Photo: SCF

Analysis: hate speech against journalists threatens their health and has serious ramifications on their private and professional life

December 15, 2023

Hate speech directed against journalists in Serbia is part of such a normalised culture of violence that resides in the discourse of certain politicians, in the articles of tabloid publications, and which spreads like a virus through social media and seeps into the speech and announcements of citizens.

This is shown by research conducted by Čedomir Markov and Ana Đorđević, research associates of the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, with the support of the Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation, in December 2022 and January 2023 with 20 journalists from different parts of Serbia, with the aim of investigating how journalists interpret hate speech directed against them, how they perceive such experiences and the kinds of consequences they have on their private and professional lives.

This research showed that hate speech, threatening messages in particular, creates an environment that’s psychologically and physically unsafe, in which journalists and their family members are held in a state of angst, fear and mistrust. “Every day we live in some trepidation over what will come next, what picture of my they will hang next, who called me out on television, what they’ve written,” explained one lady journalist.

Immediately after suffering a verbal attack, and particularly if it is repeated, journalists experience symptoms of trauma or post-traumatic stress (insomnia, loss of appetite, listlessness, distraction etc.). Depression and a sense of isolation also occur at certain stages.

This research has shown that pronounced and frequent verbal attacks, with added elements of a real-world threat (e.g. punctured car tyres), not only imperils journalists’ mental health, but also their physical wellbeing, which is why some of them also report raised blood pressure, anaemia, heart attacks and immune system collapse as responses to intense and/or longstanding exposure to hate speech.