ćalović was doing on the deconstruction of the former government’s (led by DPS) involvement in corruption and criminal activity and was a constructed affair with the aim of destroying the credibility and reputation of Ćalović. 

The direct attack and hatred, including negative labelling by the online portal Aktuelno, is clearly unprofessional and unethical. Two articles dedicated to undermining the credibility and work of Ćalović as well as to attack her on a personal level is a complete breach of professional journalism standards. Furthermore, articles are harmful also due to the use of sexist language and for targeting Ćalović based on her gender as a woman. 

The media have a moral and legal obligation to report on events and issues in a professional and ethical manner, and it is not uncommon for the government-controlled media in the Western Balkan region to try to discredit and attack journalists, activists, and political opponents in similar media campaigns, especially when they deal with topics such as corruption and organised crime.  

However, regardless of their political affiliation, Aktuelno and other media outlets should not use their platform and influence over their readership to spread hatred, sexist remarks, and negative sentiments towards individuals, such as in the case of Vanja Ćalović. Manipulating personal attacks can infiltrate into the private life of Ćalović, who may as a result, become a victim of hate both online and offline. This is a reality for many journalists and activists, and being a woman adds the sexist layer to the hate speech these individuals are exposed to. and other media who take part in similar campaigns, should bear the responsibility and accountability for their role in spreading hate and sexism through personalised attacks.