By Aji Fatou Faal,
just back from Accra
Dr. Kwasi Jonah at the Institute of Democratic Governance in Ghana has told West African parliamentary journalists gathering in Accra that hate speech kills and it must be killed before it kills people.
Dr. Jonah was presenting a paper on the role of the media in the fight against hate speech during the recent West African Parliamentary Press Corp symposium and media summit in Ghana.
He went further to disclose that in a globalized world characterized by the rise of nationalism, racism, extreme right politics, populism, ethnic mobilization in politics, religious bigotry and homophobia, hate speech has become a common occurrence and part of the daily reality of several sections of our global community.
“In the process our common human values are being sacrificed and human rights of many minorities in all continents are under siege. We should not allow what is not normal to become normalized and permit flagrant violation of human rights and human dignity to become the historic legacy of our generation”, he stated.
Jonah went further to give Rwanda as an example as hate speech is direct and open when an ethnic group in Rwanda is described as cockroaches. “Hate speech is at play when Fulani herdsmen in West Africa are called negative names such as thieves, murderers and rapists. Hate speech is shamelessly displayed when a presidential candidate in America’s 2016 election describes migrants as rapists. There is clear hate speech when migrants to Europe are referred to as jihadists, arsonists or even carriers of disease.
It is clear hate speech when LGBT people in some African countries are referred to as animals. In all these examples the object of the hate speech is clear and unambiguous and the aim is to reduce the image and human dignity of the affected groups and legitimize physical and psychological attacks and discrimination against them, he added.
He said that media has a role to play as the fight against hate speech is the fight for the survival of humanity and human dignity “Therefore we should all unite to kill hate speech before it kills us (words matter). To do this don’t sit on the fence but join the defence of human dignity and human values; unite media efforts in the fight against hate speech across national boundaries and continents and across traditional, social and new media; inform and educate the public on the dangers of hate speech not just in West Africa but everywhere in the world because human dignity is indivisible and hate speech has no respect for political and geographical boundaries; mobilize support for the fight against hate speech; share best practices of fighting hate speech on-line on radio and TV; and monitor manifestations of hate speech wherever and whenever it occurs in society,” he added.
He stated that the main challenge in fighting hate speech is that perpetrators and their defenders seek refuge under the right to free speech which is guaranteed by most democratic constitutions. The borderline between free speech and hate speech can, in practice, be so very thin as to allow some hate speech to pass as free speech. But we should not, in a democracy, allow freedom of speech to degenerate into the license to spew out statements that will bring grief, anger and fear to our fellow human beings.