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Proposed Editorial Responsibility for Web Comments Dividing Opinion

08.06.2015 14:47
Category: work and news

Plans to extend editorial responsibility to the comments section of media articles are proving one of the more divisive provisions in draft amendments to the media act. The approach has been criticised strongly by the information commissioner, while for instance receiving support from the Association of Slovenian Journalists.

The Office of the Information Commissioner took issue last week with the portions of the draft amendments that would make editors liable for comments posted by users, ostensibly in order to curb hate speech.

While the commissioner spoke of "forced censorship...that poses a serious risk to freedom of the press and freedom of expression" resulting from an overly cautious beforehand verification of comments, the Culture Ministry has rejected this view as excessive.

The ministry stressed that the amendments, which are in public debate, interfered in no way with journalist content and that hate speech by users of web media has nothing to do with the freedom of press and expression.

It added that the proposal is also about putting into law what is already widespread practice among media in the field of self-censorship related to the prevention of hate speech.

The Slovenian Journalists' Association (DNS) also disagrees with Information Commissioner Mojca Prelesnik, with association president Matija Stepišnik arguing the amendments in fact implemented the journalists' code of conduct.

"This is not about censorship in advance but about media taking responsibility for this type of content too. In recent years web forums have become a breeding ground for hate speech, defamation and spreading of lies," Stepišnik said.

Tino Mamič of the smaller Association of Journalists and Columnists (ZNP) feels that the expansion of editorial responsibility is not bringing anything new, arguing "the editor in chief is already responsible for everything that is published".

This view is shared by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, which wrote today that the only difference is that no penalties for editors are envisaged in the current legislation. However, the office strongly supports the changes, saying they are in line with its own recommendations targeting hate speech.

Meanwhile, siding fully with the information commissioner is acting editor for new media at public broadcaster RTVSLO Kaja Jakopič.

She agrees media could start rejecting comments out of caution, arguing regulating what are for instance between 2,000 and 3,000 comments on RTVSLO's web page daily in this way is "physically impossible".

Jakopič fears a loss of the added content generated by users, noting that hate speech constituted less than 1%. She sees a solution in each media clearly defining its comments policy.

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