October 4, 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.

Alo! is a popular daily tabloid newspaper published in Serbia, with a large readership within the country. This month, on the front page of Alo! a photograph was published of a half-naked woman who was claimed to be working at the prosecutor’s office. The photograph was, furthermore, said to have been taken at the workplace.

By publishing this photograph, newspaper Alo! took part in image-based sexual abuse. Image-based sexual abuse refers to the ‘sharing of sexually explicit images of an individual without their consent. Images are distributed online, such as through email, social networks, porn sites and messaging platforms, as well as offline’. The term ‘revenge porn’ is often used to describe such behaviour however, according to End Cyber Abuse, this does not accurately reflect the scope or motivation as well as the experience of the crime. Furthermore ‘the emphasis on ‘revenge’ shifts the focus away from the harm done, using victim-blaming language’. The term pornography turns victims into seemingly consenting porn actors as it is conflates private visual material with public content.

The sharing and posting of photography without the consent of the individual captured is harmful in any shape or form. Furthermore, sharing such a photograph as the front cover of a newspaper is not only extremely insensitive, harmful, and wrong but also breaks journalistic ethical standards. Using such an image as the front cover in order to gain readership (clicks) and attention is a form of clickbait, and a highly problematic media practice.

Tabloid Alo! not only violated several journalistic standards as well as ethical and moral principles, but it also made claims which were false. This can be seen in the published photo where the allegations made by the newspaper that the photo was taken at the workplace cannot hold true. This is due to the fact that the furniture in the photo does not exist in any prosecutor’s office. In addition, in the text on the front page, Alo! claimed that the photo was distributed to several addresses within the Prosecutor’s office.

The group Journalists Against Violence Against Women reacted to this front cover the day before it was published. In Serbia, the front page of print media is made available to the public online the night before it is made available for sale. They asked what the prosecutor’s office would do upon learning that public officials knowingly participated in this act.

The group ‘advocates that in media reports of violence against women, this issue must be presented, treated, and examined as a social problem’. This includes pointing out its root causes, condemning any form of violence and calling for the perpetrators and responsible institutions to react and ensure protection.

The group warned the newspaper Alo! that the front page of the edition violated all human and journalistic ethical principles not to mention the level of humiliation towards the unnamed woman.

The weekly news magazine Vreme was one of the first media outlets in the country to publish the groups’ statement and write about this issue, resulting in several other media following this example. The prosecutor’s office reaction followed, confirming that these photos were not taken in the prosecutor’s office, as Alo! claims. Moreover, their statement clearly states that “it is very important to determine who shared exclusively private photos with Alo! newspaper and when, and who published them without the permission of the person in the photos”.

Newspapers and the media in general have a platform and influence over the people who read their publications. In this sense, they also have an unwritten moral obligation to ensure that the information they share with the public is accurate and fair. Publishing headlines and front pages like these are extremely harmful. Without any understanding and consideration for the woman in question and the level of humiliation and shame she could be subjected to is highly ignorant and wrong. Tabloid Alo! should firstly, remove this publication to prevent it being further spread in society but also be held accountable for publishing such an image. Most importantly, they should not have done such an act in the first place, and it should not be repeated. Image based sexual abuse is a reality, and one which needs to be accounted for in order to be prevented.