Media blamed for words of hatred

A new study claims to have found a link between the choice of language used by the Russian media and incidents of xenophobic violence and ethnic conflict. The study called “Hate language against society”, explores politically incorrect phrasin

The book represents seven years of research and, according to its authors, is destined to teach journalists in Russia to use the right wording.

“By hate language we understand some politically incorrect wording about an ethnic or religious group. The book has a number of articles with examples of such words. Its aim is to make Russian society see that sometimes journalists' political incorrectness, often regarded as merely a mistake, can actually threaten lives,” says Galina Kozhevnikova from SOVA research centre, one of the authors.

According to the book, practically all the print press in Russia uses words, which can spark ethnic clashes. Headlines such as “Mugamedov and Gadjiev rob a bank” are seen as neutral, while in such cases Russian newspapers often write “Two Azeri men rob a bank”, creating an image that such crimes are conducted not by individuals, but by members of a certain diaspora and thus breeding ethnic hatred among readers.

The book’s authors say that every time Russia experienced a certain shock, the xenophobic moods among the press were on the rise.

“After Moscow’s theatre siege the country experienced an eight-time increase in xenophobic articles. Then after the terrorist attack in Beslan. And another wave of xenophobic mood among the press was caused by ethnic clashes in the Russian town of Kondopoga,” says Ms Kozhevnikova.

The publication of the book comes amid talks of a law, which would prohibit mass media from naming nationalities of victims and lawbreakers, while reporting on a crime. The bill at the State Duma is aimed to avoid xenophobic content in the media. But the journalistic community believes that such a law is inexpedient, and it is more a matter of journalist ethics, rather than of legislation.

“Journalists are not angels. And there are irresponsible people among us. But that does not mean that we must ban the entire free press. There are irresponsible drivers on the roads, but we’re not banning cars as a whole, are we?” argues Nikolay Svanidze, prominent Russian journalist.

Human rights activists have a mixed view on this bill. While some oppose it, others – like Lyudmila Alekseeva from the Helsinki group – support it.

“Yes, nationalities shouldn’t be named. We’re all Russians and crime has no nationality. Crimes should be investigated regardless of who committed them,” Ms Alekseeva says.

The book ends with what seems to be an unoptimistic conclusion – hate language in the Russian press is gathering pace every year. But in the meantime, it says, it is not trying to pursue journalists but only to open a discussion.