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.
This month’s Troll is TV Prva, a television network in Serbia with a national frequency which created a platform for the discussion in regards to abortion rights. However, the debate included extremely sexist and misogynistic comments.
TV Prva is a Serbian commercial television network with national coverage. At the beginning of February, during their morning show – Jutro – there was a discussion around the topic of abortion and whether or not abortion was indeed a human right. The two guests who were invited onto the show to discuss this topic were Jelena Riznić from Women’s solidarity and Miloš Stojković, a theologian.
During the discussion Stojković made several sexist comments about women and their right to abort. Among other comments, he said: “God gave a woman the opportunity to give life and she is an egotist…because, imagine you wanted to enjoy physical pleasure and after that you kill. You don’t have the right to kill”.
This comment is extremely problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a serious accusation towards women and their decision and personal choice to have an abortion. This comment creates a narrative which criticises woman for their personal sexual life and pleasure whilst linking this to the decision to have an abortion. The correlation between the two is oversimplified and misleading, excluding the reasons that can lead to a decision to an abortion.
Secondly, comments such a women’s selfish and ‘egoistic’ motives, are only unjustified opinions and put shame onto women in regards to an issue which should not be of any public debate but rather a personal and private choice of the individual. Such comments are not only sexist but also argue in favour of removing women’s autonomy over their body. Women should be the only ones who have the right and freedom to make such decisions and be in control of their own body.
TV Prva made a problematic selection of speakers on the subject of abortion and gave a male church representative equal value to judge on a matter that affects women and their body.
The church is a completely separate sphere of influence and part of society which has no place within the debate of a woman’s autonomy and abortion rights.
Indeed, over the years the Serbia’s Orthodox Church has spoken out against abortion rights in which they have “called on the authorities to ban abortion” except in medical cases and extenuating circumstances. Within a secular state, the church and religion shouldn’t have an influence on state decisions and internal affairs especially in regards to human rights.
TV Prva has a moral and legal obligation to prevent the spread of sexist and misogynistic comments and remarks from their platform. They furthermore, have an important role to play in how they shape the conversation and the public discourse around abortion.
By inviting such a guest on the show, TV Prva holds responsibility for the way they shape public opinion. When the media give space and a platform to ‘pro-life’ individuals, as TV Prva did, they have an obligation to address the medical side that can judge the accuracy of the views expressed.
Abortion coverage spikes around legislation and litigation whilst the opinion of medical professionals, researchers and personal stories about abortion are missing. The topic of abortion and right to have one should be treated as a health care matter which is private and separate from the sphere of religion – it is a personal rather than a religious matter.
TV Prva has a national frequency and widespread reach, with around 4,100 views on YouTube (on a day this article was written) in relation to the recent debate and discussion broadcasted on the television program. TV Prva has a duty and obligation to provide a platform for discussion and representation of all relevant sides. It should prevent problematic and questionable opinions getting a platform and instead seek commentary from professionals and experts on the subject matter. TV Prva has to bear in mind that their choices shape the public opinion.