FRA Director speaks at conference ‘The hate factor in political speech’

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum speaks during a panel debate at a conference on hate speech in Poland, 18 September 2013.
FRA Director Morten Kjaerum speaks during a panel debate at a conference on hate speech in Poland, 18 September 2013.
“Hate speech can be direct and offensive or indirect and insidious. But whichever form it takes, it has a profound impact on our societies. We need to understand that this is a joint responsibility for us all – and the easier your access to a microphone is, the more responsibility you have.”

FRA Director Morten Kjaerum took part in a panel on European legal standards on hate speech at a conference entitled ‘The hate factor in political speech’ on 18 September in Warsaw. 

He began by talking about the fact that technological advances mean there is an ever-increasing number of platforms from which those who want to can foment hatred. He added that politicians have easy access to the media and so their views are multiplied and amplified, giving them particular responsibility.

FRA has already collected a large pool of data that shows how pervasive biased and discriminatory remarks against the most vulnerable groups in our societies are. One example of this is FRA’s LGBT survey of some 93,000 people throughout the EU, in which 44% of respondents said that offensive language about LGBT people by politicians is widespread.

It was emphasised that not all hate speech has an obvious message: there are far more subtle expressions of prejudice that still convey exactly the same message. And in the same way, this has an effect not only on the group that has been targeted, but also on the majority population, which becomes imbued with prejudice and stereotypes.

Discussing possible solutions to the challenge of hate crime, the Director said he did not see the necessity for an internationally agreed definition of hate speech, adding that a “common strategy to tackle hate speech does not necessarily require a common definition.” He went on to suggest that national legislation should be broadened to cover not only hate speech that targets ethnic minorities, but also LGBT people and people with disabilities. However, any debate on hate speech also needs to be placed in the context of the protection of freedom of expression.

Concluding, it was stressed that in order to combat hate speech and its associated fundamental rights violations, it is crucial that all politicians speak out when they hear their colleagues make racist or biased comments. Europe needs a political culture where such expressions of prejudice and bias are addressed much more firmly.