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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Perception and Consumption of Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media

Tuesday , 12 March 2024
Design: Marc Rechdane

The multilayered crisis that Lebanon has endured since 2019 has, among other manifestations, translated into a rapid proliferation of harsh hate speech across social, digital, and mainstream media. Unsurprisingly, the deteriorating living conditions, the lack of effective public governance, and identity-based political messaging have fueled the escalation of discriminatory “us versus them” narratives in the public sphere.

The deeply entrenched sectarian and religious divisions, coupled with rigid partisan and ideological affiliations often disguised within nationalist discourses, perpetuated through various media outlets, play a significant role in the proliferation of hate rants. These divisions, present at varying degrees and proportions depending on political circumstances, serve as the foundation for the increasing prevalence of vitriolic rhetoric. Consequently, each instance of hate speech serves as a reminder of Lebanon’s traumatic civil war (1975 – 1990) and raises concerns about the potential resurgence of armed conflict.

Moreover, Lebanese politicians frequently exploit sectarian fears of the “other” to maintain their power and safeguard their political and economic interests. As a result, co-opted journalism becomes a tool for these politicians to further their agendas. Media outlets and journalists in Lebanon, irrespective of their political or religious affiliations, are often branded as “messengers of hate speech.” This perception not only undermines the credibility of the information they disseminate but also portrays them as agents of misinformation and division.

Reflective qualitative research, conducted as part of the Samir Kassir Foundation's “Inclusive Media, Cohesive Society” (IMeCS) program, delved into media and journalism practices in Lebanon, focusing on the relationship between hate speech and journalism during times of crisis. Targeting different Lebanese audiences from diverse religious backgrounds and age categories at the grassroots level, the study aimed to understand how individuals encounter, perceive, process, and respond to hate speech.

This study’s objectives included:

  • Identifying the channels through which media consumers receive hate speech messages.
  • Analyzing the elements within hate messages that resonate with recipients.
  • Examining the factors within an individual’s personality and environment that influence their susceptibility to hate speech.
  • Assessing the implications of hate messages for media consumers and their broader societal consequences.
  • Proposing strategies to counteract hate speech in the media.

Most participants across various focus groups, irrespective of their religious, regional, or party affiliations, demonstrate a keen awareness of media manipulation and can identify hate speech in the messages they evaluate. They exhibit a capacity for rational thinking and critical analysis when assessing broader issues such as media performance and political actions. However, when it comes to personally relevant matters such as partisan affiliation or religious convictions, they often exhibit narrow-mindedness influenced by political and sectarian loyalties.

Participants express frustration with the pervasive presence of hate speech and distorted information in the media but generally lack tangible actions to counteract this trend. Addressing hate speech requires raising awareness among citizens, journalists, and media administrators. Key points for follow-up actions include highlighting the tragic consequences of hate speech, promoting fact-based reporting, encouraging triangulation of news sources, fostering critical thinking skills among citizens, and creating platforms for countering hate speech and information manipulation.

Furthermore, there is a need to intensify awareness campaigns in collaboration with mainstream media and relevant authorities and to promote professional and ethical journalism. Journalists must prioritize social responsibility, refrain from sensational reporting, and avoid promoting extreme or hateful content on social media for personal gain. Their loyalty should lie with the public rather than with political or sectarian leaders.

Ultimately, ethical and professional journalism is crucial for combating hate speech and establishing hate-free media in Lebanon. It serves as a key tool for promoting accurate, objective reporting and fostering a climate of tolerance and understanding among the Lebanese public.

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