How to

Recommendations for avoiding hate speech on religious topics

Religious hate isn’t always picked up by media outlets, according to the monitoring and research carried out by the Center for Independent Journalism (IJC).

As part of the “Get the trolls out!” project, led by the Media Diversity Institute, research carried out between January and June 2024 shows when religious hate speech does make it into the media, it’s often accompanied by aggressive comments from readers. There may also be the added focus from supporters /opponents of various religious denominations.

Moderating these comments on online platforms and/or social networks continues to be a challenge for most media institutions (broadcast, online or print), which must ensure the balance between freedom of expression and non-discrimination or violation of human rights.

The ethical andmoral norms for reporting urge journalists to respect the same principles and standards when preparing materials dedicated to religious groups as in the case of reflecting non-religioussubjects. Andto avoid, as much as possible, the appearance of any form of discrimination, as well as the propagation of hate speech. Adherence to international and national journalistic standards – impartiality, accuracy, honesty, integrity, as well as protection of sources – is whatmust be always required


The Constitution of the Republic of Moldova “guarantees the right of all citizens to preserve, develop and express their ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity” (art. 10), and freedom of conscience “must be manifested in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect” ( art. 31).

The same document, regarding freedom of opinion and expression (art. 32) stipulates that “challenging and defaming the state and the people, incitement to war of aggression, national, racial or religious hatred, incitement to discrimination are prohibited and punished by law, to territorial separatism, to public violence, as well as other manifestations that threaten the constitutional regime”.


Journalists must inform their public accurately, in compliance with ethical and deontological rules, as “any deviation from the correct presentation of facts and events can mislead the public, manipulate their perception and create premises for the formation of a distorted vision of reality”, according to Moldova’s guide to ensuring correct information.

Respecting the principle of rigor and accuracy, presenting the facts from at least two independent sources, documenting factually, with an impartial and unbiased approach to events, are essential norms of journalism at all times, but especially today, when the media is dominated by modern information technologies.

Tolerance and non-discrimination are the cornerstones of accurate and independent journalism, according to Moldova’s style guide for the media. Journalism is a matter of protection rather than exploitation. “We will not use discriminatory terms against religious groups. We will use the expressions «religious association», «religious organisation», «religious group», «new religious movement», «cult» and we will not use pejorative and mocking words such as «sect», «sectarian», «sectarian», “totalitarian sect”. These discriminatory terms will be kept (not omitted or replaced) only if they are quoted, that is, they are contained in the statement of a public person”, the Guide also states.

Journalistic ethics also require equidistance and informational parity in the reflection of conflicts; to avoid intentionally forming, through articles, feelings of supremacy for someone or something; to exclude the use of phraseological expressions, proverbs or discriminatory sayings that lead to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and prejudices against representatives of a cult or religious confessions, etc.

And when it comes toaudiovisual news and debate programs that address issues of public interest regarding ethnic, religious or sexual minorities, “the opinions of their representatives must also be presented”, states Moldova’s Audiovisual Media Services Code. At the same time, the Audiovisual Council has the obligation to discourage and sanction “any intention and attempt to judge the decisions, actions of some people and/or institutions according to ethnic, linguistic, religious or any other gender”.


Here are some recommendations for more effective handling of cases of incitement to hatred on online platforms and social networks, with a religious theme as a benchmark.

We will respect the role of faith in each person’s life

We will check the spelling of the names, religious functions/degrees of the persons concerned and the institutions/organisations, as well as any unknown terms. We will avoid using discriminatory or unacceptable terminology. (Ex: Arabization of the country, Jihadists, Islamists, Islamic State, suicide bombers, Shahids, godless people, fanatics – these terms should not be used by journalists. The original meaning of these words has been distorted and now shapes a negative perception of the Muslim religion. A list of recommended terms for use can be found HERE.)

We will avoid stereotypes

The journalist must choose their words carefully: an unfortunate wording can reinforce a stereotype and trigger a conflict. We’re not going to lump people together, saying, “Catholics believe this,” or “Muslims believe that.” The worst thing you can do in an article about religion is to mischaracterise what someone believes or does not believe.

Good taste and decency versus offense

Referring to a person in derogatory terms regarding race, religion, sexual orientation is a serious offense. The journalist must be careful when people try to use religious or political persuasion to limit journalistic standards.

Information and documentation

Before writing an article about religious minorities, the journalist must learn as much as possible about the representatives of these communities, studying their practices, watching how they contact people.

Speed ​​versus accuracy

Speed ​​should never trump accuracy. It is better to take time and inform correctly, than to be the first and misinform.

We will keep the balance of opinions

We will look for different sources, including those that demonstrate modern views of the problem and do not offer ancient methods of solving it.

Sensitive and personal information

Sensitive and personal information must be handled with care. Data about sexual orientation, state of health, faith, social or ethnic origin must not be published if the journalist does not have the consent of the persons concerned. In the case of opinion leaders, the respective data can only be publicised if they were made public by the persons concerned or have a major impact on society.

Correcting mistakes

All mistakes must be recognised and corrected as soon as they are identified. Publishing an error online is different from publishing it in traditional media. A small mistake (punctuation, word order, etc.) can be fixed by replacing it with the correct version. If the information is incorrect or alters the meaning of the article, a full erratum indicating the error must be published. This can be done by adding a link to the article where the mistake was made next to the errata. Sometimes it is recommended that the errata be accompanied by an apology, if the error belongs to the journalist or the media institution. When there are two contradictory versions and the journalist does not know whether they were wrong or not, a solution can be to publish both versions.

User comments

Websites that allow users to post comments on published materials must develop a set of mandatory terms and conditions that they display on the site, ensuring that the public can always familiarise themselves with these rules. Comments that contain insults or incite hatred and discrimination on any subject, including religious ones, must be removed. This cannot be interpreted as limiting users’ freedom of expression.

Site privacy policies

Each portal must have a special column – accessible from all pages – where the public can read about the rules and policies of the company. The privacy policy must clearly show what a user can and cannot do in the interactive sections of the site, if there is moderation before or after publication. Private lives, correspondence and conversations should not be made public unless they are of public interest. The fact that other media outlets have reported on someone’s private lives is not an excuse to do the same.

The material is for “Get the trolls out!”, the fifth phase of a program to encourage young people to fight against religious discrimination and intolerance in Europe. As part of this project, the IJC has the task of monitoring several media institutions on how they reflect religious topics.


Religion coverage manual for journalists

Tips for pitching and covering stories about religion

The best practices guide for the online press

Vulnerable and/or marginalized groups in relation to the media: access, consumption and media literacy

Media coverage of migration: handbook for journalists on migration coverage

Show More
Back to top button