The European Commission Representation and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany organised a conference with the theme “Combatting and Preventing Hate Speech”.
In her welcome address the Head of the Representation of the European Commission, Dr Elena Grech, thanked all speakers and participants for their time and efforts to recognise and address the issue and impact of hate speech. The German Ambassador, H. E. Walter Haßmann, stressed that “hate speech is a scourge that has the potential to destroy our societies.” He insisted that collaboration is a strong tool to combat its impact, inviting participants “Let us all join hands in our fight to overcome it.”
The objective of the conference was to show that hate speech can affect everybody, that these comments can cause serious harm and that there is a need to re-establish a debate culture which is based on mutual respect and done by an exchange of arguments and counter arguments. It was also important to address issues like racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and anti-Muslim hatred as some of the motivations for hate speech.
In the first part of the conference Dr Mary Muscat, from the Faculty of Law at the University of Malta, provided a factual state of play that included a comparative analysis of the existing legal framework and an academic presentation of research carried out in Germany by Ms Hannah Heuser.
In her keynote address, the European Commissioner responsible for Equality Helena Dalli said that the European Commission is putting forward a proposal to extend the current list of ‘EU crimes’ to cover all forms of hate crime and hate speech and ensure the same level of protection everywhere. Furthermore “at the national level, I encourage Member States to adopt their action plans to tackle racism and racial discrimination in line with the European Commission’s call in the Anti-racism Action Plan. We must have comprehensive solutions to tackle this fear and hatred of the ‘other’, and build a Union of Equality together”.
The conference was also addressed by the Minister for Equality, the Hon. Owen Bonnici, who insisted that no country is immune to hate speech, including Malta. “Our prevention efforts should be rooted in educating minors and adults alike, in an age-appropriate fashion, to healthy democratic debate, including disagreement, on all issues linked to the grounds where discrimination happens”. Minister Bonnici reiterated that “legislation is there to show that there is a line that cannot be crossed from democratic debate into hate. Plain and simple, it is illegal. Criminal prohibition is necessary when hate speech publicly incites violence against individuals or groups of people”.
The second part of the discussion continued in the form of a panel discussion that brought together an array of experiences ranging from the media to academia to organisations representing different interest groups. The panellists offered their insight and experiences on the impact of hate speech in their environments. Participants also had the opportunity to share their views, experiences and concerns on the issue of hate speech, many voicing concern on the power of social media in the propagation and amplification of hate speech.
The presentation of the research carried out by Ms Hannah Heuser, a research fellow at Leipzig University, provided an exceptional view of hate speech, both from the perspective of the victim and that of the perpetrator. Her research is based on a qualitative interview study and in her interventions, apart from the different causes of hate speech and its various manifestations, Ms Heuser also explained the impacts of digital hate speech on affected persons and their experience with criminal proceedings.
- Publication date
- 18 November 2021
- Representation in Malta