The Slovenia Times

Pundits hosted by Pahor exchange views on hate speech


Pahor has invited public figures from different walks of life for a discussion in a bid to try to answer the question about where are the limits of freedom of speech.

The president said that it was easier to define hate speech in the penal law, but harder in "the rainbow field of culture of dialogue, where the boundaries are not clear when the right to a different view turns into hate speech or what is labelled as hate speech".

Pahor does not think that every inappropriate or even offensive speech is hate speech.

Human Rights Ombudsman Vlasta Nussdorfer called for caution when defining hate speech, but she did say that serious abuse of freedom of speech must be recognised and those responsible should react.

She underscored that the most important aspect was prevention, that is learning about human rights. She also appealed to politicians and other public figures to contribute to the ethics of public speech.

In a similar way, Justice Ministry State Secretary Dominika Švarc Pipan argued that prominent political figures should clearly reject hate speech, and she also called for preventive measures.

She believes that the legislative framework is suitable, but the problem is its implementation, considering that it is almost never prosecuted.

The reason that hate speech is hardly prosecuted in Slovenia is restrictive interpretation by the Supreme State Prosecution and absence of case law, said Neža Kogovšek Šalamon, chief legal officer at the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman's Office.

Equal Opportunities Ombudsman Miha Lobnik added that legislative restrictions complied with the European Convention on Human Rights, but that there was still no case law.

Lawyer Nataša Pirc Musar agreed: "There has to be blood, as it were, for the prosecution to conduct procedure." She said that there should be more talk of punishment of hate speech also as a minor offence.

However, supreme judge Jan Zobec called for utmost caution when trying to limit freedom of speech, "in particular in non-pluralistic societies". Hate speech may lead to violence, but only in societies without freedom of speech.

A similar view was offered by Žiga Turk, a member of the high-level group of experts advising the European Commission on countering fake news and disinformation spread online: "Freedom of speech for fascists does less damage than non-freedom controlled by fascists".

Peter Jambrek, a former Constitutional Court judge, said that "we need to reconcile to the fact that we have extremists on both sides of the spectrum in society and we in a way need to tolerate them within pluralism of opinions and freedom of speech".

Matej Avbelj, professor at the Graduate School of Government and European Studies, argued that hate speech was non-existent as a social category but was only a legal term.

In all other cases it is about overstepping freedom of speech, the prevention of which he said was not in the domain of the state but rather of civil society.

Historian Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič said it was the responsibility of civil society to isolate inappropriate speech. Excessive state interference as a substitute could be very unproductive.

If hate speech escalates into violence "it will be the fault of those who incited violence as well as of those who failed to do anything to stop it and who were silent when they should speak out," said lawyer Rok Čeferin.

Matjaž Gruden, director of Democratic Participation at Council of Europe, urged President Pahor directly to show more initiative in condemning hate speech.

Petra Lesjak Tušek, the head of the Slovenian Journalists' Association, said that some media outlets affiliated with political parties had trampled journalism standards by spreading hatred, racism and homophobia.

Matevž Tomšič, the head of the rival Association of Journalists and Commentators, said that the state and politics should interfere as little as possible in freedom of speech. "Or else the fight against hate speech may become a pill more dangerous than the illness and may kill the patient in the end."

Summing up, Pahor said that despite the diversity of opinions heard today, these were not offensive, let alone hateful. "Which goes to say that it's possible to talk about very different opinions in a respectful way."


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