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Guidelines for Broadcasters on

 Incitement to Violence, Ethnic or Religious Hatred, Civil Disorder or Rioting




The right to freedom of expression is well established in international law.  Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinion without interference” and that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.”  The Commission is committed to upholding these fundamental rights.

The Commission recognizes, however, that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute.  Under generally-accepted international standards, expression may be restricted where prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society to protect legitimate enumerated state interests.  These interests include national security, territorial integrity or public safety, and the prevention of disorder or crime.  This concept of acceptable restrictions on speech is articulated in Article 20 of the ICCPR, which states that the right to freedom of expression is subject to restrictions necessary “for respect of the rights or reputations of others” or “for the protection of public order, or of public health or morals” and specifies that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence must be prohibited.”

What Constitutes “Incitement”

It is important to emphasize that, in order to violate the Code, a broadcast must (1) incite imminent (meaning close in time, immediate or impending) violence, ethnic or religious hatred, civil disorder or rioting; and (2) must carry the clear and immediate risk of causing such incitement.

Incitement goes beyond the mere communication of ideas; it is not directed at intellect and does not afford the listener an opportunity to reflect on it.  Rather, incitement spurs an almost impulsive reaction, intended to bypass rational thought processes.  The classic example of shouting fire in a crowded theatre may best illustrate what is meant by incitement.  Shouting the word “fire” is not the communication of an idea designed for reflective thought.  It is instead designed to provoke an instant and automatic reaction, the same one that would be caused by sounding a fire alarm.

What Constitutes “Ethnic or Religious Hatred”

Expression conveying “ethnic or religious hatred” is that which stirs hatred against a person or group because of their origin or membership or non-membership in a particular ethnic group, nation, race or religion.  It is usually consists of generalisations and stereotypes.  Like other speech discouraged by Section 1.1 of the Code, it is often designed to cause emotional reactions rather than appeal to logical thought.  It often calls for discrimination, intolerance or even violence toward a particular group.



In assessing whether a broadcast has violated professional standards regarding incitement to violence, ethnic or religious hatred, civil disorder or rioting, and in determining what sanctions, if any, to impose, the Commission will consider the following factors:

·        What was said;

·        How it was said (including the type of broadcaster and broadcast as well as language and gestures used);

·        In what context it was said (e.g., likely audience and political and social situation where broadcast);

·        What was intended or known by the speaker; and

·        What could reasonably be expected to be the likely consequences of such speech.

Making a determination based upon these factors is not an easy task.  The line between protected and unprotected expression is often quite thin or difficult to draw.  Each broadcast statement must be examined within the context in which it was made.  For example, a statement made in an academic journal or to an audience in a stable democracy, however offensive, may pose little likelihood of motivating unlawful action, whereas the same statement made in the unstable environment of Iraq today, leading up to a first free election, may well carry a clear and immediate risk of inciting imminent public disorder.  Often, whether or not a violation has occurred will turn on the time and site of the incident or incidents, the nature of the relationship between the speaker and his or her target, and whether the expression is part of a pattern of behaviour. 

In considering the proper remedy, the Commission will always remember that its role is to foster the development of free and independent media, even in the face of a hostile situation.  To best achieve this goal, the Commission will focus on encouraging and educating broadcasters to clearly identify editorial content from news content.

The Commission will attempt to inform broadcasters of violations and give them the opportunity to correct their practices where appropriate.  However, the Commission is prepared to punish violations by invoking the sanctions available to it, including revocation of the broadcaster’s license.

*     *     *     *     *

Commission guidelines are designed to assist broadcasters in interpreting and maximising the positive aspects of Commission rules, regulations and codes that the Commission issues from time to time and should be read and interpreted in conjunction with them and other Commission guidelines.


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