Journalists and media groups from around the world discussed strategies for tackling speech that could spread hatred and incite conflict on Saturday, the second day of the 65th International Press Institute World Congress in Yangon.
The panel discussion on challenging hate speech proposed combating dangerous and harmful messages in the media by promoting alternative narratives.
Describing the media environment in her native Sri Lanka, panelist Manori Kalugampitiya said the press had been heavily controlled through “ownership” rather than “censorship” under the former regime in her country. Media ownership became more consolidated, with many private outlets bought by officials or close associates of the regime.
“As Sri Lanka’s media is highly divided along ethnic lines, this division has created a dynamic where mainstream journalists pay little or no attention to conflict-sensitive journalism,” the Sri Lankan journalist said, adding that hate speech had influenced the country’s media.
In her presentation, she called on journalists, publishers and civic organizations to build necessary safeguards to reduce hate speech without compromising freedom of expression.
Discussing whether Myanmar needs more laws to fight hate speech, panelist U Thiha Saw said the country’s media already faced enough legal restrictions, and that it would be better for those in the industry to take the initiative themselves and work together.
“We need to go further on free press in Myanmar, at 145th place out of 180 countries on press freedom,” he said. “I don’t agree personally to see further restrictions on media that would curb the freedom of expression that Myanmar has gained. Self-regulation should be preferred.”
In his presentation, the Myanmar journalist stressed the need to raise public awareness about online and offline hate speech and encouraged all media to denounce it.
Freelance journalist Daw Mon Mon Myat, who was in the audience at the conference, said she agreed with the panel’s call for social media users to be accountable and act responsibly.
“Social media has influenced on the mainstream media,” she said.
The panel discussion was one of the sessions organized at the International Press Institute’s 2015 World Congress that began on Friday at Chatrium Hotel in Yangon with the theme “On the Path to a Free Media.”