Combatting discrimination and hate speech in election campaigns

Combatting discrimination and hate speech in election campaigns

The European Equality Bodies Network Equinet has launched recommendations on combatting discrimination and hate speech in election campaigns.

Non-discrimination and equality are cornerstones of European democracies.
Election campaigns are crucial testing grounds for commitment to these values, so it is worrying to see so many of them being increasingly marred by scapegoating, discriminatory language and hate speech across Europe. This causes harm to ordinary people, affecting their dignity and respect at the very least, if they are not also alienated or even attacked. It is clear that discriminatory language and hate speech can also damage the cohesion of society and lead to a downward spiral of intolerance and insecurity.

Politicians have a particular responsibility in this regard because of their capacity to exercise influence over a wide audience. Political rhetoric is a powerful tool for change and strongly protected by provisions for freedom of expression as an essential democratic right.  However, if used in a hateful and discriminatory manner, it can cause widespread intolerance and even hate crimes. Politicians should therefore use their right to free speech responsibly, and promote their electoral programme fairly and respectfully.

The media, including social media, also has an important role to play to avoid amplifying discriminatory messages, especially when reporting on language that amounts to hate speech. With due explanation and critical reflection, the media can ensure a healthy and inclusive public debate during election campaigns.

Every individual has the right to equality and freedom from discrimination. Equality bodies are independent state institutions which offer support to any individual who has experienced discrimination, as well as promote equality and counter discrimination and harassment more generally. As the European Network of Equality Bodies mandated to act as the expert voice of equality bodies to advance equality in Europe, Equinet has developed this Recommendation to promote election campaigns which are free from discrimination and hate speech.

This recommendation is to be considered by political parties, candidates and media outlets (including social media), and focuses on the general principle of equality, prohibition of discrimination, tackling hate speech, addressing sensitive topics and promoting equal representation on electoral lists. It is an ode to the importance of equality as a common European value, demands respecting equal treatment and non-discrimination at all times, and calls upon the aforementioned to respect the founding values of our democracies and our common constitutional traditions.

Equinet and Equality Bodies

Equinet is the European Network of Equality Bodies, gathering 49 equality bodies in 36 European countries.  Equality bodies are independent public institutions with a mandate to promote equality and tackle discrimination on grounds of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, disability and other grounds.

More information about Equinet is available here.

(Equinet: press release on 20 March 2019)