TROLL OF THE MONTH: Media outlet

July 3, 2024

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.

The month of June saw the start of the UEFA EURO 2024 – the European Football Championship. Although this month is meant for gathering, celebration, and supporting of one’s teams and countries, it has also been tainted by incidents of hate, discrimination, and xenophobia within the football stands.

Some of these incidents included the match between Albania and Croatia whereby football supporters of both teams, as Serbian media reported, united in singing and chanting “kill, kill, the Serb”. Another incident involved an Albanian journalist from Kosovo who signalled the eagle hand gesture towards Serbian fans – a national symbol representing the eagle from the Albanian flag. However, this gesture is usually perceived as a provocation by part of the Serbian public and media. As a result of the journalist’s gesture, he was banned from the tournament.

Another incident involved a violent clash between fans that went viral on social media and was shared by traditional media outlets. Fans were seen throwing beer glasses and even chairs at each other. Even though this happened before the game between England and Serbia, some media reported that the fight was between Serbs, Albanians, and Bosniaks, which is not confirmed. Some tabloids speculated that “they attacked first” after which “Serbs had to defend themselves” even though there was no verified information supporting such statements.

The media in Serbia reported on these numerous incidents before and during the matches. Although some media reported professionally, a critical approach to this widespread phenomenon, which has accompanied sports events and persisted for years at the European Championship, was lacking, along with the deconstruction of nationalist narratives and a re-examination of their root causes.

Mostly nationalist, but also some sexist narratives moved from the stands to tabloids and online portals, some of which completely unethically and unprofessionally reported on the matches, promoting nationalist messages with sensational headlines and thus fueling hate speech in the comments.

One of the portals which took a lead on this was portal Informer. Referring to the Albanian and Croatian national teams as “Shiptars” and “Ustashas” – two extremely derogatory terms – Informer published several headlines which only served to spread hate and division. One of the headlines read “congratulations Spanish and Italian neighbours! Ustashas and Shiptars “killed Serbs” then perished!”. The case of hateful chanting directed to the majority in Serbia was not reported on in an ethical and professional manner in many media outlets, but rather used as an excuse to strengthen the “us” vs. “them” nationalistic narratives. Indeed, rather than addressing the incident responsibly, the reporting instead seized the opportunity to use hateful and derogatory terms.

Another headline referring to the violence ahead of the England – Serbia match read “Exclusive video! Serbs attacked by the English, Shiptars, Bosniaks and Schalke’s hooligans! And then ours got up…”. Headlines like these serve only to sensationalise and promote hateful narratives, fueling division and spreading animosity among readers. Informer continuously violated the Serbian Journalists’ Code of Ethics that strictly prohibits hate speech, especially the use of derogatory terms. The Press Council has in the past issued a public reprimand to Informer for using the term “Shiptars” for Albanians and yet they have continued to do so despite these warnings. Informer – a media outlet with a large readership and platform – should be held accountable for its actions and reporting including the level of professionality at play. By spreading such narratives and headlines, these only serve to fuel nationalism, hate and division. Combatting hate with hate has never proven successful and in the face of hateful incidents such as that between the match of Croatia and Albania, the media should use their platforms to condemn such incidents, to spread awareness and to educate the public rather than to use such a case to fuel further hate.